Today’s announcement of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science’s whopping and unprecedented 276 invitations to join their exclusive film society ranks indicates a baby-step push to be more diverse following the public spanking they took by last year’s LA Times piece which revealed the membership was 94% white and mostly male and old (average 62). Then there was the furious outcry from the Latino community over the omission of our beloved late actor Lupe Ontiveros in this year’s Oscar telecast RIP memoriam. In an open letter to the Academy, the National Hispanic Media Coalition went so far to assert that Lupe applied and was denied membership, giving rise to further shock and anger that an actor with such a long-spanning career (who played the role of a maid some 150 times) was not given recognition (by a white establishment, mind you).
THE PROBLEM WITH CONTROLLING IMAGE CONTROL
Lets be real here, by nature, any veritable member organism charged with promoting and recognizing excellence on the popular masses scale, is usually an unwieldy, slow, political agenda-ized machine that struggles to keep step with the changing culture of subcultures and geo/social/cultural demographic shifts. Often times it is a dated lens of the current climate. Almost always, admission to such preeminent establishments is a rigid and puzzling bureaucratic, over-protective process which keeps many guards at the gate. If the AMPAS is the establishment of the center of the industry, minority representation outfits like the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the NAACP are similarly erstwhile establishments of their historically marginalized People of Color domain. The hazard then, is that in their high profile position they become yet another filter towards clearing and edging forward the mainstream path. Their relevance and integrity requires a high level of proactive responsibility. It’s much more productive to the cause (and challenging) to galvanize and mobilize on behalf of “unrecognized’ yet hugely talent artists, rather than to mobilize and forever celebrate someone already well established.
Last week the nominees for the The Imagen Awards were announced, an awards gala known as the Latino Golden Globes, designed to recognize and reward positive portrayals of Latinos in all forms of media. In the feature film section, there was a huge oversight in their unwillingness to nominate two US Latino written and directed films which captivated audiences at hundreds of festivals. Both films couldn’t organically exemplify the positive image more, with their shining and refreshingly authentic depiction of an often times ghettoized world, not to mention accomplished use of the cinematic medium. Why weren’t they considered? Because the films were not officially submitted. I’m talking about Mosquita Y Mari by Aurora Guerrero and Elliot Loves by Gary Terracino. These two first feature films are transcendent coming of age stories that happen to speak directly to the Gay Latino community and offer insightful, multi-cultural and dimensional underrepresented narratives.
The NAACP’s Image Awards follows similar protocol as does the IDA Awards, I later learned. I find it frustratingly counterintuitive that such entities acting as the preeminent Image authority on behalf of a minority group and whose aim is to cultivate a new culture, whether it is awareness for the extraordinary documentary, black or latino narrative, it is not a priority to do outreach and consider outstanding work that highlights their mission, regardless of whether they paid a submission fee. The non-profit, under-staffed response is not acceptable. Surely there are people in those communities who would assemble an adjunct committee to look out for these films on the organization’s behalf. Film festivals do outreach to films made by people of color and even offer fee waivers because they understand their gatekeeper reputation and existence rests on being the first to discover new visions and perspectives.
Back to the list of Academy invites out. There are seven US Latinos on the Actor list of 23. Michael Pena (no doubt sponsored by his buddy and co-star of End of Watch, member Jake Gyllenhaal), Danny Trejo and Jennifer Lopez feel very du jour nominations. Miriam Colon and Alma Martinez fall in the should have been nominated ages ago. Both are amazingly still very much active today. The Geno Silva nomination feels kind of random. He was first seen in Zoot Suit in 81,then made a number of television appearances in the 80s and 90s., he was in Spielberg’s Amistad in 1997. His last film credit listed is the Vin Diesel movie, A Man Apart in 2003.
What about content creators? As far as I can tell zero from the branches of writers/directors/producers on this invitee list are US Latino. Given the mostly secretive 6,000+ membership it is somewhat difficult to add context without knowing the complete list of US Latinos who are currently members, those who have been a member before and later resigned, or how many US Latino artists over the years have been invited. The reason the AMPAS gives behind not wanting to publish the full list is fear of lobbying. No kidding. I would guess there would be more pressure on those minority members to crack open the door a tad more. But I wonder if Rodrigo Garcia, Patricia Riggen, Patricia Cardoso, Robert Rodriguez or Gregory Nava to name a few of the few on indeed members? (anybody know??)
In the LA times article from last November, Academy leader Tom Sherak said they are eager for more applications from women and minorities, AND more involvement from those who are already members. He was quoted, “If you are sitting waiting for us to find your name in our make-believe book and we are going to call you, we are not going to do that. Come to us, we’ll get you in. We want you in. That would help us a lot.”
So, if our own organizations run by people vested in our representation, aren’t actively seeking out, championing and pitching talent who have yet to be recognized in the mainstream, why would we expect the longstanding establishment to do so?
Here’s the Actor list.
Miriam Colon – “City of Hope,” “Scarface”
Rosario Dawson – “Rent,” “Frank Miller’s Sin City”
Jennifer Lopez – “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” “Selena”
Alma Martinez – “Born in East L.A.,” “Under Fire”
Michael Peña – “End of Watch,” “Crash”
Geno Silva – “Mulholland Drive,” “Amistad”
Danny Trejo – “Machete,” “Heat”
Checco Varese – “Girl in Progress,” “The Aura”, and Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming summer tentpole release, Pacific Rim (Peruvian born married to Patricia Riggen)
Victoria Alonso is Marvel Studios’ Executive Vice President of Visual Effects
Cliff Martinez (Only God Forgives, Drive, Traffic, Solaris…).
I know that last names are not always a barometer of whether someone has Latino roots or not. If you know of or can identify other Above the Line (w/d/p/actor) who are US Latino, give me a shout.
ADDENDUM, Per Hollywood Reporter, the National Latino Media Council applauds the Academy for the 22/276 Latinos nominated. That’s 8% people. And that measly 8% includes Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padhila, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain and a handful of other international artists mixed in with US Latinos. Nada que ver.