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Filling Theater Seats but Not Movie Jobs

As Hollywood goes after the Latino American market, already known for its fervent filmgoers, the effort is hurt by a lack of executives and creative professionals from the ethnic group.

October 15, 2006|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

At Walt Disney Co., Chief Executive Robert Iger has made the mandate clear: Reaching the expanding Latino audience is a top priority for the Burbank-based entertainment giant.

The company's theme park, cable and broadcast groups each have made inroads, creating Spanish-language sports channels through ESPN, TV shows starring Latinos for the ABC network and bicultural "Cinderella"-themed contests for Latina teens. But the company's movie studio has come up empty after a yearlong attempt to make films based on the Latino American experience.

It is a theme playing out across Hollywood these days. Although major studios are eager to court Latinos -- a group that sees more English-language movies than any other ethnic or racial group -- they have been hard-pressed to find Latino executives who can spearhead their efforts.

An equally rare commodity: screenwriters, directors and producers who are successful at pitching movies about Latinos.

For more than three years, Universal Pictures has been searching for someone to run a Latino film label. Warner Bros. is in a hunt for a seasoned bicultural executive to launch the studio's own unit, Hispanic Independent Pictures. Movie executives say they are bumping up against a reality of their own making.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 10, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Latinos in Hollywood: A Business section article Oct. 15 about a lack of Latino executives and creative professionals in Hollywood said screenwriter Deborah Franco scored a top-20 hit in 2000 as a recording artist with the single "Open My Heart." The Billboard chart hit was recorded by Yolanda Adams.

"When you are looking around to hire an experienced Hispanic executive, there are very few people there," said Jason Reed, executive vice president of production at Disney's Buena Vista Motion Picture Group. "We are not starting minorities in the mailroom or as assistants so they can grow into that next generation of executives and agents. It's a question of access."

Reed said many in Hollywood view diversity as a philanthropic effort instead of a strategic necessity. It's a wrongheaded approach if the studios want to broaden their reach to an ever-growing audience with an avid appetite for entertainment, he said.

Latinos watched an average of 9.8 movies in 2005, compared with 7.8 for African Americans and 7 for whites, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America. In the 2000 census, Latinos made up 12.6% of the U.S. population.

Yet there are no Latino managing partners or board members among the industry's top five talent agencies. Latinos are also largely missing from major studios' creative executive ranks, where scripts are read and movies are hatched.

Out of 100 top-grossing movies last year, only two films were directed by an American-born Latino: Robert Rodriguez's "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl" and "Sin City," which he co-directed, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., a box office tracking firm.

A study by the Writers Guild of America, West, found that all minority groups combined accounted for just 6% of film writers in 2004, a statistic that has been virtually unchanged since 1998.

Vance Van Petten, executive director of the Producers Guild of America, said he had little luck enlisting studio executives to participate in the guild's mentoring program, which teaches young minorities skills such as pitching a project and shepherding a film or television series through production.

Van Petten said that in the two years since the founding of the diversity workshop, only two studios had sent representatives: 20th Century Fox and Disney.

"When I reach out to the networks and the studios, I can get very few, if any, creative executives to come," he said. "All we are asking for is one evening and they won't even come."

Universal declined to comment for this article. Warner Bros. said it was working on its approach to the Latino market.

"We understand the English-speaking Hispanic market is very important and are currently in the process of figuring out the best way for our company to enter into it," said Richard Fox, executive vice president of Warner Bros. Entertainment's international division, who is spearheading the studio's efforts.

Hollywood is not alone in underrepresenting Latinos in the executive ranks. Of the chief executives running Fortune 500 companies, only three are Latinos, according to Hispanic Business magazine. Latinos accounted for only 4.5% of the nation's newsrooms in 2006, according to a survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. At the Los Angeles Times, that number was 6.4%, the survey said.

But Hollywood is lagging behind most other major industries in its hiring practices, according to Anna Park, head attorney for the L.A. office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Park is the lead attorney on the commission's first discrimination lawsuit filed against a major studio. The case, brought against Universal on behalf of an assistant director who says he was fired because he is black, is set to go to trial by the end of this year.

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