Latino CEO not handing out affirmative action employment

HOLLYWOOD — Santiago Pozo, founder and CEO of Arenas Entertainment, harbors no illusions about the plight of Latinos in Hollywood. When there was talk of a so-called brownout of the networks for their lack of representation, or boycotting agencies like William Morris for not promoting Latino clients aggressively enough, he wasn’t buying. The Spanish-born exec, whose headquarters are in L.A., has worked himself up from modest means, and is a firm believer in creating one’s own opportunities.

“It’s not about handouts, it’s about employing people,” he says. “You build a team.”

One team that Pozo built from the ground up was the Arenas Group, a marketing firm that helped promote pics like “The Fast and the Furious,” “The Scorpion King,” “Shrek” and “Selena” to the U.S.’ vast, and still growing, Latino marketplace. Now, with the transition to producing, acquiring and distributing films, the newly minted Arenas Entertainment — with the help of partners Marco Polo Investments and Universal Pictures — plans on releasing four to six films a year with budgets in the $5 million range.

The company, launched in January, hit the ground running by acquiring the critically acclaimed Mexican feature “The Other Conquest,” which the company plans on rolling out beyond its previous limited L.A. release, and “Empire,” which premiered at Sundance with a cast that includes John Leguizamo. The films — with their Latino themes and characters — epitomize the types films that Pozo is passionate about.

“My focus is on my culture, because anything that is not tradition is a copy,” he says. “I don’t want to make films that are copies of other films, I want to make originals. And in order to make films that are original you need to be in your culture.”

Pozo also realizes that in order to tell compelling stories, he has to cast a wide net – encompassing film projects not only in the U.S. but all over Latin America and his native Spain. He admits that a lot of what comes across his desk from this country is raw, at best. “You can’t expect to have writers and actors and directors overnight, when the generation before was blue collar,” he says. But as a self-made man, and as one who knows the buying power not only of Latinos, but the crossover potentail of Latino stories – as evidenced by the phenomenal success of such films as “Y Tu Mama Tambien” — Pozo clearly sees the glass as half full.

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