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.

National Hispanic Media Coalition 16th Impact Awards dispatch –

NHMCLast 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.

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Patricia Rae – Colombian New Yorker whose next acting role is in The Big Wedding coming out in April

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.

mariolopezI 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.”