‘Mexican’ billboard causes quejas

Pic gets publicity over orgs protests

HOLLYWOOD — When Viacom’s outdoor unit pulled down a billboard in Hollywood on Friday because of a few complaints about its “offensive” content, it inadvertently boosted awareness for mockumentary “A Day Without a Mexican,” the feature debut of Mexican director Sergio Arau.

Several media outlets, including major U.S. Hispanic channels and the mainstream press, jumped on the news, providing precious free publicity to a tiny $1.5 million pic that opens against the Brad Pitt sword-and-sandal juggernaut “Troy” on May 14.

The billboard read, “On May 14th there will be No Mexicans in California www.adaywithoutamexican.com.”

It formed part of a teaser campaign from distrib Televisa Cine, which kicks off its U.S. operations with this pic. The Web site received some 2,000 hits in three days. Another billboard with a headline in Spanish that read, “On May 14th the Gringos are going to cry” received no complaints.

Viacom Outdoor said it planned to move the Hollywood billboard to West Hollywood today. Viacom’s response raises First Amendment issues. “We’re not seeking a fight; we’re seeking our right to express our opinion and invite others to do the same on a crucial issue for all Californians,” said Arau, who is the son of “Like Water for Chocolate” helmer Alfonso Arau.

Arau’s co-writer/lead actress Yareli Arizmendi declared: “The message on the billboard is not offensive; it is provocative. It is designed to force the community at large to discuss the legitimate question: What would a day in California without Mexicans and other Latinos be like?” she said. “Latinos, (who comprise) over one third of the population of the state, actively participate in making California the fifth largest economy in the world.”

The film is “a dialogue-opener,” said Arau. “By focusing on the contributions of the Latino population and the weight of their absence, we hope to set new terms for negotiating our participation in building the future of California,” he added.

Shot mainly in English in the U.S. and Mexico, pic won the audience award in Mexico’s Guadalajara film festival in March.

Designed by ad agency Eleven Eleven in collaboration with marketing company Latin World Entertainment, the teaser campaign includes 6,000 postings of a mock missing persons flier for “Jose.” These will be distributed in 100 locations in L.A. County and San Diego, according to Latin World’s Rocio Prado-Kissling.

Up to 10 billboards and 50 bus shelters in Southern California will be used as part of the multimedia campaign. Second phase shows a senator and his wife carrying a leaf blower, rake and other cleaning tools with the headline “There Goes the Neighborhood.”

According to Televisa Cine’s general sales manager Mike Doban, up to 55 mainstream screens are committed to carrying the pic. “The response from both the regional and national chains has been extremely positive,” he said. The second phase of the platform release will encompass the rest of California and Texas on May 21.

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