AMPAS invites US Latinos to join ranks (as Actors not Writers/Directors/Producers)

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

La Lopez
La boricua J-Lo, outspokenly committed to American Latino stories

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.

Mosquita_Y_Mari_Filmstill4_Fenessa_Pineda_Venecia_Troncoso_photobyMAgelaCrosignani
Mosquita y Mari (click on pic for link to watch)

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.

Elliot Loves
Elliot Loves (click on pic for links to watch)

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.

Pena
Michael Pena, dare we say the next bankable Latino leading hollywood star?

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??)

Dawson
Rosario is Puerto Rican/Cuban on her mom’s side.  She plays icon Dolores Huerta in the upcoming Chavez pic

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?

Martinez
Mexicana Alma Martinez will be next seen in FX’s The Bridge

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”

Cinematographers:

Checco Varese – “Girl in Progress,” “The Aura”, and Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming summer tentpole release, Pacific Rim (Peruvian born married to Patricia Riggen)

Colon
Puerto Rican Miriam Colon, most recent credits, Bless Me Ultima, Girl in Progress

Members-at-Large:
Victoria Alonso is Marvel Studios’ Executive Vice President of Visual Effects

Music:

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.

TOP 5 AMERICAN LATINO FILMS OF 2012

Elliot and his MaFrom Elliot Loves
Elliot and his Ma
From Elliot Loves

I recently contributed to a Top 5 Latino Films of 2012 on Indiewire’s Latinobuzz blog.  Among the Programmers’ picks were films from Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and Peru, alongside U.S. films like Filly Brown.  In fact, when asked for my list, I thought I needed to make a statement by pointing out I picked all “American” Latino films. The exercise indicated once again a lot of us are not on the same page when it comes to the definition of the term “Latino”.   As filmmaker, Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer) commented on the post, “It’s important to have a term that describes the diaspora community here in the U.S.  Latinos in the U.S. face very different challenges and opportunities than Latin Americans…..in terms of tracking what’s happening in film, we need this distinction, the way there’s a very clear distinction between African Cinema and African-American Cinema.

I couldn’t agree more.  Even if it still makes for a fairly broad category to band together the vastly different and culturally rich spectrum of “Latin roots,” at least the unifying reference that can serve as glue or a constant, and help level and monitor the landscape within the context of film, is the social/political experience of life in The United States.  It’s these vibrant and unique bi-cultural stories and voices that must be shepherded through the bottleneck gates towards distribution.  More so because these groups are largely under-represented or marginalized in the main arteries of film distribution channels.  With a growing number of new alternative models of distribution available and the power of the audience/consumer, now more than ever, we can demand our content.

So with that, let’s take a closer look at my Top 5 American Latino Films of 2012 – all of which compellingly portray singular, rarely-represented walks of life and perspectives – and in each case the filmmaker’s personal and distinct multi-cultural makeup adds to the film’s alchemy.  Every film on this list has bowed at film festivals and only two of them have had a very limited theatrical run. In a sense, these films have been born but now its time to help these babies walk and talk. There’s no better way than today’s word of mouth: the social media. Please click on the films’ links to follow and interact with the film’s life and if you dig it, be proactive and support these films to help them reach their audience.

A ver ~

Love_Concord_poster5.  Love, Concord  -written and directed by Gustavo Guardado, Jr. (1st generation Salvadoran-American from Concord, California, where most of the film was shot).

Festivals: NY Latino International Film Festival (world premiere) and stay tuned for future festivals this Spring 2013.

Why it stands out:  Of all the films on this list this might have the biggest commercial potential because of the broad appeal of the classic, wholesome high school coming of ager comedy genre.  Filmmaker Guardado, Jr., who is a video teacher at Heritage High School by day, injects a modern, refreshing representation and empathetic, teen authenticity to the formula.  For far too long this type of movie has been domineered by slender-shaped Anglo protagonists with your token black/brown/gay supporting characters. And while it is awesome to see brown leads; curvy, nerdy cute girl played by Angelina Leon and class clown/jock played by Jorge Diaz, at the epicenter of this story, it’s more importantly a perfectly pitched sweet, funny and ‘real’ high school romantic comedy that resonates.  Just check out the trailer here.  I reviewed it earlier this year here.

Angelina Leon and Jorge Diaz - the two charming leads of Love, Concord
Angelina Leon and Jorge Diaz – the two charming leads of Love, Concord

Where to see it now:  Like I say, this is especially ripe for mainstream release opportunities (cable/DVD/VOD).  So far the film had a one night screening in its hometown sponsored by Brenden theaters.  The filmmaker is currently approaching other local theaters to arrange more screenings.  Interested parties (festivals/distributors/PR) can email the filmmaker directly at: gguardado@gmail.com.

Links:  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

Hearing what life events he has missed since he left town from La viejita
Hearing what life events he has missed since he left town from La viejita in Aqui y Alla

4.  Aqui y Alla (Here & There) – written and directed by Antonio Mendez Esparza (Raised in Madrid and has lived in Mexico and NYC – film shot in Mexico)

Festivals: 45 –  among them, Critics Week at Cannes (world premiere), San Sebastian, AFI, Morelia, Mar de Plata, Dubai, Lone Star Festival.

Why it stands out:  The magnetic non-professional acting ensemble and the film’s doc-like aesthetic subtly immerses the audience into the psychological aftermath of a story rarely told onscreen.  Quite simply it’s about a Mexican father who has recently returned to his family after being away in the states for a long time.  The film fills a void within the canons of the Mexican immigrant story.  There’s so much more than the grueling border-crossing journey, which is one small part of the ‘immigrant experience’.  The more opportunities and support Latino filmmakers can reach to tell their stories, the more their storytelling can evolve to truly capture the whole context.   It’s only recently that I’ve started seeing some reflection on those families of immigrants who stay behind and the generation-spanning social effects – and I’m not only talking within US and Mexico panorama.  In 2009 Antonio’s short film, Una Y Otra Vez garnered him much attention as it traveled to many festivals worldwide.  It probably helped give him a profile when it came time to submit his first feature.   Antonio is currently busy with the limited release of his film and is also already at work on his next project; a mother and son story titled, Saudade.

Where to see it now:  You are in luck if you are in NY!  The film premieres in three different venues for limited release NOW.  Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center at Lincoln Center, the reRun Theater in Dumbo, and the Jackson Heights Cinema. (Click on links for tickets and showtimes).

Links:  Website, Facebook, Twitter

From Elliot Loves
From Elliot Loves

3.  Elliot Loves – written and directed by Terracino (Dominican New Yorker, film shot in Harlem)

Festivals:  Over 50 film festivals, among them, Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in May (World Premiere); New York International Latino Film Festival, Outfest, San Francisco Frameline,  Global Film Festival in Dominican Republic.

Why it stands out:  Elliot.  He is as lovable and charming as he is emotionally conflicted and flawed.  We meet him as a sweet, precocious boy growing up in Harlem with his young, single mother, an ill-equipped parent who suffers from a co-dependency on a string of deadbeat-boyfriends.  As we jump forward to Elliot’s adult years, his strained relationship with his mother and deeply rooted childhood fears and dreams continue to play a role in how he pursues love.   How else do I put it, I’ve never seen as real of a depiction of a ‘gay cholo’.  I enjoyed the romantic dalliances – especially the steamy love scenes, the old school mano-a-mano fights on the street, and the drama that while zany, eschews any of the flamboyant queen diva archetypes or melodrama we’ve seen associated with gays before.   Like Mosquita y Mari (next on the list) the gay Latino niche has huge potential.  For years, gay representation has been relegated to background or one dimensional characters, or lead roles in a serious coming out/AIDs dramas.  But what about mainstream genres like romantic comedies?   When a film like Elliot Loves comes around, no wonder it is fiercely celebrated by the gay community and film festival circuit.  At the end of the day though, the storyline’s universal resonance (looking for love) is what hits a chord with gay AND straight audiences alike.

Trailer:

Where to see it now:  Elliot Loves sold for worldwide distribution to TLA last May.  Thanks to the successful Kickstarter campaign during production, distributors had been tracking the film early on. Now available on DVD, Amazon and iTunes!  A major cable broadcast expected Summer 2013 followed by Netflix debut.  You can also request a screening at your local theater through Tugg.
"Mosquita"
“Mosquita”

2. Mosquita y Mari – written and directed by Aurora Guerrero (Chicana from the Bay, film shot in LA)

Festivals: A whopping 110 festivals, both mainstream and queer including Sundance (world premiere), San Francisco International, Seattle, Sarasota, Melbourne, Sao Paolo….

Why it stands out:  I’ve long wanted to articulate that extra magical ingredient and feeling you get when you watch something and find it so incredibly in tune with a part of you.  As a first generation Mexican-American I find many of these moments related in Mosquita y Mari.  The log line seems simple enough; Two high school Chicanas, one square, one street, make friends and come of age in LA.   The palpable emotion and sensitivity in portraying adolescent romance, sexual impulses and tensions with parents who shoulder you with the heavy pressure of achieving a better life on behalf of all your ancestors, drives the heart and veracity of the story. The way they talk, look, the music they listen to, is all me.  I’m sure I’m not the only chicanita who feels that way either.  When film speaks to you on a specific level – it’s a wonderful feeling of connectedness. Again, early awareness helps; Guerrero worked on getting this film made for several years, reaching out and applying to as many non-profit partners for assistance, including Sundance Institute’s Native Screenwriters lab and San Francisco Film Society’s robust year round Filmmaker grants.  Combined with her Kickstarter campaign launched while finishing production, the film attracted attention early on, making it easier for film festivals to track.  Guerrero is currently at work with her next feature, Los Valientes which recently obtained a grant from San Francisco Film Society.

"Mari"
“Mari”

Where to see it now: DVD/internet/broadcast rights sold to Wolfe Releasing earlier this year.  Let the filmmakers know you want to see it!  Express your interest on their film site to purchase a DVD  (late 2013) and or request a screening of the film near you.  This information will help their ongoing self-release theatrical strategy in partnership with Film Collaborative a non-profit film distribution/consultant outfit catering to specialty releases that is helping the film book theaters and educational outlets.  HBO broadcast also in the future late 2013.

Links:  Facebook, Twitter, Website

Poster designed by Sonny Kay.  Click on image to see more of his badass art
Poster designed by Sonny Kay. Click on image to see more of his badass art

1.  Los Chidos, written and directed by Omar Rodriguez Lopez (Puerto-Rican, grew up in El Paso, shot the film in Mexico, citizen of the world)

Festivals: SXSW (world premiere), NY Latino International Film Festival, Rio, Santa Fe Independent, Hola Mexico (Australia).

Check out the recently released trailer here:

Why it stands out:  Provocative genre.  Whether it incites a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reception, taboo-defying, wicked satire and social and political commentary under an unsettling visually graphic aesthetic, elicits a fervent reaction and guarantees a degree of attention.  ORL is not one to hold anything back and you can feel an exhilarating rush as he discovers and makes the tools of the visual medium his own to challenge and trans-mutate society’s views about identity, religion and sex, among other hot-button issues.  Like the poster tag reads (translated), “Those who don’t criticize their culture don’t love their mother”, signaling the film’s unrelenting attack on every stereotype ever pitted to lazy, homophobic, incestuous, thieving, murdering, macho Mexicans. There’s no doubt his prolific music career (The Mars Volta, currently Bosnian Rainbows) has spawned a specific audience for his work as an uncompromising artist.  This built-in audience will be the first to give flight to his flourishing career turn as filmmaker.  I personally can’t wait to see future films as I bet he’s only getting started in this arena and has so much to say.  Omar returns to his hometown of El Paso next month to begin shooting Niño de la Esperanza.

Where to see it now:  Indiewire recently included Los Chidos in their Top Ten Undistributed Films of 2012 piece.  So unless a savvy and daring outfit (like Oscilloscope) picks it up, expect ORLP and music management/record label, Sargent House to self-distribute as they are doing with Omar’s 2010 film, the psychedelic identity trip, The Sentimental Engine Slayer (You can buy the DVD, and cool poster art and t-shirt for $35 here). These guys are the perfect example of D2F (Direct to Fan) distribution at work.

Links:  Facebook, Website

Next up, top 5 American Latino films to watch out for in 2013!