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 8 Indie Movies Made by Latinos to Watch out for. But first, I want to dig into this question of what we in the Latino community CAN 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 film writer/directors.   I was confused and angry as to why there was a staggering lack of authentic Latino representation in mainstream films when 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 creators, 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 for the sake of that argument, what other American Latino writers and directors were even eligible for an Oscar nomination?

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!  Disney’s long-time-coming co-opt of Dia de los Muertos strategically and conveniently leveraged the co-directed and co-written credit of  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.

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Tengo Nagendo EVP at Disney

Lets 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.

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Nate Moore, producer at Marvel

The 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. 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.

Rictor, a Marvel character created in 1987 about a Mexican-American from San Francisco who has seismic powers.  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.

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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 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.


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.  Forest Whitaker has lifted up many new and fresh black voices by producing alongside Nina Yang Bongiovi through their Significant Productions including Fruitvale Station, Ryan’s first feature, Dope directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Roxanne Roxanne directed by Michael Larnell coming soon to Netflix and this year’s wild Sorry To Bother You by Boots Riley which was just picked up by Annapurna Pictures.

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.  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”. For a 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 to pump up the volume so that more than one American Latino writer/director gets the chance to be considered to helm a blockbuster, 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.

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.


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 8 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.

#LAFF2013 Diversity Speaks – People Like Us

My header above; “People Like Us”  comes to mind and becomes a play on words at the same time.  At a couple LA Film Festival panels I heard both actor Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown) and filmmaker Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale), hit on the personal impact of seeing stories embodied by and created by ‘people like us’ as being their driving creative force.  Ryan did not personally know Oscar Grant, the Black 22 year old who was ‘accidentally’ killed by an incompetent Oakland police officer on the Eve of 2009, but says that he was ‘like him’. The frightening thought that this incident could have happened to him is what compelled him to make his first film about this tragic and unnecessary death.

The other way I might mean “People like us” is using ‘like’ as the verb.  As humans we have the remarkable ability of feeling compassion and human connection to someone’s narrative regardless of whether we share a common culture.  There should not be any fear that if you are too specific i.e. too Chicana, too Puerto Rican, other people (audience) won’t like us or our stories.  As Ryan points out in the clip, just because a film is about all about a Puerto Rican family in the South Bronx, referring to The House that Jack Built, it doesn’t mean that a non-Latino would not enjoy it, or identify with the pains of a dysfunctional family and a nostalgia for one’s childhood.  The clip is from The Blackhouse Foundation series of ” Diversity Speaks panel that took place last Saturday.  Joining Ryan Coogler on this “New American” Independent panel were filmmakers Grace Lee, director of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (who was quick to point out that the Black community has it so good compared to Asian-Americans in media representation), Henry Barrial (The House that Jack Built), Ava Duvernay (Middle of Nowhere) and the gracious moderator and producer Effie Brown.  I’m always trying to take note and learn from the LGBT and Black community with regards to how they address their representation in the media.  I find that both communities share a stronger solidarity.   Perhaps that’s because for some time now, they’ve moved past dwelling over lack of their lot and instead, collaborating with each other, which in turn, better improves their lot.

The signature LA Film Fest panels, Coffee Talks are general conversations about the craft and opportunity to hear from successful artists in their respective fields.  I stepped into the Actors one which consisted of Garcelle Beauvais (White House Down, Flight), Joe Manganiello (True Blood,Magic Mike), Gina Rodriguez (Filly Brown, Snap) and Andre Royo (The Spectacular Now, The Wire). Even without the “diversity’ header, hearing their different trials of pursuing their art, highlighted the disparity for people of color.   As members of a ‘minority’, artists must chip away every damn day at the resistance of a media in which white men continue to dominate opportunity.  When asked how they choose their roles, Joe Manganiello, the insanely rugged handsome man’s man, said that for him the most important decision factor is the director.  Now of course, that sounds like a valid answer for many reasons. It’s in some way a privilege to be afforded that choice.  But for the other brown and black folk on the panel they commented it was far less a choice for them because for one, they do not get offered roles as much.  And two, when they do, they must grapple with the trying decision of whether to keep accepting the few roles that come their way which perpetuate the same degrading stereotypes. All actors probably struggle with finding work that does not sacrifice their individual integrity, but this is such an added pressure and obstacle.  As Andre Royo said, most roles he’s been in are either where he’s in jail, coming out of jail, or going into jail.  If his character is not high, he’s happy.    Listen to what Gina says:

Middle of Nowhere LA Film Festival gala screening – An inspiring and touching film with a quest to bloom

In the first public screening since Sundance premiered the film in US Dramatic Competition back in January, Middle of Nowhere was embraced by a beautiful black audience who filled the 800 seat LA Live Regal theater 1 at last night’s LA Film Festival.  The energy was full of love and celebration for the highly esteemed colleague and friend to many, Ms. Ava DuVernay.  The stunning Angela Bassett who introduced the screening said the film premiered under the radar at Sundance (it won Best Director Award – how under the radar is that?) before bringing up the poised and radiant DuVernay.

Some red carpet and Ava’s introduction

Somehow and regrettably I lost the footage of the Q&A on the flipcam so I’ll just mention what I remember.   Ava’s actors joined her on the stage including the gorgeous doe-eyed lead Emayatzy Corinealdi, and Elvis Mitchell began to ask them to share their creative and collaborative process on set.  I was struck to hear the artists talk about their craft and the characters they played in such a profound way which is a credit, they all agreed to Ava’s fine-tuned script.  They  highly trusted Ava (an actors director, always a good thing) and felt led by her security and confidence which she exudes on the daily.  No doubt yet another advantage she brings to her directing suit and working ethic.  Lorraine Toussaint was especially poignant and thanked Ava for walking the walk.   Middle of Nowhere is being released through her own distribution company, AFFRM with Participant Media.  Ava is not afraid but admittedly concerned with the uncracked test of whether black people are going to see this film and whether white people are going to see it.  The real challenge is if the public will come out and buy tickets to see the film.  After all, it is a small independent art film.  She asked the audience a question she’s been thinking about; what kind of black movie would white people see?  Precious?  Someone said Men In Black – totally missing and making the point at the same time.

Ava has made a deeply personal film about separation and love, offering a unique point of view from the female who ‘does time’ on the outside while her significant other is incarcerated.  The prison population being disproportionately black and brown it is a film that addresses the effects on such a personal level.  Ava has been able to engage the support of likeminded peers in her corner from having worked in the publicity and business side of the game.  While the road ahead has a pretty big challenge, she’s got the brights on to help her steer through the unprecedented waters of firsts (again, its got to be successful at the box office).

I’m happy to have been present for a really a magical moment.  It felt like the public recognized the gift Ava is giving us in her work as an artist and inspiration as a business woman, totally owning it on all fronts of the film business.  Her fierce desire to drive change and advocate for independent films of which she is the biggest fan is unbridled.  She charged the audience to share and make this all our journey in supporting not just her film, but coming together to prove there is an audience and a profitable market in making and selling ‘our’ stories’.  Because like Angela Bassett said the studios are already making money, they don’t need to do it, we need to and should.  Amen sister!

Middle of Nowhere will be released October 12.

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