Juano G. “Juano” Hernández, Hollywood’s first Afro-Latino actor, was a polylingual self-educated Puerto Rican stage and film actor who was born Juan G. Hernández on July 19, 1896, in San Juan, Puerto Rico to a father from San Juan and a mother from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He lived in both Puerto Rico and Brazil growing up.
In 1914, at 18, Hernández made his silent picture debut as an actor in the film classic The Life of General Villa, produced by Mutual Film Corporation in Hollywood, California. In 1922, Hernández appeared in a Rio de Janeiro circus as an acrobat. Hernández then co-stared in radio’s first all-Black soap opera, We Love and Learn, later in 1922. He was in the chorus of the show Showboat on Broadway in 1927 and Strange Fruits, about interracial relationships by Puerto Rican director Jose Ferreira.
Hernández portrayed the only Latino character, “Gomez, the Cuban racketeer,” in Oscar Micheaux’s controversial film, Girl from Chicago in 1932, where the producer, Micheaux was accused of casting the principal roles based on skin complexion. It was Micheaux’s first “talkie” film. Hernández portrayed a police officer in the crime drama/musical Harlem Is Heaven the same year.
In 1949, Hernández played Lucas Beauchamp, a Mississippi Black farmer accused of killing a white neighbor in the film adaptation of William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust. His performance garnered Hernández’s first and only nomination for a Golden Globe award for “New Star of the Year.”
In 1950 Hernández was cast in the western, Stars In My Crown where he portrayed a formerly enslaved person who agitates an irate white mob by not selling his real estate. He also appeared in the drama Young Man With a Horn. Here he is a mentor and father figure who nurtures the principal character’s musical talents. In 1958, Hernández was cast in the film 1958’s Machete as an employee on a Puerto Rican plantation. He also appeared in two films, the Nat King Cole biopic St. Louis Blues and The Mark of the Hawk. This was followed by The Alfred Hitchcock Presents production of the Ambrose Bierce short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge in 1959, where Hernández was a principal actor.
Hernández’s last movies were in 1969 and 1970 respectively. He was in The Extraordinary Seaman, followed by They Call Me Mister Tibbs! in 1970.
Juano G. “Juano” Hernández died from a cerebral hemorrhage. on July 17, 1970, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 74. In 2017, Juano G. “Juano” Hernández was posthumously honored at Paseo de la Fama (The Walk of Fame) in San Juan.