WSJ Says Latinos Are Hot in Hollywood: Where Do We Go Next?

Today The Wall Street Journal decided to FINALLY cover a story that we knew for a while: Latinos are the hottest demographic in Hollywood. The paper’s full story is here, but for those who can’t get beyond a pay wall, here at some highlights and lowlights.

First, the highlights. Graphics from Nielsen. Our personal favorites? Latinos love movies and we like to go with our “extended family.” Yup.

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Like the article says:

Robert Rodriguez, the director of “Spy Kids” and “Sin City” who was one of the first Hispanic filmmakers to gain Hollywood’s attention thanks to his 1992 independent hit “El Mariachi,” says movies were an integral part of his childhood in San Antonio. “We had a family of 10 kids, and we would all march into the theater together and enjoy the communal experience of it,” he recalls.

And we even like to go to A LOT of movies.

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Now the lowlights:

There is still a disproportional emphasis about the content of the films. The “Fast and Furious” is seen as a success because of “an unusually diverse cast” and it “was originally set in predominantly Hispanic East Los Angeles.” The article speaks to the success of the latest “Paranormal Activity” film because it included botánicas and Spanish dialogue.

And yes, the reporter said that last year’s Will Ferrell film was called “Case de mi Padre.” Seriously?

However, the article does speak to the issue that “Latinos don’t go to Latino films:”

The industry is tinkering with different ways to attract Latino filmgoers. Some are betting that Hispanic actors will draw loyal crowds; some are relying on bankable Anglo stars for Spanish-language movies. Then there’s Paramount’s “Paranormal” strategy—taking a known franchise and giving it an entirely new cultural spin.

Making movies specifically tailored to Latinos is tricky, and some believe the strategy can backfire. “Yes, Latinos are avid moviegoers, but we are savvy and hate being pandered to,” says Umberto González, a writer for the film news and reviews website latino-review.com. Rather than movies about Latino culture, Mr. González says, his readers prefer action movies in which Hispanics are integral to the story line—and are also prominently featured in advertisements.

As of yet, no formula is a shoo-in. And to be sure, studio executives who have hoped that Hispanic-centric films can cross over to a broader market have seen a few disappointments.

Mr. Rodriguez’s 2010 movie “Machete,” about a former Mexican federale seeking revenge on an anti-immigrant Texas politician, drew a disproportionately Hispanic audience, according to exit polls. Still, the film grossed a modest $26.6 million in 2010. The director says DVD sales were strong, and the sequel to be released in October will be “bigger and more mainstream.” New cast members not in the original include Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas and Lady Gaga.

Pantelion Films is a joint venture founded in 2010 by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and Mexico’s Grupo Televisa that makes movies for the Hispanic audience, some of which are in Spanish. Its most successful release since launching two years ago, “Case de mi Padre” starring Will Ferrell, grossed only $5.9 million.

The company’s releases have all been inexpensive, however, and Pantelion is now focusing on “films that incorporate Latino talent and Latino themes but have universal appeal and can resonate with a broad commercial audience,” says Chief Executive Paul Presburger.

That is where we get lost a bit in this, but this could also be the evolution of Latinos in Hollywood. Right now, we still don’t see much diversity of Latino voices both behind and in front of the cameras.

Earlier this week, our founder was asking where is the new “Latino Spike Lee?” Where is our “Do The Right Thing” moment? Eventually, that would signal that more authentic Latino voices would be heard in Hollywood. Now it is all about machetes, fast cars, and botánicas. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but let’s hope it is not a formula that endures.

We are still convinced that “Latinos will go see Latino films” and the mainstream will also embrace those films. Our prediction? The upcoming César Chávez movie will prove it.

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