The not-so-Latino film festival
by Maria Nieto
Over the past few days, the 11th annual New York International Latino Film Festival has found itself surrounded by controversy over its promotional commercial as well as for its programming roster that increasingly showcases the work of more and more non-Latinos. The commercial, in particular, has drawn fire because of its unflattering and unrealistic depiction of Latinos. So has the festival’s decision to allow British director Tony Kaye to direct the commercial.
Casper Martinez of www.LatinoFilmChatter.com ignited the debate via Facebook after posting videos on the subject. Martinez argues that in allowing Kaye to direct the piece, the festival went against the very heart of its mission to create opportunities for Latino filmmakers. Kaye’s final product only served to solidify the outrage from the community and further added to the belief that the piece reflected the lack of an in-depth understanding of the Latino culture.
The commercial shows a young girl as the director of what appears to be a film or video directing her grandmother from behind the camera. The girl, in her pursuit of the perfect performance from the grandmother, yells at her to pronounce the Spanish word “Sí” with greater intensity. She proceeds to not only yell at the grandmother but to also insult her by calling her names and showing an overall lack of respect for the older woman. In return, we see the grandmother eventually stick her tongue out at the girl. At the end of the commercial we see a young hand holding a gun and firing off two shots at an unknown victim.
The commercial I’ve just described bears little to no relevance to Latino viewers. Given its nature as a creative work, one could argue that it is a product of the artistic license given to filmmakers. One could also argue, however, that no creative project exists in a vacuum. Creative projects are ultimately judged by their audience whose task it is to either consume or reject the work. In this case, more than one judge has deemed the piece unworthy.
The festival’s commercial has angered so many because it should have been a looking glass into who we are as Latinos. Instead, due to its director, the commercial wound up being yet another projection of what many in mainstream society judge us to be. In sharp contrast, it is my belief that the inherent power of Latino filmmaking is that of expanding society’s understanding of the full complexity of the human beings behind the term “Latino.” At a time when our community is besieged by anti-immigrant sentiment, I cannot think of a more vital endeavor.
As publisher of www.LatinosInEntertainment.com, I was compelled to take part in the often heated debate that raised issues not only of Latino identity, but also of the power and purpose of Latino filmmaking as well. It is my hope that the directors of the festival will be able to see the outcry from the community for what it is – a plea for the festival to retain its focus and its mission of empowering Latino filmmakers.
The festival was born out of a commitment to empower our community and the vehicle for opportunities that the festival represents is too important to let slip away. Today, that community should live not only in the festival’s title - but should also live once more in its central mission. It is our hope that the festival to revert back from the misguided course that it is currently on and come back to its roots of empowering Latino filmmakers in their pursuit of furthering authentic portrayals of Latino identity.
Maria Nieto is the publisher of www.LatinosInEntertainment.com.
The Spanish version of this op-ed appears here.