The GOP Finally Accepts It Needs Latinos. So Why Doesn't Hollywood?

After the final votes were counted in the 2012 Presidental race, there was at least one idea on which politicians from across both sides of the aisle could agree:

Latinos decided the election.

Ever since, we've seen and heard much talk about the need for Republicans to woo Hispanic voters if they want the GOP to remain relevant in years to come--so much so that it looks like immigration reform might finally happen.

But as rewarding as it is, finally, to see Washington treating our needs and wants as American needs and wants, it remains downright astonishing to me that when it comes to another huge entity dependent on the will of the people--the film and television industry--leaders still aren't getting it.

And so as a longtime entertainment editor and pop culture junkie, I feel compelled to send the following heartfelt message to Hollywood:

It's the Latinos, stupid.

Case in point: Just last week, entertainment observers were expecting what at least one prominent movie critic called "a box-office drag race to end them all," with several potential blockbusters pitted against each other over the Memorial Day weekend. In the end, though, "it turned out to be no contest," because the slam-dunk winner--raking in more than $120 million at U.S. movie theaters--was Fast & Furious 6.

What helped this movie leave all the others in the dust? The Hispanic audience, which bought more than 30% of Fast's tickets.

It's the Latinos, stupid.

Of course, this really shouldn't have come as a big surprise--just like it shouldn't have been a surprise to the GOP that Latinos are not only the second-largest group in the country, but that our numbers give us power. After all, Hispanics account for 25% of all movies seen in theaters, according to Nielsen NRG's 2012 American Moviegoing report.

And yet time and again, we see Hollywood fail to heed even the most basic lessons when it comes to attracting a Latino audience. Those lessons are:

  • Cast diversely. I know, I know; this seems laughably obvious. Only it isn't happening; few of the big releases coming out in the next few weeks (Now You See Me, The Internship, Man of Steel) have Latino stars. Just take a look at a picture of the cast for The Hangover . . . and then look at a picture of the F&F6 cast, which is the only movie I can think of that actually resembles the multicultural world most Latinos live in. But the word "diversity" applies to steretoypes, too. We've seen enough sexpot Latinas, or Hispanic domestic workers, onscreen. Give me modern, independent, strong women, like the F&F6 characters played by Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster (both of whom happen to be Latina).
  • Focus on cultural relevance, not language. In other words, don't make a movie in Spanish and claim that you're reaching Hispanics. As countless data now show, the Latino population growth in this country is being driven by those of who are born and raised here, and grow up speaking English as our first language. Once again, F&F6 gets this right, by using Spanish dialogue as a way of adding cultural authenticity to scenes, instead of using it as a prop that lets them claim they've made a "Latino" movie.
  • Make it fun. As much as I appreciate a movie like A Better Life (and the Oscar-nominated performance of actor Demián Bichir), I don't enjoy it. Why? Too darn earnest! Like most Latinos, the home I grew up in was filled with laughter and music, hugging and dancing. Oh--and plenty of loud yelling. (Yes, some stereotypes are true.) No wonder, then, that Nielsen found Hispanic audiences most like watching action/adventure films, followed by comedies; we like to enjoy ourselves!

In other words, entertain us. Because it's the Latinos, stupid.