On Thursday night at the AMC Century City 15 in Los Angeles, the Latino Media Fest Awards celebrated content creators who are helping to make the industry a more diverse and inclusive place.
The event was hosted by the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, which for the past 20 years has advocated on behalf of the largest ethnic minority in the U.S. that also happens to be the most underrepresented in Hollywood. (According to a new NALIP study with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only four percent of the 100 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2018 were helmed by Latinx directors — and only three percent featured Latinx lead actors.)
“This is unprecedented,” NALIP executive director Ben Lopez told Variety before the ceremony, referring to the event’s focus on Latinx storytellers. “We believe that if you showcase them and give them time and exposure, they’re going to be able to launch themselves as global superstars. And that’s why NALIP is here — to be that supporting organization.”
Awards included Best Latin American Film (“Monos”), Best Latinx Director (Rashaad Ernesto Green, who also co-wrote “Premature”) and Breakthrough Filmmaker (“The Chambermaid” director Lila Avilés). Ben DeJesus, whose documentary about Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia won Best Latinx Film, urged aspiring filmmakers not to wait for studio approval. “Go tell your stories,” he said. “This is our time. Don’t wait for a green light — the green light is within you.”
Added Mexican filmmaker Issa López, who was honored as Best Latin American Director for “Tigers Are Not Afraid”: “Representation matters now more than ever at a time when people like us are being deported, being persecuted, being killed.”
Recently, Netflix renewed the violent drama, “Narcos,” but canceled Gloria Calderón Kellett’s sweet, non-stereotypical sitcom, “One Day at a Time,” which NALIP named Best Latinx TV Show. Following a social media campaign to save the series, it was rescued by Pop TV and will return in 2020. “We’re culture makers,” Kellett said, referring to her fellow content creators in the crowd. “It’s fun but also it impacts society in ways that you cannot possibly understand.”
The show runner reflected on her parents’ journey from Cuba to America in 1962. “Their immigrant story is very different than the immigrant story we have today,” Kellett said. “They were seeking asylum — sound familiar? They were exiled, they were welcomed to this country, they were given a path to citizenship — and as a result, in one generation, I am now telling the story of their life.”
However, Latinx characters continue to be less visible; they account for only 4.5 percent of characters in movies, according to the Annenberg study. “There are still wildly stereotyped roles,” Kellett said, drawing a parallel between negative media representation and public perception. “That leads to children in cages. That leads to fear-mongering in this country. It is all starts with the narrative. You guys, we have the power to change that narrative — it is so vital. And so important.”