Photo: Sofia Vergara for Chasing Papi
It appears that the more Hollywood tries to get the attention of Hispanics, the worse they are at, and they’re missing out on a huge opportunity that the release of 2009’s Fast & Furious nailed.
Most of the time, when Hollywood has tried to tailor-make movies for Hispanics – Hispanic actors, settings, themes – they fail. Perfect example being 2003’s comedy, Chasing Papi, in which a Latin lothario gets himself in trouble when his three girlfriends, spread across the U.S., find out about each other. Hispanic cast? Check. Stereotypical, yet hilarious plot line involving a womanizing Latino? Check. Latin settings? Meh, you could say so. Sure, it many not have been the best movie, but neither are a lot of movies that somehow make the studios millions. So what was it?
The problem arises from the sheer enormity of the Hispanic market. There are an estimated 48.4 million Hispanics in the United States, and they go to the movies more than any other ethnic group. According to the Motion Picture Associate of America, as of 2009, Hispanic movie goers see an average of eight movies a each a year. That’s roughly 300 million tickets sold.
Hispanics are, on average, ten years younger than the population as a whole, and are twice as likely to see a movie on opening night than the total adult population. Added up, these factors make Hispanics prime movie consumers.
Kathryn Galan, executive director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers stated, “In one sense, Hollywood is not missing the Latino audience because, in fact, the Latino audience overindexes in moviegoing and broadband and mobile consumption, in disposable entertainment income. It’s very young, it’s upwardly mobile and whole families go to things – the families are large and they bring their grandmother and bring the kids – and they like going to the movies.”
So where’s the problem, you ask? It seems to arise when studios try too hard, and start waving the obvious “Hey look! Latinos!” flag around.
With Fast & Furious the fourthfilm in the series, Universal seemed to do everything correctly. Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez publicized in Latino markets. The movie was filmed in the Panama, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the U.S.. The soundtrack included Latin artists, and the movie itself hit on “Latino sensibility,” not to mention that Spanish was used throughout the movie and accents were free-flowing. Better still, was the filmmakers’ use of Spanish-language social networking.
Together, it resulted in a hefty $360 million at the box office worldwide.
But there’s a fine line between smart marketing, and making large generalizations expecting to peak the entire Latino market’s interest. For instance, aside from language, Mexicans, Cubans, and Venezuelans have very little in common, and even language can fail to be a common denominator.
Producer of the Jennifer Lopez film “El Cantante,” Julio Caro said that second, third, and fourth generation Americans are a relatively untouched niche market, but the niche is not the Hollywood blockbuster. “Latinos go to those anyway. You don’t need to make a Spanish ‘Spider-Man.’ But there is a huge opportunity to essentially mirror what Miramax and New Line did in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s but for the Latino market,” he said.
Movies in Spanish-language won’t really work though, as each generation appears to be speaking Spanish less than the one before. While Univision has remained the top rated U.S. network on Friday nights for the last 10 years among 18- to 34-year-olds, since the newer generations are speaking less Spanish, this means Univision may have to shift it’s focus in the coming years.
Now, studios like Lionsgate are being smart about things.
The studio is behind Tyler Perry’s wildly successful movies among the African-American audience, and now, having teamed up with Televisa – the Mexican media big shots – the duo, calling itself Pantelion plans to release between eight and ten movies a year, their first attempt being From Prada to Nada, a revamping of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
Those the movie only gross $2.9 million, Jim McNamara, Pantelion’s chairman said it wasn’t expected to make more.
“Nobody’s crying. We had decent international sales and I think we are all coming away saying we learned a lot,” he said. “It’s our first picture as this new sort of specialty company and we did learn a lot and we were surprised at how well some of the theaters did.”
He noted that studios should keep trying their hands at “Hispanic movies,” and should not expect that they all will fail, and rhe national executive director of the Screen Actors Guild, David White agrees.
“Something will come out and the numbers won’t look good, and that will be a reinforcement of the tape—that ‘Hispanic’ movies don’t do well,” White said. “But the truth is, a a lot of movies don’t do well, and the studios don’t stop making movies.”