Juano Hernández, the first Afro-Latino actor in Hollywood history
He was a sailor, circus artist and boxer, but his greatest legacy was as a pioneer in a mostly white industry.
Half a century in front of the cameras is no small thing. Even more so if we consider that the Puerto Rican Juano Hernández (Juan G. Hernández) was a pioneer, a Latino of African descent in a Hollywood that to this day still carries a lack of visibility of communities of color.
Nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in the iconic Intruder in the Dust and companion to other greats such as Sidney Poitier, Joel McCrea or Steve McQueen, Hernández died in July 1970, leaving a cinematic legacy that has not yet been given all the justice it should. His picture should at least appear in St. Malachy's, the actors' church, because it was thanks to him that many made their way, and will continue to do so.
His story is so fascinating that a biopic would be worthwhile. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Hernández was a restless soul. First he became a sailor, then he moved to Rio de Janeiro to work as a circus artist in 1922. He was also a boxer in the Caribbean nicknamed Kid Curley.
But his true passion was not the ring but the stage, so he traveled to New York with the idea of becoming a vaudeville artist, singer, and radio writer.
He read Shakespeare as much as he could to improve his diction, afraid that his strong Spanish accent would prevent him from getting a good role. But it didn't.
Juano Hernández was the protagonist of the first black radio drama in history, We Love and Learn, and became quite well known, even appearing in Broadway shows such as Set My People Free. Although his most important debut came in 1927 as a chorus singer on Show Boat.
However, Juano had already been flirting with cinema for a few years. In 1914, the Puerto Rican had his first role in the silent film, The Life of General Villa, in which he played a soldier of the revolution. Later, in 1932, the opportunity came for everyone to hear his spectacular voice in The Girl from Chicago, by African-American director and producer Oscar Micheaux.
He had to wait almost 20 years to establish himself as a major Hollywood figure, with his role in Intruder in the Dust, a legendary film directed by Lucas Beauchamp based on a novel by Faulkner that earned him the nomination. In the film, Juano played a southern farmer unjustly accused of murdering a white man.
Towards the end of his life, Juano Hernández returned to Puerto Rico and began writing a screenplay based on the story of Sixto Escobar, the island's first boxing champion. Sadly, he did not sell the film to any studio and he died on July 17, 1970.
The star in honor of the first Afro-Latino actor in Hollywood history shines proudly on the San Juan Walk of Fame.