When will Latinos get our Black Panther?

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There’s nothing like a fit of jealousy and frustration to get me motivated in a positive way.  The recent uproar of the Latino community calling out Hollywood about the lack of Latino representation, juxtaposed with the Black community’s successful mobilization towards increasing their representation  – which is undoubtedly fueling Black Panther’s record-shattering box office this weekend – has jolted me into posting a new edition of Films to Watch Out For Made by Latinos. But first, I want to dig into this question of what can we in the Latino community do if we ever want to SEE A SUPERHERO LIKE US.

nhmcI started this blog over ten years ago to raise awareness for American Latino storytellers,   I was angry and confused as to why there was a staggering lack of authentic Latino representation in mainstream films yet I was discovering a number of Latino writers and directors in the independent film festival space.  Not as many as I thought I would find, truth be told, but definitely a steady number of filmmakers whose storytelling sensibilities reflected a culture I related to. I wanted to use this blog to yell “Yo, there are hella talented Latino writers and directors out here”. As if identifying them would be all it would take to make that change.

27021617_1688915677842179_4209939431460812473_o(1)It was around that time I kept hearing that ridiculous claim from studio execs and agents that while they would love to champion more Latino talent, they just don’t know of of any.  This statement persists today and is qualified with…’who are good enough’, or my favorite; ‘high profile enough’ (Insert fit of frustrated fury and bittersweet irony for that last part).

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 8.14.00 PMNewsflash: it takes years and lots of money to develop a creator and build the credits necessary before major studio executives come calling and that Oscar stage beckon.  Which is why, at the risk of sounding like I’m disparaging the National Hispanic Media Coalition’s valuable advocacy, I don’t think that their picketing the Oscars to attack studio heads over Latino exclusion is a fair argument or the most productive use of resources.

Beatriz-at-Dinner-2017-movie-posterIt’s not like there is a consistently eligible pool of Latino writers/directors who the Academy has been overlooking all these years.  Don’t get me wrong, its a damn shame that Miguel Arteta who directed Beatriz at Dinner was technically eligible for a Best Director nomination this year but did not get the campaign needed to make it happen.  Or what about Lemon, written and directed by Afro-Latina Janicza Bravo?  It’s true “For Your Consideration” campaigns are wildly expensive for indie distributors to take on. But we have to ask, what other American Latino writers and directors were even eligible for an Oscar nomination?

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Lalo Alcaraz, before he was hired on Coco

Representing the Latino diaspora in the Oscars this year is Pixar’s animated feature Coco.  But seriously, don’t play yourself people. Disney’s long-time-coming co-opt of Dia de los Muertos strategically and conveniently leveraged the co-directed and co-written credit of American Latino Adrian Molina ONLY when talking to Latino outlets and to legitimize its Mexican authenticity. Because oh wait a minute, Molina’s name is visibly missing from the official nominee announcement.  All I have to say is they better bring his ass up on stage and let him get some words in if they end up winning.  And honestly I hope they do. I genuinely love this movie and like many Latinos, IDENTIFIED.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 10.54.49 PMLets take a page from the Black community and create our own machine, and do less of that old guard-led raging against The Machine.  While there are a number of film organizations aimed at supporting Latino writers and directors to help develop their voices, its critical to support mid-career storytellers so they may continue to master their craft and realize their #brownexcellence.  We also need to shift a lot more support towards raising savvy producers.  After all the producer is the most critical role for a writer/director to be able to execute their vision.

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 1.39.42 PMThe biggest challenge is how to infiltrate the overwhelmingly white agency and studio system. Real change will come when there are Latinos in decision-making executive roles because then we’ll have someone on the inside naturally considering, relating, and understanding the value of bringing in more Latino creators to pitch original ideas.

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Rictor, a Marvel character created in 1987 (X-Factor) Mexican-American from S.F.  Character made a cameo in Logan. More here.

As we know there is a systemic tendency inside Hollywood to reboot proven franchises and IP. So we need to make sure Latinos get the shot to put their spin on them.  Just see the African-American community with Tendo Nagenda at Disney backing Ryan Coogler with Black Panther.  By the way, I’m not saying that opportunities should be contingent on creators asked to tell some version of the ethnicity they represent. They should be included and have the opportunity to tell and pitch whatever story they can tell the shit out of.  Besides Paul Perez who came to Warner Bros from Pantelion, I don’t know of any Latino executive at a major film studio.  If I’m wrong please point it out to me.

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Super Villain El Diablo played by Jay Hernandez in Suicide Squad

Regarding Latino talent on screen, I concede that hiring practices in major motion pictures are more affected by who is on screen rather than the talent of the storyteller. Still, it doesn’t diminish the overall long play in-success strategy of focusing behind the camera to position Latino writers/directors/producers. Because as the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study discovered, the outcome of hiring more underrepresented directors will organically translate into more opportunities for underrepresented casting choices.

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Powerhouse Producer Stephanie Allain with Mel Jones producer/director

Lastly, supporting Latino culture writers and film critics is vital like Vanessa Erazo of Remezcla has pointed out with her twitter thread, because again, those who have a connection or reference to a specific culture can more likely respond and champion the business value of supporting that voice.  This kind of holistic approach from within is more productive than pounding at the gates to demand from a system that does not include our community and one we have already called out as broken be that agent of change. Only then will we see our Barry Jenkins, Ava Duvernays and Ryan Cooglers flex their creative muscles at that next level to gain high profile recognition, and ultimately move the dial on reflecting what our representation actually looks like in this country.

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The truth is I’m getting chills watching the African American community’s cathartic joy in celebrating Black Panther’s unprecedented success.  They have shepherded their own industry leaders from multiple angles and in turn have made the impact necessary to create this unstoppable ripple effect which is only going to gain more speed with Ava Duvernay’s upcoming Wrinkle in Time. Will and Jada Smith have donated one million dollars to Sundance Institute which will yield more black creators in the indie to studio pipeline.  Charles King’s WME background and connection to high profile talent got him to convince investors to get Macro, responsible for producing Dee Rees’ Oscar nominated Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 1.29.25 PMfilm Mudbound, off the ground.  Then there is Oprah who has the influence and hiring autonomy to bring up a whole network of women and people of color creators. The undeniable and thrilling result of this ecosystem is that more young black kids are beginning to identify with mainstream media heroes!

 

When will Latinos, who per Forbes will be 30% of the country in 2060 experience that feeling and similar “Defining Moment” within my own community.  For hot second in the 80s, wide release films La Bamba and Stand & Deliver gave our community that sense of validation through representation. Its going to take a lot more work though to pump up the volume so that more than one American Latino writer/director gets the chance to be considered to make a blockbuster and or make a film eligible and backed with the money to cinch a nomination for an Academy Award.  As terrible in reflecting the diverse American reality as those traditional institutions are, they are still key influences in defining mass culture and inspiring the next generation of artists who might suddenly see the viability in pursuing their storytelling art if they see people like them.

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Aurora Guerrero, filmmaker who has recently directed Queen Sugar, Ava DuVernay’s  television series on Oprah’s cable channel.

In case you are like ‘but wait there’s been many Latinos who have been nominated or have won Academy Awards’.  Don’t get it twisted. Keep in mind when I use the word Latino, I make that unpopular distinction between those folks born or raised here who have Latin American and or Caribbean roots and those born and raised outside of the U.S..  That’s not to diminish the amazing work of Mexicans like Alejandro Gonzalez Iñnaritu and Guillermo del Toro, or Chilean filmmakers like Pablo Larrain with their recent English language films, but 1. They ain’t Latino because 2. there’s a disparity of class and resources between aspiring filmmakers born here and those born outside of the states, and unlike their international counterparts Latinos have been profiled and marginalized as ‘people of color’, a U.S. context that comes with very distinct barriers that keep them from global recognition.

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Eddie Olmos

Here is a reality check: The only Latinos nominated in the headliner writing/directing/producing categories has been Gregory Nava in the Best Original Screenplay category for El Norte in 1983 and Lourdes Portillo in the Best Documentary category for The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in 1985.  In the Best Animated Feature, Jonas Rivera won in 2015 for Pixar’s Inside Out which he shared with Pete Doctor.

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Jonas Rivera

We damn right will claim the Weitz brothers’ nomination for Best Adapted screenplay for About a Boy in 2002. Their grandma Lupita Tovar was a Mexican actor who starred in the first ever Mexican ‘talkie’ Santa.

In the Best Actor/Actress categories the first ever Latino was Jose Ferrer nominated in 1949 who won in 1952.  Since then its only EVER been OG Chicano Eduard James Olmos in 1982 who was nominated for Stand and Deliver. That was twenty six years ago!

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Benicio Del Toro

In supporting roles, nominees include Benicio del Toro –  two time nominee who won for Traffic, Rita Moreno who won for West Side Story, Anthony Quinn, four time nominated, two time winner, Mercedes Ruehl who won for Fisher King, Rosie Perez and Susan Kohner.  That’s it folks. More than a minute ago and over the course of 90 years of Oscars. WTF.

machete-kills-castOutside of the Oscar world but definitely more of a pop culture mainstream influence our highest profile Latino writer/director/producers is Robert Rodriguez whose success in capturing a wide audience is due in large part because he likes playing in the genres big studio films generally traffic in.  Machete (2010) is a film that cost under $20 million dollars to make.  And its box office made double that (unfortunately the sequel did not do nearly as well).  Whether its the characters in Frank Darabont’s Sin City, the beloved Mariachi character, Machete or Spy Kids, Rodriguez has always tapped into his own type of super heroes and world building.  Yet this guy hasn’t made a film over $40 million – which is considered low-mid studio movie).  If he hasn’t proved it time and time again, he can do a lot with a little, so just imagine what mind-blowing next level cinema he can do with a $100+ million dollar film.  And at the very top is Roberto Orci.  A writer and producer of the most expensive television and tentpole projects in Hollywood.  That’s it right?   1.  that’s two people 2. dudes 3. who can create (write/direct/produce) at the highest scale of this  business.

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ALL THE WAY UP!

Needless to say all of this galvanizes me. We need more Latino CREATORS. I feel the pressure to reach out to my community and do more.  I’ll post more frequently about American Latino storytellers. I’m also doing what I can to bring in and develop more Latino voices in my current role as Creative Executive at Warner Bros Digital Network’s Stage 13.

And don’t forget to check out my latest post 7 feature-length fiction films currently in post that I’m excited for the world to see because they are wildly defiant, visionary, and unique perspectives created by Latinos.

Borscht Diez – the festival at sea level that’s Next Level

diezlogo_ez_transparentOn Wednesday February 22, a vortex took shape in Miami known as Borscht Diez, the 10th edition of Borscht Film Festival, which created ripples around the world. It started with the end.  A  funeral pyre where Borscht’s 13 years of past work (via hard drives) was eulogized and then promptly lit and burnt to ashes. The festival closed on Sunday, February 26 with a major phoenix rising boom for Borscht  – whose mission is to put authentic Miami narratives on the map -when locals at the African Cultural Heritage Center watched in exhilaration as hometown set and filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ film Moonlight took home three Oscars; Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, Best Adapted Screenplay, and major key win: Best Picture.

For those who don’t know  – Borscht Corp is a non profit and artist collective I talk about frequently on my blog because since 2011 their films have been selected at the top festivals around the world. The organism spawned around 2004 and has multiplied into a rising number of unique and unapologetic artists who collaborate across platforms in film, digital and art projects. Borscht’s Day One funder and to this day is The Knight foundation. Borscht represents a wild, pop and savvy storytelling community who sneak relevant cultural perspectives and social/geo/political/tech-driven commentary.  When it comes to American Latino representation at festivals – something I talk about a lot on this blog, Borscht nearly always appears in my WTF is Latino at xyz festival and they found that last year at a major film festival, 50% of US fiction shorts by Latinos were Borscht commissions.

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Borscht

Two of the chief architects of this nuclear reactor, Jillian Mayer and Lucas Leyva, recently gained the support of Time Warner’s One Fifty which invests in creators, with the goal of creating a pipeline into the entertainment divisions who recognize the need for fresh content in order to stay relevant and reach younger socially connected audiences. Mayer and Leyva have collaborated on many projects as writers/directors/producers and with One Fifty are working on a few exciting things TBA.  Their most recent short Kaiju Bunkaru premiered at Sundance, and they are actively developing their first feature set in Cuba as writers/directors.  The partners in crime have also used Time Warner’s support to continue to spearhead their work of promoting and supporting other up and coming Miami artists.  A few of these include the Meza brothers, Bernardo Britto, Alexa Haas, Monica Peña, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Amy Seimetz, Ahol Sniffs Glue, Jonathan David Kane, Julian Yuri Rodriguez, and Giancarlo Loffredo.

A typical film festival is usually evaluated by the strength of its film selection, but this ain’t no typical film festival – its a whole experience, and one that is curated off the cuff yet quite tight.  The 70 something odd number of features, shorts and videos comprising the program is driven by Borscht made films, Miami related stories, and  natives.  Its audacious vision is pretty organically glued with near future narratives and primal and cosmic evocations –  always with a daring, and often underrepresented point of view.

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Waterworld. photo by Marilyn Loddi

Screenings were held at three main theater venues; The Miami Beach Cinematheque, New World Center, Olympia Theater – which when taken over by Borscht surely broadened those institutions’ reach and seemed to take on a new feel. Outside these established venues, screens were also popped up, intervening public spaces; on the water, in the streets, off a beaten path of an island, on walls inside and outside.  Just like screens were

unleashed, so were stories unconfined to said screens by weaving thematic narratives around each screening event. Like being handed a cacti to accompany you to a film about a conquistador and being told that the questions will be taken strictly from the cacti.  Or the animation bookends at the main film event where sea anemones from the future (fake/future news reel tells us that sea level rise has buried Miami underwater) presented the program while making fun of the blip that was humans and the rubble we left behind that we called “art”.  And then there are the personal experiences in participating that creates yet another story – like the time I kayaked by myself at night a mile out to an undisclosed island location for a screening, thinking that if I flipped over into the lukewarm sea the temperature would be nice but rubbing up on something would give probably stop my heart.

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Cosmic and coral sex inside New World Center

Other big events included Coral Orgy, an immersive psychedelic  projection by local marine biologists/artists Coral Morphologic with a live score performed by Animal Collective,  a vogue ball by Catwalk Miami that was EVERYTHING, an amusing opera piece by Joseph Keckler, performances by Hyperbody, Poor Girrrl and Miami’s very own bad bitch no-nanna-hoe Trina  – and that’s just what I witnessed firsthand.  Of the VR stuff I flexed my empathy muscles being that I embodied Dubya’s body –  naked in a tub, happily painting- thanks to an installation by Tenderclaws.

I moderated a panel called Warn a Brother with Terence Nance about how independent artist like him can preserve their voice while transitioning from independent to working with studios. Like MayerLeyva, Terence is working with One Fifty who made it possible for him to shoot his pilot Random Acts of Flyness for HBO. ‘Mobilize don’t Satiriz’e was one of a few gems that I heard Terence say about his self-expression.  Tamir Muhammad, the artist development engineer responsible for bringing them in is also working with creators like Young Guru, Lemon Anderson and  Melonie Diaz. Tamir moderated another panel called Code Switching your way to the top which included my homegirl, Dilcia Barrera, LACMA Film Curator and Sundance shorts programmer, and Walter Newman from Adult Swim. The convo was about how these cats succeed in an industry dominated by wealthy straight white men.

FILMS:  A few highlights.  For the full list of cool crazy films that played go here

OPUNTAI

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Miami native David Fenster’s Opuntia is an experimental film inspired by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación. And is narrated by a cactus. The film explores spiritual transformation by way of the fascinating and little known Spanish conquistador turned

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Cabeza de Vaca is inside this cactus

shaman during his 8 year expedition on which he lost hundreds of men, was stripped of everything he had, wandered around naked and miraculously survived –  in part by eating the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. Fenster visits the spots Cabeza de Vaca supposedly journeyed from St. Petersburg, Florida to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and weaves in a psychic medium’s point of view as well as his own personal narrative by including his father and his battle with his health.  A profound and existential adventure this was a work in progress screening.  Watch out for it.

Manila Death Squad by Dean C. Marcial

A young tenacious reporter insists on a sit-down and plays Kings with the temperamental leader of a brutal assassin group in this kitschy Filipino action film. Dean is currently working on a digital series called Midnight Service with his Calavera co-horts regular Borscht producer Brett Potter. They previously made a short film called Sea Devil  – a total masterpiece. Watch here.

[Cries in Spanish] By Giancarlo Loffredo

A young girl sings a song in a Latin cafe.  The vibes and jaw dropping twist on this one. From the dude that brought us Stripper Wars.

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Body Heals by Annelise Ogaard

A dispatch from a plastic surgery vacation, reflecting on beauty in the moment of metamorphosis after the knife goes in, but before the bandages come off. Remarkably transparent and unusual in that usually people hide themselves during their cocoon cosmetic post surgery phase. Brooklyn based creator and Vice contributor Annelise’s pov is about flaunting one’s regeneration.

Great Choice by Robin Comisar

A Borscht commissioned short film about a woman who gets stuck in a red lobster commerial.  The wacky premise anchored by an insanely real problem comes from Ghost Robot director Comisar who has fun doing stuff with Waverly Films.

One Doggone Summer by Julian Yuri Rodriguez

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Niño bueno and MTV no seasons star Julian, channels his dog lover and sentimental side with this sweet, imaginative story about a boy wants to make sure his doggy goes to heaven.

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-10-02-17-pmAgua Viva by Alexa Haas

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-07-44-pmAlexa co-directed the short film, The Glove with Bernardo Britto that debuted last year and is still making the rounds.  Her solo effort is about a manicurist in Miami expressing her inner desires, feelings, and daydreams through a language she cannot speak.

My experience with #BorschtDiez was seriously a portal of senses and provocation. It sparked dialogue around sex and gender, and somehow made time, space and matter truly feel relative.  If you missed it, well you missed out –  this time around. It always comes back around. Til then tune in and follow Borscht’s unique transmission from the 305; Follow @borschtcorp on the socials and head to their website.  Shout out to Marilyn Loddi for the on-the-scene photos.

VIVA BORSCHT

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I’m on the list – the Brown Hollywood and Indie list

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

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Adam Leon, winner of Someone to Watch Award for Gimmie the Loot!, flanked by co-chairs, Jeremy Renner and Salma Hayek at the Film Independent Nominee brunch

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:

Cinematography – Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi (Chilean)

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.