“There’s something cool about this kind of chameleon like ethnicity,” says the Fast and Furious star. Vin Diesel’s heritage is a much-debated topic amongst his fans and where he refuses to reveal his true identity, there is a lot of speculation as to what race Mark Sinclair Vincent, or Vin Diesel actually is – stretching from Irish to Jamaican. We ask, how has Vin Diesel’s mixed heritage influenced his approach as a film-maker?
Growing up in the slums of New York and never knowing his biological father, the muscled movie star was very reliant on his adoptive actor father, whom he took almost all his inspiration from. In Multi-Facial, Mike (Diesel) remarks, “my dad was a black actor, but he wanted me to go one step further, he wanted me to be an actor… just an actor.” His stepfather suffered at the hands of racism to the extent of being booed off the stage; he subsequently encouraged Vin to become an actor unconfined by racial barriers.
Multi-Facial is a short film written, produced and directed by Vin Diesel and was his break into the film industry. When Steven Spielberg saw Diesel’s debut at the ‘95 Cannes Film Festival, Diesel (28), finally struck gold and was swiftly propelled into the Hollywood machine, via Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Multi-Facial is Vin’s way of exploring the difficulties he faced as an actor owing to his mixed heritage. Diesel’s short, through sensitive and thought-provoking dialogue, reconstructs real-life scenarios where the struggling actor was turned away from auditions for being too light, too dark or not having enough hair. With even the soundtrack dishing out food for thought, it is evident that Vin Diesel is tackling a subject very close to his heart and one which reflects his attitude on multiculturalism and identity.
Where his attitude towards his own mixed race may not have always been so positive, Diesel now embraces his heritage, stating, “this quality has allowed me to play a range of ethnicities”. By being racially unconfined, he was able to play an Italian in Multi-Facial, Italian-American in Saving Private Ryan, Jewish-American in Knockaround Guys, Latino in the Fast & Furious franchise and Black in the Riddick movies, to then being ethnically undefined in XXX.
Diesel’s routine and cagey response to the big question of ethnicity is “I’m Italian and a lot of other stuff”. It has been confirmed that Diesel’s father was a black man and his mother, white-Irish. However, The Pacifier’s ethnicity fuses Caribbean, Mexican, German and Italian through various relatives.
Multicultural actors are no stranger to Hollywood so then why all the hype when it comes to Diesel? Actress Halle Berry offers a multicultural comparison. Her mother was English and German, her father, African American. Where Berry could claim mixed ethnicity, her mother raised her to consider herself as black, as that’s how the world would see her; and there lies the difference. There’s so much controversy surrounding Diesel’s heritage simply because he chooses to hide it – not in any shameful manner but in a manner which allows him to break form the shackles of racial stereotyping. The fact that Hollywood’s hitman actively conceals his heritage automatically creates a platform for debate.
Performers like Halle Berry, Keanu Reeves, Thandi Newton and Dwayne Johnson, who all have mixed backgrounds, do not suffer from racial barriers and therefore it has no bearing on their careers; and so they disappear unperturbed in Hollywood. Vin Diesel however, in the majority of his movies, takes on the role of the outsider (Pitch Black, Riddick, A Man Apart, Knockaround Guys), thus drawing attention to his multi-heritage background. In Knockaround Guys, Diesel is seen sporting a tattoo of the Jewish symbol, the Star of David, but that doesn’t mean Diesel is Jewish. This simply highlights the beauty of being racially unconfined.
Vin Diesel has displayed his views on multiculturalism through several other ways. One Race Productions is Diesel’s film studio that part-produces the majority of his movies. The name alone suggests his attitude towards racial categories. In addition, Vin Diesel has established a school of film that focuses on giving people from third world countries, an opportunity to explore the world of film. By doing this, he is approaching people like himself, i.e. the mixed races, to then introduce them to the art of film-making.