MIAMI BEACH — While Hollywood is settling its labor disputes, a top Latino actor and comedian said remnants of “masked racism” in the global entertainment capital is costing a fortune in its neglect of the U.S. Hispanic population’s trillions of dollars of buying power.
Colombian John Leguizamo, who has starred in “The Menu” and “Ice Age,” cited a Nielsen study from a year ago that reported 41% of Latino subscribers to streaming services said they could not find enough content that represents them on the sites.
He said the studios that produce movies, TV shows and limited series miss out on added revenues “because they are not providing Latin content” to satisfy audience and subscriber demand,
“I love seeing my culture. I love seeing our music, our food, our history, our jokes,” Leguizamo said during a discussion Sept. 29 at the L’ATTITUDES annual conference. “I crave that.”
Earlier, researchers from Arizona State University and the Latino Donor Collaborative, a think tank, released a study that showed the U.S. Latino population was — collectively — an economic powerhouse that topped every country’s GDP with the exception of the United States, China, Japan and Germany. The annual “LDC U.S. Latino GDP Report” placed the gross domestic product of Hispanics in America at more than $3.2 trillion, and $3.4 trillion of buying power.
Florida ranked fourth in the U.S. for Latino economic power behind California, Texas and New York, in that order. In the Sunshine State, the report said Latino workers account for almost 30% of the workforce, and their gross domestic income of $239 billion accounts for just under 20% of the state’s gross domestic income.
L’ATTITUDES conference chairman Sol Trujillo said the goal was not to shame Hollywood’s executives and producers, and U.S. corporations in general, but to encourage them to understand they “are leaving a lot of money on the table.”
“We want to help them make more money,” Trujillo said.
He added the data shows Latinos are “superstreamers” of movies and shows and buyers of 25% to 30% of box-office tickets at theaters.
“If you’re making money, wouldn’t you like to make more?” Trujillo said. “My conversations with them are going to be, ‘You’re leaving money on the table.’ “
Leguizamo: Hollywood’s ‘wisdom’ really amounts to ‘masked racism’
Despite a string of stratospheric hits, Leguizamo said Latino productions face a stymieing legacy — the belief that audiences, even Hispanic ones, want to see white actors in generally traditional societal roles.
“Executives used to say, ‘We don’t have to get Latinos. We have them’ and ‘Latinos do not want to see Latinos but white people,'” Leguizamo said. “All this nonsense, all this Hollywood wisdom, is nothing more than masked racism.”
He believes the harsh assessment is merited in this case because the track record should be lowering barriers and skepticism. He recalled that when he was studying acting at New York University, the casting roles for white actors generally were doctors and lawyers, and drug dealers and assassins for Latinos.
Trujillo said his organization, the Latino Donor Initiative, conducted a study on the impact of entertainment media on the public views and found that stereotypes fostered by movies accounted for “their perception of how people are” among half the population.
“So, if you see Latinos in a movie and they are bringing in drugs, and they are cartel-related, and all that kind of thing, we found that is part of the issue of brand,” Trujillo said. “Latinos’ brand developed because of, I’ll say Hollywood, because the portrayals — 90% of the portrayals were in a negative context.”
Trujillo and Leguizamo said there are way more positive, successful and breakout examples to point to.
Leguizamo cited Disney’s animated movie “Encanto,” about a family living in the Colombian mountains, that has earned $256 million. Another Disney animated film, 2017’s “Coco,” earned almost a $1 billion.
A mainstream production with a Latino star, HBO’s “The Last of Us” with Pedro Pascal, is a franchise that has reportedly earned a $1 billion since 2020. The Netflix series “Wednesday,” a spinoff of the “Adams Family” with Jenna Ortega, topped 1.02 billion total hours viewed in three weeks after its debut as more than 150 million households streamed the show.
“What we are saying is: ‘Where all the other Latin stories and opportunities that come after that?'” Leguizamo asked. “Where’s the follow-up?”
His own experiences, from movies to one-man shows on Broadway, reflect the challenges.
“Every time I go up, I had to convince all these investors that Latin talent and content is valuable, and they still don’t get it,” he said.
At the end of the day, however, Leguizamo said Hollywood will come around as the streaming numbers, the box office returns and the dollars continue to roll in — and studios hire more Latino executives.
“We Latin people do better when there are metrics and math involved,” he said. “When it’s up to an executive’s taste or opinion, that’s when we lose, when we have to trust an executive to make the right decision. Hollywood runs from fear. It’s always run from fear, so they make cowardly decisions.”
And Florida? State policies harming film and TV production, small business, trade group says
While Hollywood misses out, an industry trade association said Florida is compounding the error by retreating from an industry that can provide high-paying jobs and business for the state.
“There is a huge opportunity,” said John Lux, executive director of Film Florida, a nonprofit that promotes film, TV and digital media production. “Just the built-in audience that Florida has with the Latin America market is really an untapped opportunity. We could certainly be doing more Hispanic content to show off the state and the stories in those markets.”
Film advocates have said Florida, with its 5.5 million or so Latinos, should be a leader in the film and entertainment industry — especially with the bevy of stars, such as Andy Garcia, Sofia Vergara, Eva Mendes and Jennifer Lopez, who live in the state.
Unfortunately, Lux said Florida continues to pursue legislative actions that dull the industry’s competitive edge. State legislators have refused to restore the film and television incentives that were phased out in 2016.
As a result, Lux said, the state is “losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars” on “top of thousands” of more cast and crew jobs for residents. Those are entertainment production industry jobs, he said, that state statisticians say earn an average annual wage of $98,863.
Worse, he said, Florida is now one of just five states that does not have a state film commission after lawmakers voted to eliminate the panel. Lux said doing so has been a “PR disaster” that gives the wrong perception that the state is not interested in film and television production, and took away an important “conduit” between state agencies, local governments and companies filming in Florida.
“Right now our industry is trying to hold things together as best as we can,” he said of the aftermath of the film commission’s demise.
The entertainment industry did dodge another bullet when an effort to take away the entertainment sales tax incentive program, a point-of-sale tax exemption used by small businesses, failed. But a lot of damage has been done, Lux said.
“The only people that are hurt when the state eliminated the state film commission are those of us that work here in the state, who are Floridians,” he said. “Not really sure of the motive behind harming Floridians and their ability to work, but that is what is happening.”
Palm Beach County posts ‘record-breaking year’ by focusing on small productions
Locally, county officials say their secret sauce has been to zero in on television shows, commercials, music videos rather than entire blockbuster productions. The result, said Michelle Hillery, who leads the Palm Beach County Film & Television Commission, is that the county tallied and documented $238.7 million worth of expenditures on productions in 2022.
“Palm Beach County had record-breaking numbers in 2022,” said Hillery, the county’s film commissioner. “We’ve really built an industry here in Palm Beach County for the smaller projects.”
Those projects included episodes for Bravo TV’s “Real Housewives of Miami,” the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” hosted by Guy Fieri and TLC’s chiropractic program “Crack Addicts.” The commission’s role is to promote the county to producers, help find locations and walk them through logistics such as obtaining permits.
That being said, Hillery added that the county and state would benefit from restoring the incentives program as Florida is among the 11 states that lack one.
“No question, we would rather have incentives,” she said.
Hillery said Florida is often “not even part of the initial conversation” when it comes to large, lucrative productions and the state’s film industry — including the 150 production-related companies in Palm Beach County — are “working from a deficit” in that field.
“This is a business,” she said. “While we have a wonderful tax climate here, we have gorgeous year-round weather. When you can go to Georgia and get a substantial, up to 20% rebate or cash refund, on doing productions in those states, it’s hard to compete with that.”