While participating in a conference last summer, I found myself chatting with Eva Longoria as we waited backstage to take our turns at the podium as guest speakers.
The mood was relaxed--cozy, even, as we sat on overstuffed couches with our feet curled up underneath us. But when I thought to ask Eva about how the preparations were going for the upcoming ALMA Awards--which honor the best in Latino entertainment, and which Eva not only hosted but helped to produce last September--the actress grew serious.
She was frustrated, she told me, by the difficulty she was having securing top Latino talent to come to the awards. Yes, she was thrilled that Pitbull and Gloria Estefan had agreed to perform, but nearly everyone else she had asked turned her down.
Comparing the ALMAs to events that honor African-American celebrities, such as the BET Awards, Eva noted that those shows didn't seem to have trouble attracting their most famous faces, from Denzel Washington and Beyoncé to Will Smith and Queen Latifah.
It didn't matter how big a star the actor or musician had become, she pointed out. When it came to supporting events recognizing the achievements of African-Americans, the industry's A-listers always showed up.
I was reminded of this conversation over the weekend, as I closely watched the opening of the new movie, Red Tails. Featuring an almost entirely African-American cast, and spotlighting the contributions of the Tuskegee Airman during World War II, the movie took years to make, in large part because--as we Latinos know all too well--Hollywood remains reluctant to produce films about people of color.
Ultimately, director George Lucas financed the $58 million picture himself, ensuring it got made.
He believed in the story that much, yes. But he also believed that the African-American audience would show up.
He was right: On opening weekend, Red Tails grossed a better-than-expected $19.1 million, to finish a strong second at the box office.
It was a remarkable display of community unity, of the kind of power an audience can wield if it throws its weight behind a project.
And in that triumph, lies a valuable lesson for Latinos.
We hear all the time about how large a group we are: 50 million strong, second in size only to the number of white, non-Hispanics in this country.
So where is our Red Tails? Where are the shows on major American television networks about Latinos, starring Latinos? Where are our celebrities in the crowd on the night of the ALMA awards?
They aren't there because we, the Latino audience, aren't demanding that they be there.
In the week leading up to the opening of Red Tails, I can't tell you how many Tweets and Facebook postings I saw in my personal feeds encouraging not just African-Americans, but everyone, to turn out for the film.
Tyler Perry publicly endorsed the movie on his website. Oprah Tweeted her support, telling her followers to buy a ticket--as did black celebrities from Spike Lee to Sherri Shepherd. Even President Obama got in on the act, hosting a screening of Red Tails at the White House a week before it opened.
The movie's success on opening weekend is a testament to what any group can achieve if they mobilize their numbers and flex their muscle.
African-Americans have made clear that they will no longer be overlooked by Hollywood.
Are Latinos ready to start demanding the same?
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