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‘Chicago Fire’ actor Joe Miñoso aims to create space for people of color, LGBTQIA+ students to find film/TV gigs

The TV star, who plays Joe Cruz on the NBC hit, launches contest rewarding would-be screenplay writers with cash prizes and a development deal.

“Chicago Fire” cast member Joe Miñoso (sitting) wants to help the next generation of people of color and LGBTQIA+ students get into the film/TV industry.
Adrian Burrows/NBC

Joe Miñoso, who plays firefighter Joe Cruz on NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” recalls a time when he says he had to “gentrify” his name in order to gain acceptance from the film and television industry.

“I would have a few conversations with some professors and other colleagues, and people who would come in and do workshops and say: ‘You might want to take that tilde away,’ ” said Miñoso, referring to the symbol that distinguishes the Spanish letter “ñ” from an “n.” “It’s gonna confuse people; they’re not gonna know how to say it.”

Years later, Miñoso has a platform — and has the tilde back in his last name.

He wants to make sure students from marginalized communities don’t have to change who they are in order to get ahead.

“I grew up in a very heavily Latin community,” said Miñoso. “Then as I started getting up into my higher education — college and graduate school— I started to see a lot of the people of color dwindle, and then I was looking around and I’m one of two or three people who happen to be a part of this graduate program.”

Miñoso aims to create spaces for young creatives with the “The Epiphany Project,” a screenwriting scholarship which teaches people of color and LGBTQIA+ students the ins and outs of working in the film and television industry.

The contest has two categories for screenwriters: feature and short. Two winners from the feature category will receive a $2,500 cash prize and a development deal with Miñoso’s Mass Epiphany Studios, while short selection winners will receive a $500 cash prize and a development deal with the studio.

Submissions are open through Feb. 28.

“I think about myself as a kid; I didn’t even know acting was a thing,” said Miñoso. “I didn’t think it was something someone did until I got in high school in the ’burbs of the Bronx in Yonkers and I went to my first play. … I literally went up at the intermission to those people [cast and crew] and I said: ‘Hey, you guys need any help with anything here?’ ”

Mass Epiphany plans to set up shop on the city’s Northwest Side.

“We’ll be launching a capital campaign at the end of this month, if not the beginning of March,” said Miñoso. “We’re building up our board of directors and we are looking for investors. And we’ve already talked to architects; we have plans for what we would do.”

And those plans include enlisting the expertise of some of his current and former “Fire” cast members Miranda Rae Mayo (Stella Kidd), Daniel Kyri (Darren Ritter), Monica Raymund (Gabriela Dawson), and Alberto Rosende (Blake Gallo).

“It’s all about these kids, especially some of whom come from a low-income background, and they’re not particularly interested in being movie stars. … A lot of these jobs that we’re talking about here are behind the camera,” said Miñoso. “Sometimes it’s a six-figure, health insurance-provided job. Just think about the multitude of jobs that multiplies into once you start thinking about all of the work that we could start creating in this city.”

Miñoso’s “Fire” character, he says, shows evolution via his role as a newlywed with a child on the way while being protective of paramedic Gianna Mackey, who is played by new cast member Adriyan Rae.

“Chicago Fire” actor Joe Miñoso (right) says his character Joe Cruz is in “daddy mode” these days.
Adrian Burrows/NBC

“Cruz is very much so in daddy mode right now,” said Miñoso. “One of the reasons that he even got so protective over Mackey, I think: He’s feeling his dad oats. … I think it’s a very important part of the social conversation when it comes to the Black and brown community, which is fatherhood.”

And that evolution might’ve led to being a popular GIF available on some social media websites of him clapping his hands and nodding his head in approval.

“There are six or seven different GIFs that are out there right now, and I think it’s hilarious,” said Miñoso, who’s aware of the GIF but can’t recall the episode scene. “I’m honored to be a part of the zeitgeist, I guess; so hilarious to be a part of something like that.”