It’s not a surprise to discover that there is a lack of Latino representation in moviemaking. In order to draw more attention to this epidemic, 10 years ago a group of Latino producers, academics and media activists took it upon themselves to raise awareness that the Latino population is capable of getting involved just like everyone else. What resulted was the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP), an organization formed to bring together the Latino population in the film industry.

This April they celebrate “NALIP 10: A Decade of Influence,” a conference honoring the achievements that have been made since the organization originated. Chaired by moviemakers Frances Negrón-Muntaner (War in Guam), David Ortiz (Wanted, Hellboy) and Ligiah Villalobos (La Misma luna), the event will take place April 17-19, 2009 at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach, California.

Just weeks before the celebration kicked off, MM spoke with co-chairs Ortiz and Negrón-Muntaner to discuss their thoughts on the progress of moviemaking and the incorporation of Latinos since NALIP began.

Nora Murphy (MM): What encouraged you to create NALIP?

Frances Negrón-Muntaner (FN): Necessity. Ten years ago, Latino producers were working in isolation, lacking professional opportunities and largely ignored by all media institutions. NALIP was created to address all three issues by building community, creating opportunities for professional growth and opening up space for the production and dissemination of Latino stories.

MM: What changes have you noticed in the movie making industry in the past 10 years?

FN: There have been significant changes. Digital equipment and forms of distribution have made it possible for many more people to tell their stories. The boundaries between producers and consumers continues to blur, although this process is less democratic than assumed. There is also more openness to talent from Asia and Latin America. Yet, these changes have not made a big difference in the inclusion of U.S. Latinos into the American media industries.

MM: How do you think more Latino representation in movies can be achieved?

David Ortiz (DO): We have to remember that this is show business first and foremost and the only color people really care about is green. Urban movies don’t historically do well overseas; that is why they don’t sell them overseas. Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world. Why? Because he is a star who is fun and people love him, even if his movies aren’t always perfect. Similarly, we need to create content and talent that is going to have a universal, commercial appeal that will generate revenue and create more of a demand for Latin talent and content. Hollywood is a reactive business, let’s give them something of quality that is a commercial success to demand more of.
FN: Almost everyone you talk to in the industry says that the issue is not discrimination against Latinos, but that people just tend to hire who they know and that they don’t know any Latinos. We need to eliminate this kind of self-fulfilling logic by creating effective programs that provide entry opportunities for Latinos in all positions, including executives, screenwriters, producers, directors and actors. Otherwise, changes may either not happen or will happen at such a slow pace to make it even more distressing than it already is.

As part of this effort of equitable incorporation, we also need to effectively communicate why Latino exclusion represents such a significant problem. Most of the time, advocates argue that Latinos should be included because young Latinos are the biggest consumers of media in the top U.S. markets. But this is not only about what is good for business, this is also about ending persistent discrimination and gaining an entirely new understanding of the U.S. as a country.

For instance, the majority of people believe that Latinos are by and large recent immigrants to the U.S. But this is not the case. Latinos have been part of this country for hundreds of years, longer than many other Americans who take their identity for granted. The history of Latinos is then important to understand the U.S. For instance, without knowing about the Mexican American War or the Spanish American War, it is impossible to understand why there are so many Latinos here today and why the U.S. spans from coast to coast and beyond. Latinos are also a big part of the future of the United States. In less than 40 years, Latinos will be a third of the U.S. population. Including Latinos is then not only good for Latinos, it’s a necessity—unless we want to live in a country where 30 percent of the population is ignored by the media and deprived of media access.

MM: What has been your most memorable moviemaking experience?

DO: I was very fortunate and privileged to work on big movies like Wanted and Hellboy and Role Models, which were all financially successful and, although not perfect, definitely entertaining. However, the movie I’m most proud of is the latest Fast & Furious, because we had to jam on the script and collectively make sure the story made sense under the duress of the pending WGA strike. We had a really tough deadline and each night worked page by page, line by line with our superstar writer Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin to get it done. Execs don’t always have the time to participate so intimately with this part of the process, but I’m so proud of the final product. It was a great team effort. We won’t win an Oscar for Best Picture, but I think its the best of the four films in the franchise.

FN: As a director, my most memorable moviemaking experiences are always about talking to the audience. Before that point, you haven’t really made a film.

MM: This year you’re honoring Rafael Montañez Ortiz. How has he inspired you and your work?

FN: When I first heard of Montañez Ortiz, I was inspired by his trajectory as an artist and activist. Here was a Latino born in the early 1930s who has a great impact, no pun intended, on many fronts. He was one of the first Latinos to work with film as an art form. In the 1950s, he was also one of the first artists, Latino or not, to experiment with found film and use it to critique racist ideologies. And this was well before the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Moreover, he was at the forefront of thinking about how to break down the boundaries between artist, artistic object and audience, a question that is now at the center of contemporary culture. Equally important, he was a co-founder of El Museo del Barrio located in East Harlem, the first museum in the U.S. dedicated to the artistic production of Latinos.

MM: What are the group’s plans for the future?

DO: Onward and upward. We’ve discussed a more permanent site for the conference as well as a building which members can call their own. I can see the talent’s growth and know we’re close to having our own Guillermo del Toros and Alfonso Cuaróns emerge. The organization will continue to foster such talent and become more of a resource for Hollywood to find the next wave of filmmakers.

FN: To be so successful that we are no longer needed.

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