Imagen noms show more variety of roles, stories

This year, the Imagen Foundation doles out its awards with even more gusto than in the past.

“I am consistently amazed with the exponential growth in both the quantity and quality of the entries we receive each year,” says Imagen founder Helen Hernandez. “The current status of Latinos in the business is not as dismal as in the past; it’s better than it was 10 years, even five years ago.”

“I’ve been working in the television industry since 1982 and am beyond encouraged by what I see,” concurs Robert Mendez, sr. VP, diversity, Disney-ABC TV Group and an Imagen board member.

A look at this year’s crop of nominees is telling. Top Imagen honorees include Colombian Rodrigo Garcia, who garners a Creative Achievement nod as a producer-helmer-scribe of various episodes of HBO’s “In Treatment.” Cuban-American actor Tony Plana (“Ugly Betty”) is honored for lifetime achievement. And Mexican-born writer-producer Ligiah Villalobos receives a prize for her critical/box office hit “La misma luna” (Under the Same Moon).

But for every two steps forward in the biz, there’s invariably a step back in portrayals of Latinos in Hollywood. “More often than not, Latinos have been cast as prostitutes, household help, illegal immigrants, drug runners or, at best, bad cops,” says Luis Balaguer of Latin World Entertainment, a Miami-based talent management, marketing and production company.

Even pic “La misma luna,” which focuses on the relationship between a mother and her son, is told within the context of illegal immigration.

“Latinos are partygoers despite their hard lives; we need more comedies,” says Balaguer, an executive producer of the Colombian version of “Desperate Housewives.” He points to the Tyler Perry model, which has done boffo business within and beyond the African-American community.

While progress has been made in television, the film biz has been a harder nut to crack. Pundits point out that while U.S. Hispanics may be united by language, their cultures are widely varied.

“We can only speed the process (of integration) with more successes,” Hernandez suggests, citing how “Ugly Betty’s” ratings triumph has encouraged other webs to find similar projects.

“There’s a vast talent pool of Latinos out there, and our challenge is to reach out and tap them,” says Mendez.

TIP SHEET

What: 23rd Imagen Awards

When: Thursday night at 7

Where: Beverly Hilton

Web: imagen.org

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