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October 21st, 2009
06:26 PM ET

Latinos in America’s Hollywood

Franc Reyes
Writer, Director and Filmmaker

With CNN spotlighting the plight of Latinos in America through its new series of documentaries with Soledad O’Brien, I find it of critical importance to have my voice heard about the state of Latinos in America’s Hollywood.

I’d like to make it utterly clear that I did not ask for, nor intend to become the voice of Latinos in entertainment.

However, it’s become overwhelmingly apparent to me over the last several months that many Latinos are looking directly at me, to assist in leading this charge towards a positive change in the entertainment industry.

That positive change must begin by speaking out against the Hollywood system that has stood firmly in place over the last 100 years. A system which shows absolutely no signs of relinquishing or sharing its control with people of color.

I often use the analogy that if I opened a Starbucks on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, I’d be arrested if I didn’t employ minorities in key positions of power.

However, Hollywood is continuously afforded the luxury of hiring very few minorities into key positions. And to date there are no people of color who can green light films.

In other words there are no minorities who can ensure that the authenticity of our voices remains strong when producing films. And without the power to tell our stories honestly and sincerely with no outside influence, we are no better off today than the blaxploitation films of yesteryear.

Filmmaker Franc Reyes at the release of his new film, 'The Ministers' in New York.

Filmmaker Franc Reyes at the release of his new film, 'The Ministers' in New York.

As a proud Puerto Rican from the South Bronx I found no open doors when I arrived in the world of entertainment to announce myself as a writer and director looking to share my real world experiences with the masses.

However, I understood the importance of kicking down those doors to share my stories of pain, struggle, hopelessness and reality. Stories which are universal and when coupled with my real life experiences translated directly into my films.

Much to my surprise many of my own people often mistook these films as stereotypical gangster movies.

When in reality these movies always harbored an underlying message of the authenticity of living certain lifestyles, including the pain and struggle. But more importantly visually educating the audience about the consequences these lifestyles have on our communities as a whole.

One need only open the newspaper over the last several weeks to read about a 13-year-old boy, Kevin Miller, in Queens shot in the head. Or a 16-year-old honor roll student, Derrion Albert, beaten to death with planks of wood in Chicago, to realize that our realities are much more gruesome than any films I’ve ever created.

If I make a film about a teenage girl from Queens being used as a drug mule, I’m chastised and held to a different standard. When a Caucasian filmmaker does the same, they call the film, Maria Full of Grace, and the film is honored with a Spirit Award.

It’s as if we’ve been preconditioned and pre-programmed over hundreds of years to accept our conditions exactly as they are.

And when a person such as me speaks out against the unjust behavior of the Hollywood system, I am seen as controversial and problematic.

My questions to all of you are when do we make this grand change everyone keeps talking about and says is long overdue?

With the next film? With the film after that? Do we wait another hundred years before looking for positions of power? Or do we have our voices heard now?

Please don’t mistake the success of Latina starlets such as Jennifer Lopez, Eva Longoria Parker, Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz for the success of all Latinos in Hollywood.

These are individual successes of Latinas who represent about 1 percent of all Latinos in the entertainment industry.

Is this an acceptable percentage of Latino successes?

I was honored to be asked to sit on the panel discussion with Soledad for CNN’s upcoming documentary series.

And I recall the first question Soledad posed to me being, “What’s changed in Hollywood for Latinos in America?”

I very honestly, and to the surprise of many in the audience, stated, “Nothing.”

Nothing has changed in Hollywood over the last one-hundred years…

And nothing will change if we continue to sit back passively and expect the change to just appear magically overnight with no work on our parts.

It may be Hispanic Heritage Month, but we certainly have a long way to go before we can celebrate any kind of real victory as Latinos in America.

Editor's Note: Franc Reyes is a filmmaker, songwriter, choreographer, dancer and director. In 2002, Universal Pictures released director Reyes first major film “EMPIRE,” and his second feature film "ILLEGAL TENDER," in 2007. Reyes latest film "THE MINISTERS," premiered in New York last week.

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Tammy Trull

    I am a Latina actress in Hollywood, and although I'd like to say that Mr. Reyes's thoughts are antiquated and not realistic. They are 100% true and accurate. It is a sad fact that Hollywood has not welcomed Latino's into their world, and won't until Latino's demand it be so.

    October 22, 2009 at 12:26 am |
  2. Meredith

    This is a very real look at what is going on on Hollywood. The stereotypes still exist very strongly. Those who have broken through have begun to pave the way. It's a very imbalanced system, and everyone misses out on experiences that aren't being shared. Thank you Franc Reyes for not being afraid to be so vocal and passionate for what you know is true.

    October 21, 2009 at 11:56 pm |
  3. Jeannette

    I love sheriff Arapio. He is a true American hero. The latino community has invaded our country , illeagally, taken jobs, use our services & committed crimes against our citizens. To have someone and stand up against the politically correct tides, is a brave thing to do.
    I will anyone who comes here leagally, wants to immerse themselves into our culture, learn our language and call themselves American. Those who want us to change to accomdate them, I'd say go back to where you were comfortable.

    October 21, 2009 at 11:55 pm |
  4. Dee Perre

    In your question to sherriff Joe about illegals being affraid to report crimes because they fear of being deported. If they were not here illegally there would be no crimes to report other than the crime they committed of being here illegally. This whole problem is not about latinos or hispanics Its about the illegal immigrant period

    October 21, 2009 at 11:55 pm |
  5. will

    Why don’t those who come from Mexico want to go through the same process to become legal like those from other countries go through? Life would be a lot more easier form them. If The U. S. Government gives those from Mexico an easy pass to citizenship in America then the U.S. government should give everyone who is from other countries an easy pass too.

    October 21, 2009 at 11:29 pm |
  6. Jaun Vasquez

    What ever happend to all of us just being AMERICAN's, instead of Asian Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, I don't understand why we have to point our our ethnic or skin color differences!!?? Too often with the name, comes stereotypes. Let's just be AMERICAN's
    Jaun
    age:52

    October 21, 2009 at 11:22 pm |
  7. Eric

    Historically in Hollywood Latinos have been portrayed by Anglos or Italian actors sporting bad accents. Unfortunately we all went out and saw these films and made the filmmakers very rich and successful. Now it seems that the Latino is not needed in Hollywood, since we have validated their depictions of us. Nothing will change in Hollywood until we make them change. Let us ALL Support Franc. Reyes and other Latino filmmakers.

    October 21, 2009 at 11:00 pm |
  8. alex lyrics

    latino and black power will continue to grow.

    October 21, 2009 at 10:26 pm |
  9. Gabriel Reyes

    Here! Here! Well said Franc. Only WE can create the change we desire and we cannot expect Hollywood to do it for us.

    October 21, 2009 at 9:13 pm |
  10. Analydia

    Very well said Franc I am very proud and happy that you got the chance to express yourself and made sure that hollywood see the "Bigger Picture" It shouldn't be seen as a "phase"that latinos are being seen for the last couple of years or maybe for the next couple of years to come but that it should just be natural to be seen on the big screen forever.

    Sincerely
    Analydia Rivera

    October 21, 2009 at 9:00 pm |
  11. Miladys

    We need more films that show us doing different things. All we ever see is us on drugs, us shooting someone, us doing silly things to appear cool. Illegal Tender was somewhat passable. It was not so thought out as I would have liked it to be. The dialog seemed flat and predictable; the plot had some real issues and almost lost itself in this Foxy Brown type of woman they had playing the mom. She was good, but the rest of the cast was kinna wack. On top of that, it didn't really show who latinos were to me; maybe what we "don't" want to be?

    How about a comedy or something else? Why is it always about the underworld? How many Latinos actually live that way? And if there are people who live that way, then why do we have to see it in EVERY single film he does?

    October 21, 2009 at 8:35 pm |
  12. ChangoBi

    Glad to see that CNN is bringing such an important issue to the forefront. Would love to see you expand this topic further. ~ ChangoBI

    October 21, 2009 at 7:50 pm |
  13. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    I love Lucy. Was such an icon and had a great Latin actor.

    October 21, 2009 at 6:32 pm |
  14. Ratna, New York, NY

    First the Blacks

    then the Latinos

    and sigh.........finally...

    the Asians!!!!

    October 21, 2009 at 6:04 pm |
  15. Margarita Rivera-Velez

    well said Mr. Reyes and sadly so true!

    October 21, 2009 at 6:00 pm |
  16. Milton

    Couldn't agree more with Franc , nothing has changed for Latinos in hollywood

    October 21, 2009 at 5:46 pm |