Gregory Nava's Hollywood epic My Family/Mi Familia (1995) turns the travails of a Chicano family in Los Angeles into a saccharine-sweet elegy. Maria Escobedo's fluffy romantic comedy Rum and Coke (1999) sends a hunky firefighter to rescue the Cuban identity of a confused New York damsel. Ela Troyano's Latin Boys Go to Hell (1998) sends a crazed killer after a scruffy Chicano teen who falls hopelessly in love with his hot, hetero primo (cousin).
Each of these films paints a different portrait of Latinos in the United States. Yet all these directors have overcome similar obstacles to transfer their vision to the big screen. Their filmmaking war stories will be a highlight of the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) on Miami Beach.
NALIP's goals are simple: to put more Latinos to work in media both in front of and behind the cameras; to put Latinos scattered in every corner of the business in contact with one another; and to make sure youngsters have a better shot at breaking into the biz than their elders did.
Conference cochairs Frances Negron-Muntaner, an acclaimed independent filmmaker born in Puerto Rico, and Moctesuma Esparza, a well-known Mexican-American producer, lobbied hard to move the conference from San Francisco to our aspiring Hollywood East. The NALIP organizers have rounded up supporters including reps of the big talent agencies and screen unions, execs from every station around the cable television dial, local mayors, and the godfather of Latino film, Edward James Olmos, in an effort to “bridge the English- and Spanish-language media worlds.”
Pepe Urquijo, a Chicano filmmaker from the Bay Area, will participate in a panel called “The New Generation: Young, Gifted, and Latino.” Urquijo, who earnestly peppers his speech with references to la raza and the Zapatistas, will join young filmmakers from other Latino communities with diverse political opinions. “I can't wait to get out there and connect with all these other filmmakers,” says the Californian. “Regardless of where we stand, these are our people; we're gente.”
New York City comedian Marga Gomez makes her own bid to hijack Hollywood's Latin images. She describes her one-woman show Jaywalker as the “surreal adventure of a Latina lesbian in Hollywood, competing for fame against Chihuahuas and Jennifer Lopez.” Gomez's real-life adventure in Tinseltown ended when she was dropped by the prominent Creative Artists Agency after less-than-illustrious roles in Batman Forever and Sphere. The Cuban-Puerto Rican compensates with a fantasy in which she lands a role as a lesbian lifeguard on Baywatch.
If NALIP succeeds in making Miami the mecca of independent Latino cinema, La Marga knows of a few projects she'd like to pursue. “Maybe a Latina female bonding film,” she muses, “something like Fried Green Bananas. Or maybe we could do some sitcoms, like Ricky and Grace, with Ricky Martin instead of Will and me as Grace!”