Latino Hollywood: The Creation of an Industry Within an Industry

It’s been a long time in the making and Hollywood was directly responsible for it.

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People often wonder why Latinos “Separate” themselves by creating Latino organizations, Latino publications, Latino TV networks and studios.  The simple answer is because Latinos have been historically excluded from joining the “Mainstream” Hollywood organizations or entities.

It was out of frustration that Latino organizations like Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, National Association of Latino Independent Producers, Univision, NuvoTV, Pantelion, El Rey Network (although not Latino owned it is headed by Robert Rodriguez) and our own entertainment trade publication Latin Heat, some of which began as early as the 1960’s.

For 85 years the doors to the Academy of Motion Picture Academy have been basically shut to Latinos.  This year it finally cracked open its doors wide enough for more than one Latino to enter their hallowed halls.  It took the exclusion of Lupe Ontiveros’ name in the In Memoriam in 2012 to set the National Latino Media Council, the umbrella group of our “Latino Organizations”, to stand up and say “Ya Basta”.  However, I believe it was also due to the openness of Dawn Hudson, the fairly new AMPAS Chief Executive Officer,  who in her former position as executive director of Independent Film Project  (IFP) already had a long record of collaborating with Latino organizations.

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Director Gregory Nava while filming El Norte

Interestingly enough in 1981 when IFP was founded it was director Gregory Nava (Selena, Mi Familia, El Norte) and a small band of directors, writers, and producers who began gathering regularly to share creative ideas and discuss ways to increase resources for independent filmmakers.

As a matter of fact there have been many Latinos who have contributed to Hollywood’s allure through innovations.  For instance, Cubano Desi Arnaz has been credited with the development of the multiple-camera setup used to film sitcoms.  Ask yourself why we don’t hear much about them.  Well one reason is no one is writing about them.  It is up to Latinos to document the part of Hollywood history that has been “erased”. He who has the pen plays a mighty big role in correcting history.

However in spite of many obstacles, Latino “separatist” in Hollywood have refused to be excluded by creating their own organizations.  Many of these organizations are under the umbrella of “Mainstream” Hollywood guilds, such as the Latino committees at the WGA, DGA, SAG, PGA and countless others.  It has been the “Latino organizations”, the Latino committees and Latino publications that have been diligently mentoring, highlighting, awarding and training many of the Latino entertainment professionals you now see working in front of the camera and behind; at the networks, studios and other Hollywood entities.

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A young John Leguizamo and Nestor Serrano (center) in Hanging With the Homeboys
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Jennifer Lopez as Selena

Latino filmmakers have helped create the biggest stars in Hollywood.  It was Gregory Nava who made it possible for the first Latina ever (Jennifer Lopez) to get paid $1 million dollars to play a lead role in Selena.  In 1996 Robert Rodriguez insisted Salma Hayek play the lead in Desperado; and it was director Joseph Vasquez+ who in 1991 gave John Leguizamo and Nestor Serrano their first lead roles in his coming of age film Hanging With the Homeboys.  These are but a few examples.

Separatist?  No, Hollywood was created in the same way; a group of disenfranchised persons got together and created their own exclusive world.  Among this small crowd they established the studios, networks, publications, production companies and their very own academies to award themselves.

InstructionsNotIncludedWhat these Latino “Separatists” have created is an industry within an industry.  And now it’s Hollywood that wants in. With the U.S. Latino consumer market being the 13th largest global economy at $1.3 trillion dollars a year revenue; and accounting to 25 percent of all movies seen, who can blame them?

With Sofia Vergara being named the highest-paid actress (“by a long shot”) on prime time TV for the second year in a row by Forbes Magazine; and the box office success of films like Eugenio Derbez’s Instructions not Included becoming the highest grossing Spanish Language film of all time; and Alfonso Cuaron’s mega hit Gravity bringing in $44.2 million at the box office on opening weekend; who can blame Hollywood for wanting to reach out and now include Latinos?

In a perfect world we should all live and work as one.  Latino Hollywood has been more than ready to join “mainstream”, but reserve the right to keeping our cultural ties close at hand.  It’s what makes us who we are and what separates us from the “Mainstream”.

Bel Hernandez, is Publisher of Latin Heat magazine which has been covering Latino Hollywood since 1992.  She is also Creator and executive producer of HOLA! LA, an American TV talk show with a Latina POV which airs on CBS@ & KCAL9 in Los Angeles and can be found on CBSla.com