A young George Washington Valenzuela was walking to a barbershop in small, dusty Marfa, Texas, when a woman approached him and asked if he would like to be in a movie. He said yes.
Weeks later, Valenzuela found himself singing the national anthem in front of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1956 blockbuster movie "Giant."
A new documentary seeks to tell Valenzuela's story and that of other Mexican-American child actors who appeared in the film but later could only view it in segregated theaters.
"Children of Giant" goes to the West Texas town where director George Stevens and his Hollywood crew set up shop to shoot one of the first, major films to openly tackle racism.
For the 60 years since the movie's release, most of the Mexican-American cast has been largely forgotten, though the movie introduced the nation to the discrimination Latinos faced, documentary director Hector Galan said.
"Many people don't realize how important the film 'Giant' was to Mexican-Americans at the time," Galan said. "For the first time on a national level the stories of Mexican-Americans were being told."
Based on the novel by Edna Ferber with the same name, "Giant" follows wealthy Texas cattle rancher Jordan Benedict, Jr., played by Hudson, who marries Maryland socialite Leslie Lynnton, portrayed by Taylor. Their sprawling ranch is located on land once owned by impoverished Mexican-Americans, who still work the land but are denied basic medical care and decent jobs.
Benedict's son, played by Dennis Hopper, marries a Mexican-American nurse, played by Mexican actress Elsa Cardenas, creating racial tension. James Dean also starred in the movie.
At the time of its release, the movie was popular among Mexican-Americans, especially since Ferber had interviewed civil rights leaders Hector P. Garcia and lawyer John J. Herrera for her novel and the movie adopted real-life episodes from the new civil rights movement in Texas.
Yet, many of the main actors were unaware of the discrimination the Mexican-American extras faced away from the movie set.
In the documentary, Galan interviews Cardenas who recalls how staff at a hotel looked at her suspiciously and how she didn't know the Mexican-Americans children on the set had to attend segregated schools. He also interviews child actor Tony Cano who remembers incidents of racism.
The documentary also covers Stevens' experience in World War II as part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Stevens would become one of the first directors to capture images of the Holocaust and his footage would be used in the Nuremberg Trials.
"That experience changed him forever," Galan said. "I don't think he would have made "Giant" had it not been for that experience."
In addition, the documentary shows how Dean playfully interacted with Mexican-American teens off screen and shocked the town when he was killed in a car wreck in California weeks later.
"Children of Giant" kicks off a new season of the PBS Voces series on April 17.
Should there be quotas for Oscar nominations? Is it time to extend affirmative action beyond government contracting and college admissions, and apply it to something that our society really cares about — the Academy Awards?
The process for selecting Oscar nominees is under fire, and some critics seem to be suggesting that members of the academy should take nominees’ race and ethnicity into account — and weigh them as positive factors in the deliberations. It would be helpful to be able to show a pattern of discrimination.
Exhibit A could be the embarrassing e-mails that surfaced following the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Sony Co-Chairman Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin yukked it up over President Obama’s taste in movies, which they guessed was limited to black-themed films. And, in another exchange with Pascal, screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin resisted writing a screenplay that would be centered around an Asian American protagonist, declaring that “there aren’t any Asian movie stars” who could play the role.
As illustrated by that boneheaded comment by Sorkin, a big reason for the lack of diversity among actors and actresses is that writers, producers and directors don’t create enough quality roles for nonwhites.
Making the problem worse, nonwhite roles are sometimes played by whites. One example: Ben Affleck playing Hispanic CIA officer Tony Mendez in the film “Argo.”
Well, as a community whose influence can be seen everywhere except Hollywood, Hispanics have a message for African Americans who feel shut out: We feel your pain. Or rather, you feel ours.
There have been many African American nominees in acting categories over the years, and more than a dozen actors and actresses — including Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx and Whoopi Goldberg — have emerged as winners.
By contrast, sightings of Hispanic actors and actresses at the Oscars are much rarer. Jose Ferrer won for best actor in 1950. For best supporting actor, the winners include Anthony Quinn in 1952 and 1956, Benicio del Toro in 2000 and Javier Bardem in 2007. For best supporting actress, the winners include Rita Moreno in 1961, Mercedes Ruehl in 1991, and Penelope Cruz in 2008.
In the nearly 100-year history of the Academy Awards, only a tiny handful of Latinos have snagged Oscars. That’s pathetic.
Of course, there will be those who oppose the idea of extending affirmative action to the Oscars. Some of the opponents will say that taking race and ethnicity of potential acting nominees undermines the concept of merit.
Oh, come on. Merit? This is Hollywood we’re talking about. This may be the land of make-believe, but we don’t have to go so far as to make believe that the entertainment industry is an arena where everyone who succeeds has earned his success.
So should there be racial and ethnic quotas at the Oscars?
Absolutely not. Diversity — while nice to have — shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself. Voters should strive to nominate the best performers, without regard to skin color but also without the kind of blind spot that this year is so evident.
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) — a holiday that celebrates those who have passed — will come alive this Thursday in the movie Book Of Life. It is director and animator Jorge Gutiérrez's first feature film, and he says it's his own take on what happens after death.
Set in the 1920's in Mexico, the animated movie centers on the fiery and brave Maria Posada (voiced by Zoe Saldana), and her two suitors: the handsome town hero Joaquin (Channing Tatum), and the soft-spoken Manolo (Diego Luna), who comes from a long line of bullfighters.
And, as one might expect in a film about Día de los Muertos, some of the characters are transported to the afterlife. At first, it looks like a lively Mexican fiesta, filled with music, and bright, colorful papel picado, which are cut-out paper decorations.
"If you do something memorable, and you live a life that others admire and others look up to you, and you pass away, you get to go to the land of the remembered, this beautiful land that is all about memories," says Gutiérrez, who was born in Mexico City. Ruled by a sensuous "La Muerte" (voiced by Kate Del Castillo), this land has "epic fiestas, and all you-can-eat churros."
But if you were a bad person, Gutiérrez says, you go to the land of the forgotten: "It's the void of life, the void of color, the void of anything."
The Connection, Brought From Childhood To Film
Gutiérrez says these are ideas he's wanted to share since his childhood, when his best friend died at the age of nine. "My parents set me down, and said, 'Your friend, Mauricio, he is with you as long as you talk about him and you tell his jokes and you remember him and you, keep his memory alive by talking about him,' " Gutiérrez recalls.
He never forgot Mauricio. So Día de los Muertos — celebrating the lives of those who came before — has always had a special meaning for Gutiérrez. He even proposed to and then married his wife, Sandra Equihua, on the holiday.
Later, as a student at the California Institute of the Arts, Gutiérrez wrote his own Day of the Dead story, with ideas and characters based on himself and his family. His 3-D film Carmelo won a student Emmy Award in 2001, and was shown at the Cannes film festival. Gutiérrez tried pitching it as a feature to all six major studios.
"Here was this Mexican kid saying, 'Hey, it's a movie about death for children!' And so I kind of scared everybody and everybody turned me down," Gutiérrez recalls. "They said, 'you're just a kid out of school and this subject matter is too weird and honestly a little dark.'"
Gutiérrez and his wife Sandra, who was by then his artistic partner, went on to create Mexican-themed cartoons for Sony and Nickelodeon, including El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera.
Eventually the studio Reel FX understood the Day of the Dead story Gutiérrez was trying to tell. They encouraged him to persuade Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, his hero, to produce it.
The 'Worst Pitch Of All Time'
"This will go down in the history of cinema as the worst pitch of all time," recalls Gutiérrez. He says he took all the artwork he had created for the film, and set it up near the pool at Del Toro's art house in Los Angeles.
"And it's so hot that I'm drenched in sweat. He's sweating, and he goes, 'You have five minutes to pitch me.' And I open my mouth, 'Ahh —,' before a word can come out, my people betray me," Gutiérrez says. "There must have been like 10 gardening guys in the house next door, and all the lawn mowers and leaf blowers went on at the same time, making this horrible noise. So I'm yelling the pitch, 'cause he says, 'Don't stop.' So I yell these very beautiful, loving moments and I'm yelling them to him: 'And then Manolo proposes with all his heart,' and he can't hear me, and I almost fall in the pool three times. Disaster."
"So we go back in his house and I'm drenched in sweat. He's sweating, and I'm ready to just shake his hand and get out of there and say I got to meet him, and Guillermo goes, 'Jorge, that was a terrible pitch.' And I go, 'I know, I know. I'm so sorry I wasted your time.' I get up to shake his hand, and he goes, 'No, no, sit down. I know exactly who you are."
Del Toro says he agreed to produce The Book of Life on the spot. "Yeah, my daughters and I used to watch El Tigre on TV, and we loved it. Jorge has a very distinctive style and a uniquely Mexican style. And when he came in, I was already a fan."
On Keeping His Influences And Staying Authentic
To show the culture's complexity, the soundtrack includes Mexican bolero and norteno versions of songs by Radiohead, Rod Stewart, Mumford & Sons and Biz Markie. It's the kind of musical mixture that Gutiérrez says he heard while growing up in Tijuana, near the U.S.-Mexico border. He was influenced by He-Man cartoons, as well as Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Jose Guadalupe Posada, who created much of the Day of the Dead iconography.
As an aficionado of folk art, Gutiérrez even had a team of Central American artisans carve wooden puppets of the movie's characters, which were later rendered by computer animation. "Jorge wanted to create this world that felt hand-made with wooden puppets and metal and paint," says Del Toro. "It really feels very much like Mexican baroque."
And at the film premiere on Sunday, some fans said they think that this film showcases Gutiérrez's artistry, which to them, felt more authentic than what some other studios had envisioned for similar movies.
"I, along every other Latino was outraged and shocked when Disney tried to copyright the term, 'Día de los Muertos,' " said cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz. By contrast, he said, 20th Century Fox's new film by Gutiérrez and Del Toro is much more grounded in the culture.
"To have two people that understand the topic thoroughly and respect it, and can play with it, it was good," Alcaraz said. "It's a playful way to treat a serious topic: you love your family. You miss your family, one day you'll see your family again. They didn't shy away from it. And that's what the Day of the Dead is all about: Remembering your family and remembering that love."
Earlier this year Alfonso Cuarón became the first Mexican and Hispanic ever to win a Best Director Academy Award for his big-budget and innovative film “Gravity.” On the other end of the Latino film world spectrum is indie director Alex Rivera. Known as the Peruvian Nostradamus, his sci-fi film “Sleep Dealer” is about to get a proper release.
It would appear as though the Latino film market is breaking the glass ceiling with actors, actresses and directors not only becoming more prevalent but also garnering mainstream attention in the states.
To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage month, VOXXI talked to Ohio State University Professor Frederick Aldama, who is widely considered to be a preeminent scholar of contemporary Mexican cinema, about the state of Latino filmmaking.
“This is my sense of things, the real attention and renaissance is happening south of the border in Mexico and in Latin America,” said Aldama, whose most recent book is 2013’s “Mex-Ciné,” which offers a multidisciplinary exploration of Mexican national cinema, its historical contexts and the transnational production-consumption models of the Mexican film industry. “ What we’re really seeing right now is a moment when the industry south of the border is having a huge impact on U.S. and global cinema. Think about Cuarón, a Mexican film director who makes a movie called ‘Gravity.’ And than we have a new movie coming out by Alejandro González Iñárritu called ‘Birdman.’”
Aldama points to Mexico as the epicenter of the Hispanic film world over the past decade with titles such as “Y Tu Mamá También” and “Amores Perros” getting national attention in America. Furthermore, he said other movies like “Sin Nombre” and “La Zona” have acted as a vehicle for Hollywood to discover and start casting Latino actors (Gabriel Garcia, Demian Bichir, et al.)
Still, there’s a ways to go before Mexico’s film industry rivals Hollywood or Bollywood.
“You have two prongs here,” Aldama said. “One is this tremendous renaissance taking place with the Mexican film industry where directors are crossing over. And then you have U.S. Latino film industry that’s still present but I don’t see it as vitally present as the Mexican guys.”
One of the Latino bellwethers leading the industry is Robert Rodriguez (“From Dusk to Dawn,” “Sin City,” “Machete”), who Aldama considers one of the most vital directors working today. So much so that Aldama recently wrote a book about the Texas filmmaker. “The Cinema of Robert Rodriguez” will be released on Oct. 15.
“Take for instance his film ‘Machete,’ which is made to entertain but at the same time has very distinctive social and political issues that pertain to U.S. Latinos,” Aldama said. “Also, his movies are getting seen not just in Mexico and Latin America but Europe and so on. Things like ‘Planet Terror’ had more of a viewer-ship when that film came out than there was even in the United States.”
As for the future of Latino filmmaking, Aldama said he expects the market to expand in all avenues in the near future once Hollywood realizes Hispanics, as the majority minority, has $1.3 trillion in buying power.
“Eventually that is going to happen,” Aldama said. “We are cultural producers, and we’re not this little Amish population creating folk kind of things. We’re a massive presence in the mainstream, and I’d go so far as to say we are transforming what the mainstream itself looks like.”
Sometime in the early 1980s, in an unlikely place – NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston – an elegantly dressed man wearing thick, dark-rimmed eyeglasses came rounding a corner with a tour guide at his elbow, unnoticed by the throngs of mostly Anglo tourists.
This was not the case, however, with one museum visitor, my then-mother-in-law Martha. A sweet woman normally reserved in public, Martha did not believe we landed on the moon, so she was not impressed with the many rockets on display. She was, however, bowled over when she spotted the man, the legendary Mexican actor Mario Moreno, known to legions across Latin America and Martha’s native Mexico, as their beloved Cantinflas. Martha breathlessly scurried up to Moreno, placed a firm hand on his shoulder and blurted, “Cómo estás, Cantinflas?” With a look equal parts delight and surprise, Moreno shook her hand, smiled and replied in a tone almost matching her enthusiasm that he was fine, thank you.
That Martha greeted Mexico’s and one of Latin America's most celebrated comic actor as if she had run into an old friend at the market seemed only right. After all, Cantinflas’ black and white movies, shown on the big screen and seemingly nightly on Spanish-language television in South Texas, were a staple of Martha’s life, just as they were for millions of Latinos in the U.S., Central and South America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Moreno’s fans virtually idolized him for his portrayals of the poor underdog who, often through wit and guile, triumphed over more monied and powerful foes. For many Mexicans and Spanish-speakers in different countries, Cantinflas was not just an Everyman, he was one of them.
Long before breaking into the movies, Moreno laid the foundation for his Cantinflas character in traveling tent theater circuits, performing as one of Mexico’s “peladitos,” clowns who cast a critical eye on politicians, culture and the upper class.
“It’s how people could relate to Cantinflas,” said Nicolás Kanellos, a cultural historian and professor at the University of Houston. “The majority of people from the working class and the lower middle class could identify with his undermining of established institutions.”
Moreno died in 1993, but now a biopic, “Cantinflas,” is reacquainting old fans and Spanish-speaking moviegoers with his story, as well as introducing the cultural icon to younger U.S. Latinos.
How “Cantinflas” fares will be watched closely by the movie industry, which only recently has tried tapping into the prime Hispanic market. Hispanics are the most avid moviegoers in the country. A 2013 Motion Picture Association of America report found that though Hispanics represented 17 percent of the moviegoing population, they accounted for nearly 1 in 3 of all frequent moviegoers, those who went to a movie more than once a month. There’s no business like repeat business, where Latinos could hold a key for the movie industry.
Judging by early box office returns, “Cantinflas,” mostly in Spanish with English subtitles, is connecting with U.S. Hispanic audiences. In its opening weekend, the movie made over $2.6 million, nearly recouping the very modest-by-Hollywood standards $3.2 million it cost to make. It had the highest per-screen average, even beating out the much-anticipated and expensive summer blockbuster, “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Cantinflas was released Thursday, September 18 in Mexico and rollouts across Central and South America, where its prospects seem bright.
The movie industry report found that for Latinos, moviegoing is often a family experience, a phenomenon not lost on “Cantinflas” director Sebastian del Amo, who spoke to NBC News from his home in Mexico City. Much of the film is set in the Golden Age of Mexican cinema and depicts Moreno’s journey to stardom from the 1920s to the 1950s, not exactly prime subject matter for younger audiences.
Still, “first- and second-generation Latinos, some who spoke little or no English, saw the movie with their mothers or their grandparents, who grew up with Cantinflas movies,” Del Amo said. “The movie brought families together. That was amazing.”
Cantinflas’ comedy was “very local, and very Mexican,” hinging on his status as a Mexico City slum dweller, said del Amo. Yet his appeal transcended borders too. Often called the Charlie Chaplin of Latin America, Moreno became an ambassador of Mexican culture around the world, the director said.
Though he made dozens of movies, Moreno was best known to non-Hispanic Americans for his role in the Hollywood mega-production, “Around the World in 80 Days.” He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Hollywood’s interest in Latino subjects and themes comes as the U.S. Hispanic population continues to boom. It now stands at over 54 million, making Hispanics the second-largest racial or ethnic group in the country, the Pew Research Center said this week.
Diego Luna, who directed the biopic “Cesar Chavez,” told journalists in Austin, where the film won the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival last March, that it is important for Latinos to support Latino-focused films. Getting financing for the movie was not easy, the Mexican actor explained, and studios needed to be convinced that there is an audience for films like “Chavez,” Luna said, adding that a poor showing at the box office would send a bad message.
Expect to see more films about Hispanics. Filmmakers, said del Amo, can’t ignore that “the importance of the Latino culture is everywhere in the U.S.”
And because of demographics, “there’s going to be writers and producers looking for aspects of Latino life to put on all types of screens,” said Kanellos, the cultural historian. “From your phone to the big screen.”
The founder of Arte Público Press, the nation’s oldest publisher of Hispanic books in the U.S., Kanellos said Hispanics are hungry for their stories to be told. Filmmakers, however, tend to represent Latinos through sensationalism and depictions of violence, gangs and drugs.
“They don’t really plumb the depths of our society,” Kanellos said. “What’s important for Latinos is to see their particular lives and struggles within the United States, and our particular perspective on American life.”
Robert Rodriguez, director of "From Dusk Till Dawn," now has his own TV channel.
The El Rey network, which was launched with the help of $72 million loan from Univision, is now available on Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable. The network features grindhouse-esque content targeted at Hispanic viewers, although Rodriguez insisted that if the network's shows are to be effective they must "create storytelling that has universal appeal."
"That's how I had to sell Miramax on Spy Kids," Rodriguez told the Hollywood Reporter. "They asked me, 'Why are you making them Hispanic? Why don't you just make them American?' I said, 'They are American! It's based on my family.' I told them, 'You don't have to be British to enjoy James Bond.' The more specific you can make them, the more universal. Spy Kids, Machete, Desperado - they are Hispanic films, but they're for anyone. You can't beat people with the Latin stick. Even Hispanics don't want that."
Indeed, Rodriguez's method has worked, having directed, written and produced some of the most popular Latino-themed movies in existence, including "El Mariachi" and "Desperado."
In order to give novice Hispanic screenwriters and directors an opportunity to break into the industry, Rodriguez will allow filmmakers to submit their projects to El Rey People's Network website. If they're good, they'll get broadcast.
"If I like your work, you get it on El Rey and cash. I remember sending my films into contests - if I won 100 bucks, it felt like the biggest money in the world," Rodriguez said. "When I made El Mariachi, I didn't make it to sell to Columbia Pictures. I made it for the Spanish home video market. Today, people can send their films to us. I'm also going out to as many TV writers and directors as I can to start mentoring more diverse voices. More than 60 percent who work at El Rey are Hispanic, in front of and behind the camera."
Hispanic moviegoers are the most important audience in the United States, according to a diverse panel of experts who spoke Sunday at the Produced By Conference in Los Angeles. They go to the movies more often and in larger groups, they spend more at concession stands and they talk about movies more on social media, panelists said.
“Hispanics are far and away the most important consumer at our cinemas,” John Fithian, CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners told the crowd at Warner Bros. Fithian cited a wide variety of statistics to reaffirm his point, and broke into Spanish on a couple of occasions.
Univision's Peter Fillaci initiated the discussion with a presentation that stressed the financial incentives for Hollywood to aggressively court Hispanic customers.
The Hispanic population will grow to 56 million by 2030, augmenting what is already the fastest-growing group in the United States. While one in every six Americans identify as Hispanic — 34 million give or take — one out of every four babies born are Hispanic.
Though Hispanics are not a monolith uniform in taste, panelists agreed they are generally more family-oriented and more active on social media. Nielsen executive Ray Ydoyaga said data revealed heightened use of both social media and mobile devices among Hispanics, a point also made by a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report.
Ydoyaga has spent the past several years researching the Hispanic market for Hollywood studios, and he has concluded that Hispanics are the “most valuable” and “most avid” moviegoers.
They go to the movies six times a year on average, as compared to four for everyone else, and they show up on opening weekend more than anyone else (47 percent to 37 percent).
While Hollywood devotes a lot of time figuring out what fanboys want to see, Hispanics have driven many of the year's biggest hits, such as “The Lego Movie.”
“Who would have thought a family title could do $250M in the dead of winter?” Fithian said, referencing “Lego.” “It did, and Hispanics had a lot to do with that.
Hollywood's reticence in targeting Hispanic moviegoers stems from several myths the panelists worked hard to disprove.
Many executives believe Hispanics only go to see certain movies of a certain genre, but Fithian cited data demonstrating they like the same genres as everyone else. Many executives believe Spanish-speaking audiences will not see English-language movies, but producer Roberto Orci noted Spanish-speaking audiences love seeing marketing that targets them specifically because it is so unusual.
He then noted a few marketing campaigns that failed because companies did not do sufficient market research. Chevy released a car called the Nova while “No va” in Spanish means does not go.
“Sometimes you can't just take a general market ad and translate it into Spanish,” Orci said.
Though Hollywood must recognize Hispanic moviegoers are distinct, they should not treat them as some foreign group. Most identify strongly as both Hispanics and Americans, as Spanish-speakers and English-speakers.
Orci, the Mexican-born producer of “Star Trek” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” described the two main characters in “Star Trek” as “two brothers from different cultures.” Spock is a legal immigrant who makes best friends with a Gringo.
“That's a universal theme, and it's informed by my experience and my culture,” Orci said. “Is that a Hispanic touch? I dunno.”
The only subject on which there was not universal agreement is whether Hollywood has been supportive enough of Hispanic filmmakers.
Fithian cited directors such as Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo Del Toro as evidence that “Hollywood has diversity right on Hispanics.” Yet the number of Hispanics behind and in front of the camera for major studio releases remains small.
As "Fast & Furious 6" tore into theaters over Memorial Day weekend to the tune of $120 million, it was no doubt propelled by brand recognition and sterling reviews. But "Fast 6" got an extra jolt at the box office from Latino moviegoers, who accounted for nearly a third of the film's weekend audience.
That's a disproportionately high share and an indication of a very lucrative market. According to a Nielsen report this year, Latinos represent 18% of the moviegoing population in the U.S., yet they account for 25% of all tickets sold.
Fabian Castro, vice president of multicultural marketing at Universal Pictures (home of the "Fast" franchise), said it's now standard practice for the studio to develop marketing campaigns tailored to Latinos.
"Out of our average 15 releases, we're probably promoting 12 or 13" to the Latino market, Castro said in a phone interview.
He added the "Fast & Furious" franchise, which has long drawn heavy interest from Latinos, benefits from an ethnically diverse cast, including Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang, and "is representative of the changing face of America."
Castro noted Diesel and Rodriguez participated in the film's Latino marketing, appearing at the Latin Billboard Awards, which took place in Miami on April 25 and were broadcast on Telemundo, and on the season finale of the Univision reality competition "Nuestra Belleza Latina" on May 19.
Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, co-president of production at Universal, said part of the reason the "Fast" films seem to resonate with Latino audiences is they have stayed true to their original ethos.
"The roots of this franchise are East Los Angeles," said Kirschenbaum, who added he was raised in Boyle Heights and Montebello.
"There's an authenticity to the cast members — who we cast in this movie, and where this movie's from, and where our characters hang out and live," he said. "You don't see, in our movies, Beverly Hills or Sunset Boulevard or Hollywood.… As this franchise has continued to grow, we've remained true to our roots, and I think audiences are going to come and say, 'Hey, I see myself represented in this movie.' And I think that's a big part of the attraction."
Over its opening weekend, "Fast & Furious 6" appealed to males and females in almost equal measure and skewed to a slightly older crowd, with 57% of its audience older than 25. According to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys, the film is likely to take in $45 million this weekend in North America.
Roberto Orci, chairman of the Assn. of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, said big action movies such as "Fast & Furious 6" tend to perform well with Latino audiences.
"The top category [for Latino moviegoers] happens to be action-adventure, and that makes sense because an action-adventure has something for everybody in the family," Orci said. "It doesn't rely heavily on dialogue, so [whether a viewer is] more acculturated, less acculturated, everybody can enjoy it." (One of Orci's sons, who is also named Roberto, is a writer and producer who has worked on the "Star Trek" and "Transformers" franchises, both of which have done well with Latinos.)
Orci and Castro noted moviegoing is often a family event for Latino households.
"There are dynamics within Hispanic culture in terms of togetherness with family that transcend into moviegoing," Castro said. ("Fast & Furious 6" is rated PG-13, as are the other films in the series.)
Castro added Universal's family-oriented animated films such as "Despicable Me" and "The Lorax" have been popular with Latinos, and Orci similarly cited Pixar's "Cars" and "Brave."
Another genre popular with Latinos (though less family-friendly) is horror movies. Castro said Universal's "Mama," which touted producer Guillermo Del Toro in its advertising, attracted an audience that was 46% Latino.
And last fall, the Times' John Horn reported Paramount Pictures' wildly popular "Paranormal Activity" franchise had been buoyed by Latino audiences, prompting a spinoff specifically targeting that demographic.
These days, Orci said, "You can't underestimate the importance of targeting marketing and advertising and the outreach" to Latinos.
He added, "It makes a big difference, because it tells the audience that they're invited to this show. We don't go anywhere we're not invited."