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Most Latino Films Still In No-Man's Land Despite Growing Audience

Most Latino Films Still In No-Man's Land Despite Growing Audience

Posted by PanamericanWorld on February 27, 2017

On the surface, Everybody Loves Somebody looks like a lot of romantic comedies that have come before it. But Catalina Aguilar Mastretta's second film, which stars How to Get Away with Murder's Karla Souza as a California ob-gyn with family in Mexico who's unlucky in love, is a rare find in American multiplexes. It is a truly bilingual and bicultural film. Its characters code switch easily between English and Spanish, and lead lives that straddle the American border with Mexico. At a time when U.S. Latinos on television appear on shows like Jane the Virgin, East Los High and One Day at a Time, the dearth of similarly-themed full-length films has created a cultural void.

This lack of big-screen representation is all the more puzzling given that for the past two decades U.S. Latinos have been the ones keeping the movie-going experience alive. In what's become an annual refrain, theater attendance reports confirm that Latinos boost box office numbers across the board. At 2016's CinemaCon, John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, said that "diverse audiences around the globe are making their voices heard," while "in the U.S., Hispanics have the highest rate of cinema visits."

For the fifth year in a row, Latinos "significantly oversampl[ed] in tickets sold relative to their shares of the population," as reported by Theatrical Market Statistics. That they were mostly spending money on Hollywood blockbusters like Furious 7 (whose box office success was in no small part due to its Hispanic audience) suggests that there's a generation of moviegoers, what Univision calls "the billennial generation"(bilingual millennials), that remains an untapped market.

Previous attempts at reaching them have been lackluster at best.

Director Robert Rodriguez's success in the 90s with El Mariachi and From Dusk Till Dawn, and the crossover arthouse appeal of Alejandro González Iñárritu's multicultural triptych Babel in 2006, provide examples of how studios have tried to represent and target acculturated U.S. Latino audiences. Rodriguez's El Mariachi, for example, holds the distinction as the lowest-budgeted film ever to gross $1 million at the box office. Made for a mere $7,000 and originally intended as a straight-to-video release, it was eventually picked up by Columbia Pictures who saw the potential in this Spanish-language genre flick. Likewise, González Iñárritu's Oscar-winning film spent over 22 weeks in theaters. Praised by critics and audiences alike, ushered in a short-lived period of a very specific type of transnational filmmaking. Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth — both released that same year — also fit in that class.

But the best proof that a sizable chunk of the American film audience was being underserved is the record-breaking No se aceptan devoluciones (Instructions Not Included) by Eugenio DerbezReleased by Pantelion Films, the company distributing Everybody Loves Somebody, and featuring a bilingual and bicultural heartwarming tale of a single dad, the 2013 film became the highest grossing Spanish-language film of all time in the U.S. It was a box office story that, if you read the English-language press, came out of nowhere.

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