Latinos at the Movies: Hollywood Misses un Oportunidad


As Jennifer Lopez’s career-resurrecting new judging gig on “American Idol” shows, Hollywood does a great job reaching the Hispanic demographic — except when it tries to. Take “From Prada to Nada,” the first release from Pantelion Films, a new venture from Lionsgate and the Mexican media conglomerate Televisa formed to tap into the Hispanic market. The movie has done an underwhelming $2.9 million since its Jan. 28 debut, although the company remains sanguine about the movie’s — and the new company’s — prospects.

But so far, when Hollywood has tailored movies to the nation’s largest ethnic minority — and one with a proven history of intense moviegoing — it has failed.

“It’s the ‘Chasing Papi’ syndrome,” Kathryn Galan, executive director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, told TheWrap, referring to a 2003 attempt at reaching the Hispanic audience.

“Papi,” with a mostly Hispanic cast, “is one of the first Hispanic films a studio has done that hasn’t been for the art-house crowd,” then-Fox EVP and executive sales manager Rick Myerson told USA Today. “We think there will be a market for these films.”

A market, yes. Success in reaching it, not so much.

Here’s why Hollywood wants the market: The Hispanic demographic is enormous. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates there are 48.4 million Hispanics in the United States, compared to about 37.2 million African Americans.

Most important for the studios, Hispanics go to the movies more than any other ethnic group. A recent Motion Picture Association of America report showed that in 2009, Hispanic moviegoers bought 300 million tickets — seeing more than eight movies per year on average. 

On top of that, Latinos are nearly twice as likely as the total adult population to see a movie on opening weekend and are, on average, 10 years younger than the population as a whole, making them prime movie consumers.

In one sense,” Galan said, “Hollywood is not missing the Latino audience because, in fact, the Latino audience overindexes in moviegoing and broadband and mobile consumption, in disposable entertainment income. It’s very young, it’s upwardly mobile and whole families go to things — the families are large and they bring their grandmother and bring the kids – and they like going to the movies.”

Universal’s “Fast & Furious,” back in 2009, shows what Hollywood can do in the community with just the minimal effort.

The Vin Diesel movie was a giant hit, pulling in $360 million at the box office worldwide. The reason? It had a Latino sensibility. It had some Spanish language dialogue and accents, a soundtrack that included Tego Calderon and Tasha.

It had plenty of action and it was filmed in the Dominican Republic, Panama and Mexico, along with the U.S.

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