“Gettysburg” producer Moctesuma Esparza warned yesterday against reverse discrimination in the film industry, during an era when opportunities for minority directors and producers are on the rise.

Esparza, who chose Robert Redford to direct “The Milagro Beanfield War,” said producers should ultimately look “for the highest possibility for the realization of a work.” He called the use of ethnic directors on the basis of ethnicity “a tremendous moral trap.”

Esparza made his comments at the American Film Market Forum titled “Minority Filmmakers in Hollywood: Are They All Created Equal?,” which was held at the Starlight Ballroom of the Miramar Sheraton Hotel.

Moderated by Charles Champlin, the panel also featured Columbia Pictures veepee Stephanie Allain, “Gas Food Lodging” director Allison Anders, “One False Move” director Carl Franklin and “Gettysburg” and “Passenger 57″ director Kevin Hooks.

The panel was generally less radical than that at a similar discussion held at last year’sNATO/ShoWest convention, which was punctuated by anger at Hollywood and the media over such pictures as “New Jack City” and “Juice.” Throughout the discussion, panelists acknowledged the difficulties faced by minority filmmakers, but expressed optimism that times are changing.

Director Hooks said that Hollywood was looking “at a bumper crop of ethnic filmmakers,” who have obviously kicked the door open with such movies as Bill Duke’s “The Cemetery Club,” Thomas Carter’s “Swing Kids,” John Singleton’s “Poetic Justice” and Matty Rich’s “The Inkwell.”

Franklin concurred, stating that he is beginning to see projects that are not “ethnically defined.”

However, Hooks said there are still some limits for minority filmmakers. “Norman Jewison was considered to do ‘Malcolm X,’ but I highly doubt Spike Lee was considered for ‘JFK,’ ” Hooks said.

Colpix executive Allain said Hollywood should expand both culturally and corporately. “We need more diversity on the executive level, so people can bring in projects that excite them and they’ll get done.”

Hooks said African-American films are often expected to answer all of the necessary issues of black society, as opposed to providing entertainment or a singular effect. He said an entire line of African-American films produced after the success of “Sounder” suffered from the phenomenon, and warned that ethnic filmmakers should not subject themselves to such limitations in the 1990s.

In addressing the clout of Spike Lee, Hooks acknowledged that the director of such films as “Jungle Fever” and “Malcolm X” has clearly emerged as “the front-runner and groundbreaker” for African-American filmmakers. “He has the power to make the films he wants to do, and also to speak about them in a voice that is unharnessed,” Hooks said.

“Gas Food Lodging” director Anders said an underserved movie genre are those titles that deal with class structure. She said class issues are seldom dealt with at all in Hollywood, “but if you’re poor or if you’re rich, you know there is a class structure” in the United States.

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