Ethnic papers offer inside track for auds

L.A. outfits have entertainment in common

Where do Southern Californians go to find out what’s playing at the movies?

If they are members of the growing majority segment of movie audiences — Los Angeles’ ethnic and racial communities — they may turn to the city’s ethnic newspapers to get information about films.

They may read an interview with Chris Tucker, about how he’s cashing in on the success of “Rush Hour,” in black weekly newspaper the Los Angeles Sentinel. Or they may peruse reviews of “Apt Pupil” and “Pleasantville” next to an article on a Japanese film retrospective in the Korea Times. Or they might read a review of “La Otra Conquista,” an independent Spanish-language film that had its world premiere at the AFI Festival, on the front page of the entertainment section in Spanish-language daily La Opinion.

Although different in size, editorial viewpoint and content, Los Angeles’ varied ethnic newspapers have entertainment in common. No matter what language the newspaper is written in, the entertainment news usually includes something on Hollywood. However, studio advertising dollars don’t seem to be following movie coverage.

Marsha Mitchell-Bray, entertainment editor for the Los Angeles Sentinel, says a typical edition of the weekly will have four to seven pages devoted to entertainment. Films with prominent black actors, from Tucker in “Rush Hour” to Oprah Winfrey in “Beloved,” provide material for the paper’s “Screen Scene” department.

But the Sentinel, with a weekly circulation of 17,000, gets little movie advertising. A recent issue carried a single two-column-by-10-inch ad for Trimark release “Slam,” which features a black cast and music by artists including Big Punisher, Black Rob and Coolio.

A lot of the Sentinel’s film advertising comes from American Minority Media, a Santa Barbara-based clearinghouse that buys space in the 200 black newspapers belonging to the National Newspaper Publishers Assn.

The wish to attract advertising from Hollywood studios is a dilemma that often puts smaller ethnic papers in a bind: If they don’t get the advertising they can’t devote the space, but if they don’t have any entertainment coverage, they don’t get the ads.

“I believe that newspapers generally understand that if they don’t have an entertainment section or if they don’t cover entertainment on a regular basis, the message they are giving us and our clients is that their readers are not interested in entertainment,” says Santiago Pozo, head of the Arenas Group, an agency contracted by the studios to place advertising and market their movies in the Latino market. “Obviously, I prefer to invest in a media outlet that has an entertainment section over one that does not.”

The Latino market, the largest segment of the Los Angeles movie audience, is generally seen by experts as the most untapped.

“(Hollywood studios) are underspending against the market,” says Denise England, an account executive at La Opinion, which has a daily section devoted to entertainment. “Thirty-six percent of the market is Hispanic, and I get maybe one ad for the Friday it opens. I look at other newspapers — not necessarily the L.A. Times, but the San Diego Union-Tribune or the Los Angeles Daily News — and they’re getting ads that are running for three days and maybe three weekends in a row.”

La Opinion has a daily circulation of about 110,000, placing it among the 100 largest papers in the country. To attract movie advertisers, last year La Opinion invested in beefing up its daily “Espectaculos” section, adding more pages and color. Movie reviews are a staple of the Friday edition, which generally runs 10 to 12 pages, and includes 1-1/2 to two full editorial pages devoted to movie listings.

According to England, La Opinion has been able to attract ads from majors such as Miramax, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks but has yet to reach the larger exhibitors who traditionally place the bigger ads in English-language media. Smaller exhibitors such as Pacific and Metropolitan, which have theaters in Latino neighborhoods that usually run subtitled or dubbed movies, are regular advertisers nonetheless.

England says she gets advertising for most movies, but studios do buy bigger ads whenever a film features a Latino actor in its cast.

At the Arenas Group, Pozo works at getting studios to market all movies to Latinos, not only those with a natural appeal to the market.

“Latinos are like the French, or the Italians or the (Anglo) Americans. We go see a movie because it is entertaining, because it makes you laugh or makes you cry, because it makes you feel something.”

Although 10% of the U.S. population, Latinos make up almost 15% of moviegoers. They also have a younger median age — 23 for Latinos vs. 34 for the general population — and there are more teenagers of Latino heritage living in Los Angeles County than of any other ethnic group.

Pozo tells clients such as Universal Pictures that Latinos make up an even larger segment of the population in large urban centers like Los Angeles that have a definite effect on the national box office.

“For an entertainment product to be successful in the United States — and therefore in the rest of the world — the Hispanic market is key.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Mitchell-Bray at the Sentinel, who finds Hollywood’s attitude about minority communities disheartening.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that we only get a certain type of advertising,” she says. “We all know that blacks and Latinos go see everything. I enjoyed ‘There’s Something About Mary’ just like anybody else, but we didn’t get any advertising for that.”

And while she insists that publicity departments at all studios do a fine job of marketing their movies to minorities, the majors still need to improve the quality of their product.

“I applaud Fox for finally breaking out of that ‘Boyz N the Hood’ mold, with the release of ‘Waiting to Exhale’ then ‘Soul Food,’ and now ‘(How) Stella (Got Her Groove Back).’ They realize there is an upper-middle-class black segment who are really tired of seeing that story. It’s old, and we’re tired of it.

“There are many more stories for both blacks and Latinos to be told,” she concludes. “What’s going to save Hollywood is a change in their attitudes of exclusion.”

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