This year's category robust with movies, actors

TIP SHEET
WHAT: NCLR Alma Awards
WHERE: Pasadena Civic Auditorium
WHEN: Friday, June 1
HOST: Eva Longoria
BROADCAST: ABC, Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT

The Alma Awards, which began in 1995 as the Bravo Awards, may not have the cachet or name recognition of the NAACP Image or GLAAD Awards, but their purpose is just as important: to celebrate the achievements and concerns of a minority group in the media, in this case American Latinos.

Sponsored by the National Council of La Raza, the Almas salute achievement in film, television and music. But because the awards concentrate on American Latinos and their achievement in mainstream media, Almas are not handed out in all categories each year. The films must be English-language works, either by American Latinos or with subject matter of interest to American Latinos. No film was nominated for outstanding motion picture last year, for example.

“The goal is having a category for Latino film every year, and when you’re not having Latino films released every year, that’s a problem,” says Leroy Martinez, director of events and production for La Raza and a spokesman for the advocacy org.

This year, though, the film category appears robust, with pics, thesps, scribes and helmers nommed. Among the honorees, “Babel,” “Quinceanera” and “Bobby” are up for outstanding film, with the directors of two of those movies, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”) and Emilio Estevez (“Bobby”), joining Alfonso Cuaron (“Children of Men”) and Andy Garcia (“The Lost City”) in the outstanding director competition.

Some might wonder why “Babel” made the cut and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” an equally acclaimed pic, did not. Martinez points to the English-language rule. (“Labyrinth” is in Spanish.)

“The purpose of the awards is a civil-rights issue,” he says. “It’s very important for us to make sure that mainstream America is buying into the image of Latinos. And we measure our success on Neilsen ratings, box office receipts and the Billboard charts. Our goal is to have as many Latinos successful by those measures, because then you’re really in the mainstream of America. It’s also about access in Hollywood, and we’re not exactly there yet. These wonderful Mexican directors are starting to do things, but they’re not Americans.”

Yet by any measure, things are clearly moving in the right direction. Though both “Babel” and “Bobby” employ multiple storylines, each devotes considerable screen time to unromanticized Latino characters and their concerns. And “Quinceanera” effectively folds gay themes into a working-class Hispanic milieu.

Rising to the occasion

Wash Westmoreland, who co-directed and co-wrote “Quinceanera” with Richard Glatzer, insists that one of their goals was making Carlos, the film’s underachieving and ostracized protagonist, into something more than a stock figure. “Morally, I think he’s the hero of the story,” Westmoreland says. “He looks like he’s going nowhere at the beginning, but then he rises to the occasion.”

Jesse Garcia played Carlos, and though both Westmoreland and Glatzer aren’t Latino, Garcia maintains that the writer-directors’ willingness to seek advice from the Hispanic community prevented “Quinceanera” from falsely representing Latinos.

“They used consultants from the neighborhood,” Garcia says. “I had one, too, who grew up in the neighborhood and is gay. We had some people saying, ‘That’s not how it would be,’ and Wash and Richard were very good about adjusting the script. So I think in the end, they got it spot on.”

For Garcia, breaking stereotypes was a major incentive for making the movie. “That’s always been a goal of mine,” he says. “We’re usually cast as criminals and unskilled laborers, and there’s more to us than that. Carlos is a cholo kid, but he’s not a gangbanger. He’s really a kid just trying to find his way.”

Garcia points to other films and other Hispanics thesps as proof that Latinos are emerging into the mainstream. “It’s a great time right now,” the actor says. “There’s a lot of great work going on. I’ve talked to other people, and we all agree it’s a long time coming. And there’s producers and directors as well as actors. We’ve always been here, but if you look at mainstream movies now, there’s a prominent Latino figure in many films.”

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