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DOUBLE NEGATIVE: 'Why are Mexican American Movies so Bad?'

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(Article changed on March 15, 2013 at 04:29)

The Motion Picture Association of America has pegged Mexican-Americans as the fastest-growing segment of the US movie-going audience. There are now 45 million people with Hispanic backgrounds in the US with the last accurate census (2007) identifying 310m US Box office admissions, well over a third of the number of Caucasians (The Motion Picture & Television Industry Contribution to the U.S. Economy: ). The report seismically concludes: ' Mexican-Americans are now overall, the most significant ethnic group'.

The penny dropped first at Universal ten years ago. The studio had snappily identified that the box office success of The Mummy was due in great part to an emerging Hispanic audience. Two years later, the first in the franchise The Fast and the Furious , was released with over 24% of the audience monitored as being Mexican-American. That figure shot up to 38% for the follow-up, 2 Fast 2 Furious .

Combine this with research from the Pew Hispanic Center, which cites that the median age of Mexican-Americans living in the U.S. as 27 years (compared for example to the median age of 36 years for the overall population). These facts alone should be music to the ears of the film studios as younger people are by far the most committed film-goers.

Despite this slap-in-the-face wake-up call, the faithful Mexican-American audience is poorly served because their lives are predictably reflected. The community actually have a word for such films: "churro". On the surface, a direct reference to the divine, deep-fried, donut-geschmack. However indirectly, an idiom most often used in the movie houses to describe a show that is unrepresentative  or to put it more acutely, a movie that does little to advance the viewer's status in the wider world. It's not just a comment about the poor reflective qualities of commercial cinema in the States, it also tells us something about the otherness of Mexican-Americans within the US.

Otherness is sometimes difficult to see from a global perspective. This semantic is the subject of more complex academic investigations, but staying strictly within the parameters of U.S. popular culture, it has penetrated everywhere to such a degree that superficial parodies have now been universally assimilated. For Mexican-Americans, movies have become clotting experiences (churro is after all, deep- fried) because no fresh blood is passing through the body.  I heard one West Hollywood doyen say recently that Mexican-Americans desire "only violence, slapstick or dance movies". This is undoubtedly the cinematic trifecta that guides Hollywood today, certainly as far as Mexican-American audiences are concerned.

Disturbingly but not unlinked, this comment ranks right up there with the systemic misrepresentation afforded to young Latinos in US courts where irony not justice, is dispensed. When a defense attorney in Texas recently cross-examined several witnesses about the endemic: "pushy and macho attitude" of Mexican-Americans, the man had in essence become an unwitting assimilator of the cinematic trifecta (How Else Can We Teach Them a Lesson?  Prof. Rodolfo Acuna): ).

With politicians like Julian Castro, the young Mexican-American Mayor of San Antonio being given high-profile speaking slots at the 2012 Democratic Convention, there is a strong hint that young Mexican-Americans are a whole continent smarter than that. In fact, throw a stick at the continent and you'll hit a million Julians, all slowly climbing the slopes of Parnassus, fitfully rising above the pulp fiction.  They are arguably, the most politically charged too:( 

So, Mexican-Americans really do harbor a deep, vested interest in the America they inhabit. Fancy that. The phlegmatic and pervasive attitude that Latino audiences want nothing more than to dance through life swinging a range of home-made, stag-boned-handled machetes, is clearly untrue in anybody's court. Just use men like Carlos Saavedra and Julian Castro as your common markers. Actually to be precise, Julian is smart and he can dance too. Clearly, somewhere along the line, he dropped his machete in favour of brain mass. More publicly Alex Nogales, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition candidly stated (without the anticipated machismo) that Hollywood was simply not doing enough to engage the Hispanic moviegoer in a credible way; that films were still largely stereotypical (stupid) and that cinema needed to urgently engage in topics and story-lines that were relevant (intelligent) to Mexican-Americans.

Starting here, let's change the rules for once and see this from the Mexican-American perspective: there is a growing opportunity today for original language-agnostic dramas that speak of the everyday experience of being both American and Mexican-American and in particular, dramas that resonate loudly with this emerging, hyper-youthful, bi-cultural audience. Put in a different way: producers must make the cinema experience meaningful and relevant, keeping in mind that the current needs and aspirations of younger Mexican-Americans are very, very different from those of their parents. Mexican-Americans, along with the more broadly constructed 'Hispanics', have proved to be a great and reliable movie-going audience. They don't have the power of choice but they do need to be taken seriously and respected with intelligent film titles. There is a goofiness out there in the current offerings that does make one wonder. We get Saving Private Ryan, they get Saving Private Perez .

Adam Fogelson of Universal Pictures recently said: "I think the industry is still struggling in how to reach Mexican-Americans. But there's no reason to be struggling."

Absolutely. No reason at all. Now give me back my machete.

Additional Research by: IDA ALWIN

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Christopher Templeton is the Scottish/Hungarian scriptwriter and director whose radio plays and television documentaries highlighted human rights abuses in the United States and Europe during the post cold war era of the 1990s. Templeton was born (more...)
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