Quick answer: Not much. But it’s too easy, not to mention unproductive, to bemoan and criticize awards shows for their lack of recognition when it comes to Latino writers/directors. Unfortunately there isn’t much of an eligible pool for these big awards shows to consider (why that is -for another post). Also, for those new to my blog; I define Latino strictly in the American generation/context, not international, and I focus on creators (writers and directors). Now lets celebrate who we do got because it’s pretty cool that of these few American Latino writers/directors in the Golden Globes mix, they happen to be all WOMEN!
Although it is the showrunner/producers who accept the Best TV categories, the writers and directors of the nominated shows obviously are part of what makes the show stand out. To that end, lets give props to the ladies that contributed to the critical success of these nominated series:
In the Best TV Drama series category, there is Jessie Nickson Lopez, staff writer on Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS. The young Columbia University grad was raised between Canada and the U.S. and has Venezuelan roots. After a brief stint at ICM followed by being staffed on A&E’s short lived The Returned, she worked as assistant to Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad EP/writer) on STARZ ballet drama, Flesh and Bone which was nominated for a Golden Globe last year in the Best Television Limited Series category. Stranger Things debuted this summer to much acclaim and hype with eight episodes. She wrote episode 6: The Monster. The show will be back for season 2.
In the Best TV Comedy series category, Mexican-American Linda Mendoza has directed 4 episodes over the course of the 3 year old series BLACKISH from ABC. Mendoza has been directing hit television show episodes on the regular ever since The Chris Rock show on which she directed 13 episodes during 97-98 season. Except for her 2003 feature Chasing Papi for Pantelion, she has stayed entrenched in the television business.
WINNER ********Also in the Best TV Comedy series, Panamanian Janizca Bravo directed an episode of another new show that came in hot this year, ATLANTA. Her episode was Junteenth. Bravo has a great eye and very soulfully brings a dark comedy to her work. She has directed a number of short films as well as a virtual reality project about police brutality that was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival. She is about to premiere her feature debut, Lemon at this month’s Sundance Film Festival, so you’ll be hearing a lot more of her in the next few weeks.
As mentioned, award shows can only be as representative as the eligible pool so to be fair, what features and television shows were eligible and were snubbed THIS YEAR? I regret to say I lack hard data and to be honest I’m not as well versed in the television landscape as I am in the indie film world (new years resolution!). A few I do know who we’re technically elegible bear mentioning; Danielle Sanchez-Witzel who is the showrunner on The Carmichael Show on NBC didnt get any GG love. Empire which was nominated last year has a writing room that includes Carlito Rodriguez who is also co-producer. He previously wrote on the first season of HBO’s The Leftovers. Orange is the New Black which boasts a killer Latina cast who didn’t get recognized- includes Marco Ramirez as writer. The Get Down includes Jacqueline Rivera as staff writer who also directed an episode. While Gina Rodriguez gets her third nomination (and sole Latina acting nominee) for her acting on Jane the Virgin the show didn’t get any love this year (It was last nominated in 2015 the year of its debut). The show consistently engages Latina scribes, Emmylou Diaz and Valentina Garza, and director Zetna Fuentes. In previous years Hulu’s hit show East Los High received a number of daytime Emmy Awards but the Globes never recognized the show which was created by Carlos Portugal and included a robust number of Latino writers. NBC’s Shades of Blue wasn’t nominated which includes writer Benjamin Lobato who also wrote on USA’s Queen of the South another show that premiered this year. Peter Murrieta wrote on TV Land’s Lopez show. Just recently premiered, so not part of this year’s submissions, Netflix’s One Day at a Time counts Murrieta as a writer and notably Gloria Calderon as showrunner (next year?)
Last year we had Ricky Gervais prophetically introduce Eva Longoria and America Ferrara as folks our future president wants to deport. Conceptually (painfully) funny to prove a point/Brit rub it in move, except both are American citizens. The ladies proceeded to do a bit on people mistaking them for other famous Latinas. Among this year’s presenters, Zoe Saldana who plays Ben Afflecks love interest in his period gang drama Live by Night is the only American Latina on deck. The Dominican American is known to speak flawless Español. Her body of work is fascinating in that she’s managed to play Black, Latina and now simply blockbuster actor (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar). Saldana has a production company Cinestar which she runs with her sisters and has a first-look deal with South Shore Television and Pantelion Films, the U.S. joint ventures of Grupo Televisa and Lionsgate. Hopefully they manage to bring up and work with some talented Latino creators.
In the Best Original Song category, musical star Lin Manuel-Miranda was nominated for his work on How Far I’ll Go with Mark Mancini and Opetaia Foa’i.
The theme of this year’s NALIP 2013 conference was “Spotlight on the Trillion $ Latino Market”, but it seems the only tangible currency the Latino community shares is the ‘trillion’ perspectives on the subject. Pushed to pierce through the brown and loud cacophony overheard this weekend, I’ve come up with; On one side there is a tedious concern of defining our hybrid identity and segmented Latin descent/US geography, which plays into the subsequent frustration over tackling our representation within the commercial mainstream marketplace. On the other side, there exists a newer generation of transcultural artists asserting a very specific identity that informs their work, and their greater concern is building awareness and access to an audience within and outside the specialized outlets and innovative digital distribution platforms available. Of course there were a lot more thoughts vocalized and an opposing range of game plans and visions for the future put forth, but the following is what I absorbed and takeaway from this weekend. Before I launch into it though, it is necessary to acknowledge and appreciate the herculean efforts of NALIP, the non-profit organization of volunteers, staff, operations, board members, partners and participants who produced this year’s conference. If nothing else, the community is unified by the love and passion of the arts.
OPENING AND CLOSING PLENARY
The Opening and Closing plenaries offered proof the conversation is at least moving forward in spite of the generalized and misleading titles of the sessions. The reason being is the caliber of forward-thinking speakers and artists who question the implications and who tended to offer a different perception and context to the subject.
At the “Overview of Media Trends and the Trillion $ Latino Market”, the panelists were David Chitel, New Generation Latino Consortium; Steven Benanav, Flama; Alex Fumero, ABC / Univision’s Fusion and Margie Moreno, Mun2. The very first thing they all said was that this was an extremely complicated market. Their job is to figure out how to break down what part of this trillion-dollar market can realistically build an audience. “We are using a misconception to our advantage. Especially when it comes to content”, Alex Fumero said. Even though its kind of corny how these targeted outlets wrestle with coining a demo moniker (YLA, BCA, NGL, Urbano, Hispanic Millenial), it is indicative of how desperate they are to reach out to the young Latino (18-34) audience in a fresh way. They are adopting a doors-wide-open, you-dictate-us approach with their programming. Most importantly, they do not pander nor underestimate their audience. Fumero invited anyone with programming pitches to email him for the network that will launch late this year (____). On one condition: He insisted that they must send a trailer, or some kind of video clip that demonstrates the type of content they aim to make. “There’s no reason you can’t go out and shoot something on your phone”, he said. Margie Moreno from Mun2, Telemundo’s younger sister which started 8 years ago, said, “We don’t let language dictate our content”, a sign of how much more embracing they are of a fluid bi-cultural identity than any other traditional outlet. Flama, is a new digital platform from Univision launching this fall. They have an open submissions call for all kinds of content. Submit your web series and projects at FindYourFlama.com Already in the works is a scripted show called Salseras about two childhood best friends who become fierce rivals in their college campus salsa dancing competition. And then there is NGL, which instead of taking up one kind of channel space, is positioning itself as an aggregator and source of all the “New Generation Latino” content out there on the net. You can submit your web series to get featured on their site and gain some of the ad share they generate by integrating and offering categorical content to brands and advertising companies.
When it came time to take questions from the audience – (which inevitably usually come in the form of comments rather than questions), I can’t help feel that Dennis Leoni, NALIP Founding Trustee and television writer (Resurrection Blvd) invalidated these innovative and exciting ventures when he said that while it is great that these specialized outlets exist, “I want to play in the big leagues”. Where is NBC, ABC, CBS, he asked? The panelists addressed his frustration by reminding all of us about the nature of the beast; studios and networks do everything in their power to hit the biggest number possible. Even if they find a voice as exciting as John Leguizamo who most definitely has an established fan-base, (and who apparently had three pilots none of which were picked up this season), if they don’t see it play broad (safe), they see it as a risk.
The Closing Plenary’s generic topic “Latinos and Media Stereotypes” was likewise immediately called into question by the panelists themselves, starting with Natalia Almada, this year’s NALIP conference Co-Chair and filmmaker. She mentioned that this concern with a type of representation is problematic and baffling to her since as an artist she is drawn to the complexity and difficult… and wants to look at the things that aren’t clear. Richard Montoya echoed the sentiment by saying he is not concerned and is actually unapologetic with whether his characters offer a positive portrayal of Latinos. “I don’t want to have that conversation.. I just want to drag you into the world and to tell stories best I can…Because it has an authenticity to it, a cultural specificity that rings true to the world but seldom gets underneath”. Meanwhile, Yancey Arias, an actor and producer, demonstrated how, by expanding the genre in which you are working with, where it doesn’t matter where a character comes from but the story and world, it is yet another way to subvert and challenge representation. The short film he stars in and produced, The Shooting Star Salesman, is a whimsical tale about a door to door salesman wearing a top hat and three piece suit who sells shooting stars. It will become available on iTunes in August. The filmmaker Kico Velarde is currently adapting it into a feature.
Reading from his laptop on stage, Richard Peña delivered a serious and illuminating context on the history of world cinema, festivals, and shared his personal connection to his Spanish/Puerto Rican identity as it informed his programming career. He’s always been attracted to films outside the purview, the margins. He struck the parallel that US Latinos are the new Jews of the United States, enjoying an insider/outsiders status which vantage and unique perspective could make for astonishing and novel discoveries about our world. The dilemma facing you he said, “Will you erase that sense of difference to an absolute minimum to cross over in to an even bigger market?”
While Richard’s discourse was introspective and left the room in thought , the second keynote on Saturday by Glenn Llopis played like a corporate motivational speech designed to pump up the audience full of Hispanic pride. Yes, he used that 70’s term, “Hispanic”. The author of a best-seller book titled, Earning Serendipity, he is the founder of Center for Hispanic Leadership. He’s basically carved himself out the role of the guy who corporations bring in to figure out how to reach the largest unidentifiable profit center. Overly enthusiastic, bright eyed and bouncy on stage, he showed us a flashy reel touting our numbers and potential power. It literally felt like he was holding up a mirror to us and saying,’Look how awesome and American, we Hispanics are!” Repeating phrases as if mantra’s like “Value your brand”, “Embrace your cultural promise”, “End of the niche,” I found the delivery patronizing, lip-service schtick and inappropriate. Now, in no way do I mean to diminish this man’s considerable accomplishments. He was the youngest business executive at Sunkist, he is a best selling author and a successful entrepreneur with a positive message. We can all relate to his Cuban father’s story because all of our parents’ experiences are character-building for the battles they waged as first generation, back in the day. His positive reinforcement of the immigrant mentality is noble, but so what. He speaks in general, self help, 12 step like morale boosting phrases, instead of offering practical strategy. He threw so much out there that something finally did in fact stick with me; “To change the conversation, you must lead the conversation and be consistent.” I can totally get behind that – but isn’t that like totally obvio?
THE PEN IS MIGHTER THAN THE SWORD
Wordsmith warrior, Richard Montoya is our de-facto leader charged with rescuing Latinos’ non-existent record in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (and across this great nation). Last Friday night’s private screening of his film debut, Water & Power was jam-packed inside the 400 seat theater at the AMC Citywalk. Howard Rodman, the screenwriter and one of Montoya’s Sundance lab advisors gifted the audience with a referential prologue of how classic LA noir has traditionally resisted filling in non-white characters, completely disregarding the makeup of this city – until now. Water & Power has a groundbreaking breadth of modern mestizo and mystical essence enhanced by Gingger Shankhar’s score and a soundtrack that includes Zack de la Rocha and Chicano Batman. The film’s transmission is undeniably enriched if one has an understanding of context/consciousness of LA and Chicano history. But even if you are unfamiliar with named identifiers like Pelican Bay, Lords of Dogtown, La Onda, Sureños, Frogtown muscle, there is some classic symbolism and brilliant metaphors to appreciate in this tale about two brothers locked in each other’s foreshadowed cataclysmic fate, all which takes place over the course of one night. In film, what is not shown onscreen is just as important as what is onscreen. Referring to the comments made to him about the lack of female characters in his film, Montoya responds, ‘This is what men behave like when there is not a strong female presence.”
“The ghosts of our colonial past haunt this continent”, Richard likes to say – and this is the prevailing night-time, tribal mood of this piece. He modernizes and personifies the noir genre’s shadows, dreams, underbelly fixes, secrets and implied provisos which precariously keep harmony during the day. The aerial views of the city are seen as if from our native American Eagle keeping watch over LA’s circulatory system; freeway arteries on which carbon-dioxide powered vehicles flow, and the unseen pipelines underground through which gravity powered water flows, barely keeping this land soluble. I have to say I was looking forward to Richard Peña as Q&A moderator to dive into the rich thematic context but curiously he only asked about the panoramic shots and once he gave the microphone over to the two young child actors to talk about their first acting experience, Montoya took over the Q&A.
AMERICAN LATINO WRITING PANEL
Carlos Gutierrez of Cinema Tropical, Bel Hernandez/Latin Heat, Juan Caceres/LatinoBuzz and I enjoyed an engaging panel about the relative lack of people and literature covering US Latino cinema. Bel refered us to the book and 2002 documentary 100 years of The Bronze Screen. A more contemporary look is Mary Beltran’s 2009 book called Latina/o Stars in U.S. Eyes: The Making and Meanings of Film and TV Stardom. Still, I maintain that more recent films such as the groundbreaking epic, genre-defying film Sleepdealer written and directed Alex Rivera have not gotten its due in wider entertainment outlets (although it has become a major reference in the educational circuit). It’s interesting to note that back when LatinHeat was founded, they were among the first to feature La J-Lo circa Selena which broker her out and made her the international superstar status and entertainment empire she holds today. From her perspective many of the emerging performers and artists she covered back then are now mainstream, it’s only natural that her publication has gotten more Hollywood. LatinHeat continues to feature emerging and independent American Latinos like the Chamacas web series and the independent feature Mission Park and its wildly talented cast including Joseph Julian Soriana, Jeremy Ray Valdez and Walter Perez. Both Juan Caceres and I come from the film festival programming world and we talked about our desire to get these films out there regardless of whether they end up at our festivals. But there is a lack of volume and quality missing, and Juan made no apology about covering the exceptional films out there and not just because they are Latino. Although it has not been officially announced, it was hinted that the New York International Latino Film Festival is not happening this year. Rumor has it that the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival which took a hiatus last summer, is trying to happen in the fall.
THE ACTING TRAILBLAZERS
“If you don’t produce and write your own stories you are going to sit there and wait for the phone to ring”, Jeremy Ray Valdez said that Edward James Olmos once told him. Jeremy took this advice to heart and has recently produced and starred in his own film, Dreamer, written and directed by Jesse Salmeron. Nicolas Gonzalez who is a tour de force as “Power” in Montoya’s film mentioned he sold his house to keep his integrity – implying he did not take a lucrative job because he didn’t believe in the representation. Nicolas is in the upcoming one hour fantasy drama, Resurrection, which ABC picked up to series order this season. Justina Machado, who gained notable success on 6 ft Under also had a picked up pilot this season called Welcome to the Family on NBC. She talked about how she has carefully chosen her roles and has been able to do so because she is not the typical bombshell looking Latina (she looked bombshell gorgeous to me!). Gina Rodriguez was very outspoken about them coming together as actors and saying NO to any roles which were reductive and perpetuated stereotypes. Jesse Garcia who actively works in shorts, indies, blockbusters and theater, mobilizes a network of working film professionals on Facebook so they can support one another. This was one of the more livelier panels both on and off the stage. Old school folks in the audience talked about la envidia (jealousy), and cried out these young actors should be even bigger Hollywood stars. I think this mentality is kind of a throwback to the chicano civil rights activist days where we demanded acceptance and respect from the ‘establishment and powers that be’. But times have changed. Everything is more decentralized. Also, why give them that power? What is so productive about talking about the crabs in a bucket syndrome of how we don’t support each other’s projects? You can’t make anyone do something they don’t want to do and that includes begging traditional distribution models that there is an audience out there, and likewise begging audiences to support Latino film – especially when you frame it that way. So there are not any major Latino leading movie stars, so what? Is that the only barometer of success? To me success looks like what these fine actors are doing; focused on improving their craft, working their asses off, and choosing, effecting and sometimes producing their roles.
The awards show gala on Saturday was entertaining (although why they don’t offer complimentary drinks irks me, and probably reveals the lush in me) thanks to the energy of the host, Joe Hernandez-Kolski who came out like Gangnam Style PSY lifted on a pedestal held up by some sexy brown boys, making it rain fake bills on the audience.
I was so thrilled for Aurora Guerrero being awarded the Estela Award (McDonalds $7,500 cash money) for Mosquita Y Mari. Bird Runningwater, director of the Native program at Sundance Institute broke ground by including this chicana’s screenplay inside the Native Lab, which reflects the out of the box thinking of Sundance’s development programs. Ben DeJesus a well liked, long time Nalipster was the other Estela Awardee for his behind the scenes documentary of John Leguizamo’s one man show Ghetto Klown. Tales of a Ghetto Klown, which premieres on PBS June 29, follows the workaholic performer upping the stakes by taking his one man show to his motherland of Colombia. It’s an admirable and impressive feat watching him immerse himself in the Spanish language, translating and re-writing his comedy.
Gina Rodriguez was absolutely humbled and gave a very emotional speech when she received La Lupe award in post-humous tribute to Latino community godmother and all around wise-cracking fierce spirit Lupe Ontiveros. Holding back tears, Gina said she doesn’t think she deserves the award now but that she would dedicate her whole career towards deserving such an honor. Watching the reel before she came up, where she auditions for Filly Brown by spitting out a rhyme, her magnetism was so clear and evident that she was born that way. As most artists, they have a natural talent that stirs within and an unmistakable calling to fulfill. Finally Ray Liotta was there to give Danny Trejo the lifetime achievement award. Right before, Michelle Rodriguez ran up onstage to add how much she loves her some Danny Trejo.
THE FUTURE OF NALIP AND TAKEAWAYS,
A true artists takes risks and challenges the status quo. What are the new heights we can achieve without sacrificing integrity and voice? What is wrong with working along the margins if the margins are getting bigger and they offer a unique purview? How do we give the public at large access to the exciting work out there? These are the questions I find to be most relevant. Because I don’t see the value or longevity offered in chasing after the big studio films/networks. They are traditional models that are imploding and on the way out. Rather, a more important question that relates to all artists is how can we make the films we want to make without being dictated on what sells? Why can’t we rid ourselves of an Us vs. Them scenario? As artists should we be so concerned why Latinos don’t go to Latino films? We have to remember the scale of our art and work in this decentralized world. Why must we dwell on the question of our cultural identity in such a dated way?
I think there is a slow but seismic progressive shift, and its exciting. It was only my second year so I don’t have comparison but as one of the panelists pointed out, he was surprised there were not more attendees in the room. What does that say? “The conference has shrunk” said Erin Ploss Campoamor, producer of Cristina Ibarra’s amazing documentary, Las Marthas, who has been coming for years. Although I missed his panel, “How to get your film Beyond the Latino market”, Gabriel Reyes, a PR and marketing vet, referred me to one of the more current- thinking marketing firms called Latinworks a company who has literally invented words to describe the current climate of culture. They’ve trademarked words like “Foreculture”, meaning a new generation with a transcultural mindset, and have identified “Transculturation” as the new game in town, in which people deconstruct their initial cultural identity and start forming new connections between elements of cultures. Their identity is multifaceted fluid and situational.
While it’s part of marketing ploy, I have to say I dig it. I especially like the idea that “Ni de Aqui ni de Alla” (not from here nor there), is turning into “De Aqui y Alla” (from here and there). Embracing otherness is the best route towards oneness (Latinworks)
For me the most productive way to keep moving forward is first and foremost the ongoing development of our content creators, and encouraging our peers and next generation to pursue careers as film critics, programmers, media entrepreneurs any kind of cultural gatekeeper. What matters most is that we work tirelessly towards improving our craft, that we empower ourselves by trusting our distinct voices and collaborate with each other. The biggest challenge for NALIP is how to stay relevant and young. Even though they had a social media maven, Lizza Monet Morales reminding us to utilize our social media to get the word out, when I filter out the hashtag #Nalip2013, there is not nearly as much activity as a conference in this day and age should produce. Where are the millenials at this conference??
I met a few new filmmakers and discovered a number of exciting second features coming through the pipeline, as well as one very exciting narrative film project from a master documentary filmmaker – all of which I’m excited to cover right here on my blog. I come away more compelled than ever to bring awareness to the most original and culturally specific talented writer/directors out there by screening their work for film festivals and writing about their projects on this blog. I know I need to arm myself with further academic studies, specifically of the humanities/political kind, in order to draw parallels, articulate, and change the way we are talking about these films as necessary stories that are flipping and re-creating the cultural zeitgeist. Now more than ever I feel like a genuine part of the ecosystem.
Again, these are only my observations. I’d love to hear from you if you went to NALIP, and if you didn’t, por que no? por que si?
Tonight the Brooklyn Film Festival drew to a close and I’m so thrilled to hear the news that Nicole Gomez Fisher was awarded BEST DIRECTOR for her debut feature, Sleeping with the Fishes starring Gina Rodriguez! In case you missed it you can ready the interview I did with Nicole last week here.
Festival wins for indie films often help the visibility and future of their distribution. Make sure to like the film’s FB page to stay tuned for future announcements on where we might see the film next.
Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Ana Ortiz, Steven Strait, Priscilla Lopez, Tibor Feldman, Orfeh, Producer: Courtney Andrialis – Director/Screenwriter: Nicole Gomez Fisher – Cinematographer: Raoul Germain – Editor: Carlos Berrios,
Since Sunday night’s Oscar telecast the interwebs have exploded with fury about the omission of Lupe Ontiveros in the Academy’s In Memoriam segment. I didn’t think to add my 2 cents until right now because frankly I wasn’t surprised at all. But now I got something I think worth sharing. I was combing through my computer for some video and I ran into this clip I took of the late great Lupe at last year’s NALIP where she delivered a moving speech in her irresistible, witty, loving spicy way to bestow the Lifetime Achievement Award to Rita Moreno. You know what I get out of this? It’s our responsibility and ours alone to value and recognize our people. Are we really so appalled and shocked that the Academy denied her membership? What good is it to ask the Academy to explain and question their commitment to Latinos? I suppose it could be looked as a tongue in cheek PR move because clearly that is not on their list of To Do’s, let alone their sensibility. What really gets me is that it seems like we are seeking validation from an elite society of homogenized, old white males, half of them retirees. I believe the significance of the Academy Award is more an antiquated status symbol, a vestige of show business like the stars in my neighborhood’s Hollywood Walk of Fame, than a recognition of achievement.
If this incident serves to fuel and spill our community’s amor and tribute to La Dona Lupe’s legacy, that is indeed a positive. But hear her words in this clip. How she shares her sincere admiration, love and respect for Rita Moreno. It makes me think, its more beautiful, powerful and honest when we ourselves elevate and commend our mentors, peers and younger generation. Another key observation in this clip; Notice Lupe calling out Ms. Moreno by way of inviting her to be part of NALIP, essentially pointing out that this highest Entertainment Awarded Puerto Rican woman, is not part of the National Association of Latino Producers, a grassroots organization which struggles but continues to support a young crop of filmmakers with labs, workshops and development opportunities. “Show up once a year”, Lupe says. ” We need figures like you.”
Goes to show that there are members of the Academy who are brown. I take more issue with the Hollywood Latinos who having personally faced and overcome barriers and stereotypes, yet once on the inside, don’t take the obligation or responsibility seriously as self identified Latinos, to keep the gates open.
Last Friday night I showed up at the infamous Reg Bev Wilsh (if you don’t get the abbreviation the moniker has been embedded in my head by Laura San Giacomo in Pretty Woman) to cover the National HIspanic Media Coalition’s 16th Annual Impact Awards – a celebration of the positive portrayals of Latinos in media.
I meet Jose, the press liaison who shows me to a tiny spot on the step and repeat row with a piece of paper that says Chicana from Chicago on it. I notice I’m right next to US Weekly – which I quickly decide is a strategic spot to seize all the juicy interview leftovers. I realize how little television I see as I don’t recognize any of the TV stars, Aimee Garcia, Morena Baccarin (Homeland), Gina Torres (Suits) and Lana Parilla (Once Upon a Time) so I don’t bother trying to talk to them. I did however got a chance to talk to loud, brown and proud multi-hyphenate John Leguizamo and writer/producer/playwright Josefina Lopez. I failed at grabbing the hottie Mario Lopez who showed up late but there’s an excerpt of his remarks below (the video I took is crap), and Michael Pena was a no show for the press line.
After the arrivals I naturally assumed all press was invited to enter the actual Awards ceremony but lo and behold I found out that no, press were not invited to stay. Looking around at the staff I recognized a lot of familiar faces from the usual Latino events and decided to ask politely and point blank if I could please go. After speaking to three press staff, I was told they had no authority and that further there was no room. I always find these type of situations uncomfortable – mostly because I have been on the ‘bouncer list’ side for so long and I know that being on the list means nothing; it is recognizing who needs to be there and how you need to fill the place which means everything. Taking the hint that press had to leave, the media room began to disassemble. Observing that staffers were too distracted drinking the Moet sponsored Champ and taking pics in front of the step and repeat, I took a chance and literally snuck in behind the scenes like I owned it. Once in the ballroom I found that there was plenty of room, and see acouple familiar faces like Bel Hernandez, publisher of Latin Heat, and actress Patricia Rae and writer/director Matteo Ribaudo. Patty, Matteo and I took in the complimentary champagne and talked about our related experiences and upbringing growing up as a first generation from immigrants. Patty is Colombian by way of New York and like me learned Spanish first and had parents who talked about our related experiences and upbringing growing up as a first generation from immigrants. Patty is Colombian by way of New York and like me learned Spanish first and had parents who felt pressured to assimilate. During our exchange I realized that this can be turned into a positive impact on our lives; the fact that our parents witheld such an obvious part of our culture only fueled our desire to commune with it. It is more special when you seek your origins from our own accord and desire. Patty mentioned how she had to ask her abuela for the traditional Colombian dish, Sancocho recipe. Patty is a very talented actress by the way. She blows away her counterparts in the indie movies I have seen her. I’m glad someone is taking notice as she is the only Latina in the ensemble cast of Big Wedding coming out April. The cast includes Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon. I have no doubt she carries her own with these big shots. Her husband Matteo is currently writing a script with her as the Scarface/Godfather lead. What I found interesting on his take on the classic gangster genre was how he is deliberately approaching and utilizing the female psyche to explore power and how different violence perpetuated by women looks like.
I stuck around for a couple Awards speeches. I had no idea how much Mario Lopez identifies with his Mexican roots. He thanked and appreciated La Raza for the award and told us about his childhood growing up in Chula Vista. He is undoubtedly a super charming mama- done-raised-him-right man. I didn’t know whether Pena was going to show up or not so I left Beverly Hills and headed to the East side to catch my good friends’ joint birthday parties at Malo which kind of doubled as a Spirit Awards party. Dana Harris and Eric Kohn from Indiewire were there, Sean Baker, writer/director of Starlet, winner of the Robert Altman ensemble cast award and nominated film for John Cassavetes Award, David Nordstrom, lead actor in Pincus which is nominated for Someone to Watch Award for its writer/director David Fenster, filmmaker and doc junkie AJ Schnack whose Branson doc, We Always Lie to Strangers is premiering at SXSW in a couple weeks, and my favorite artiste couple, filmmaker Azazel Jacobs and fashion designer, Diaz. I boogied on the dance floor to the tunes of my favorite KCRW DJ Dan Wilcox, then had to make a french exit given my early flight the next morning.
Check out the interview clips I did with Josefina Lopez who talks about her new film, Detained in the Desert, and John Leguizamo who talks about turning down negative roles and his new movie Fugly!
Mario Lopez on receiving Outstanding Media Entrepreneur Award:
“This (award) one is really special because its with my Raza, all talented smart, innovative and ambitious people. When with my parents came here from Mexico, I grew up in Chula Vista and they were blue collar folks, they just wanted a better life for me , and they did a great job. Never did I think that I would have my own entertainment shows, hosting shows with Simon Cowell, to work on my own talk show and writing books, I was just thinking right now, ‘Damn, not bad for a Mexican from Chula Vista… The most important thing to me I realized is that you do have to have an impact on someone . When I started working with the boys and girls clubs I realized that is what its all about, giving back…..as many people as there are in this room, there needs to be 3-5 times more because we are so underrepresented in the entertainment community…. the only way that is going to change is if there are more people like us telling our stories – if theres more writers and more directors and producers. People tell me, You are like the Latino Ryan Seacrest. That’s cool but one day to Ryan they are going to tell him, You are like the Caucasian Mario Lopez.”
My boots are packed and ready to get to San Antonio tomorrow for CineFestival, the longest running independent Latino Film Festival in the US. I’m looking forward to hanging out with friends, old and new, who represent the rich emerging Latino independent film world, but I’m particularly eager to discover and connect with local filmmakers. But first, tonight I’m going to put on my heels and get fancy, for I’ll be covering a ‘Hollywood Hispanic” gala. I’m going to the National Hispanic Media Coalition Impact Awards. The NHMC is a non-profit media advocacy organization which seeks to recognize outstanding contributions to the positive portrayal of Latinos in media. Among this year’s honorees are Michael Pena, Mario Lopez and John Leguizamo. You can expect me to cover both events on the ground. What I won’t be personally covering is the big glitzy mainstream Indie and Academy Awards. Let’s take a quick look at WTF is Latino in that land, shall we?
Film Independent’s Spirit Awards
Mexicana Salma Hayek is an honorary co-chair of this year’s Spirit Awards. A ceremonial title that pretty much just confirms her presence at the show.
If we were to subscribe to NBC Latino’s overly positive scratching at the barrel of Best ‘Hispanic movies of 2012″, I would second the highlight John Ortiz, Bradley Cooper’s best friend in the nominated Best Film, Silver Linings Playbook. Sure he’s a solid supporting character with a sub-storyline and I applaud his acting talent. In that case, let’s mention Gael Garcia Bernal in Best Director nominated Julia Loktev’s film, Loneliest Planet,or Aubrey Plaza (yes she’s boricua baby – here is proof watch this clip FF 40 sec in) who is in Safety Not Guaranteed directed and produced by Colin Trevorrow, up for Best First Feature, and there is Wendell Pierce who is nominated for Best Actor in Four written and directed by Joshua Sanchez. But come on, lets be real, and more importantly, relevant to the awards. I count three:
John Cassavetes Award – Mosquita y Mari, written and directed by Aurora Guerrero
I’ve written a bunch of love letters on my blog about this film which I hold close to my heart. Check out the interview I did exactly one year ago with my sister, Aurora here.
Best Supporting Actor – Michael Pena – for End of Watch
hot hot hot.
Best Screenplay – Keep the Lights On Mauricio Zacharias – is the Brazilian born co-writer of Keep the Lights On, an extraordinarily written and acted film about a tumultous relationship between two New York City men. I always like to strip a gay or latino movie of its gay or latino element and ask myself if the barebones of the story would be as poignant without it and the answer here is definitively yes. However it’s also a celebration to finally have access to those specific narratives and previously unseen powerful images. The romantic sex and love scenes between the two men carry such weight and substance.(I think I’m channeling Franco with his Interior Leather Bar ‘thesis’ film)
The 85th Academy Awards
Just down the street from me, Hollywood Boulevard has been blocked off since last week to make way for the monumental Academy Awards. Huffington Post did a good job at covering the Latino in the nominations. Check out the full post and related “Latinos Snubbed” slideshows here. Basically they highlighted:
Costume Design – Paco Delgado, Les Miserables (Spanish)
Sound Design – Jose Antonio García, Argo (Mexican)
And I will add Searching for Sugarman by Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn to this list. I am so grateful to these filmmakers for rescuing this story and incredible folk singer songwriter artist from obscurity. It might seem hard to believe but back then, unlike now, before Robert Rodriguez made it cool, the last name Rodriguez was discriminated against in the 60s and 70s. The Detroit native, first generation Mexican American literally had his amazing voice suppressed and blocked by labels who could not imagine that his amazing voice would transcend boundaries. I mean – his lyrics were also pretty powerful. I couldn’t be happier about the success of this film which has given us the chance to not only discover but to celebrate Sixto Rodriguez’s late but true contribution to our lives. Fingers crossed it wins Best Documentary.
And with that – I’m reposting a video I took of Sixto Rodriguez at last year’s LA Film Festival.