WASHINGTON, DC -- The numbers are dismal: Latinos comprise less than two percent of writers, producers and directors in both the small and big screen in the United States. Leading roles for Latino and Latina actors are virtually non-existent, and no Latinos serve as studio heads, network presidents, CEOs, or owners. Additionally, of the top 53 television, radio, and studio executives, only one in Latina.
These cheerless stats from a recent study co-commissioned by the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) is the impetus behind Quórum Call, an effort by the NHFA to bring together Latino writers and filmmakers to speak with producers and network executives.
And that’s quórum with an accent on the o, says NHFA chairman and co-founder Félix Sánchez. “Quórum in Spanish stands for majority, and in this case it’s for a Latino majority, like a clarion call for creators to come and pitch their content ideas.
The two-day event was held right before the NHFA’s 19th-annual Noche de Gala awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night, honoring several prominent members of the media and arts and entertainment.
Sánchez tells NBC News that the gathering is a way to help get Latinos and Latinas into that television and movie pipeline to help advance the community and change some of the stereotypes prevalent in the media and arts industry.
“People already have a negative or marginalized opinion of who we are, and the only way that we can regain control of our identity (in media) is by telling our own story through our own filmmakers. We’re always talking about small numbers, but if we can advance five, ten at a time, that’s a huge achievement.”
Pitchfest participant Juanita Cepero is a UCLA graduate student in the MFA program, focusing on producing and who is also looking at entering the business side of the entertainment industry. “Of course on the creative side we can make a difference, but from the business side you need someone making the decisions to greenlight the projects, and you need that Latin perspective and that female perspective, which you don’t find that often in the industry," said Cepero. "Sometimes stories don’t get told because the people who greenlight projects don’t connect to them, and they don’t connect to them because they don’t have the same sensibilities and understanding. I want to get to that place where you have the power to say yes.”
New York based writer and filmmaker César Vargas said he has submitted "many times to many places" and never received an answer, so he thought the gathering was a big help.
“We have to keep at it. If we don’t do it, no one will do it," said Vargas. "We have to do it for ourselves and for the next generations to come. Somebody has to break through the door.”
“This type of event is incredibly important, especially when you consider the underrepresentation of Latinos in the mainstream culture,” said Alberto Pando, an independent producer in Los Angeles who was looking at pitches for network executives back in Hollywood. And the fact that Latinos are virtually non-existent in the corporate suites in Hollywood is something that we’re going to have to fix. This (event) is key and invaluable.”
"We need to put the word out. Someone like me who was a big theater nerd in high school would have liked to know that this foundation existed,” said actor and comedienne Cristela Alonzo.
Angela Sauceda, Director of Curation and Digital Programming at the arts network channel Ovation, was one of the media groups listening to pitches.“As a Latina myself, I want to help other people in my community and get their work out there and hear their stories. There are some really great projects out there. It’s great to see people in the Latino community excited about they do and their art, whether it’s filmmaking or doing production, or writing. You never know who’s going to take a chance on you.”
“Anything like this (the NHFA’s work), we need to put the word out. Someone like me who was a big theater nerd in high school would have liked to know that this foundation existed,” said actor and comedienne Cristela Alonzo, an NHFA honoree this year. Alonzo adds that she has become more vocal since her show Cristela got cancelled after one season earlier this year. “I’m more of an activist now because I have more of a platform to do it. None of this for me is about fame or money. It’s about being able to give back, and help people get them to that next level,” she tells NBC News, adding that one of her current projects includes developing a talk show.
“This (NHFA) is important because it helps inspire young people and shows them that there are many possibilities and doors that are open that will allow you to get to wherever you want to go,” said director and honoree Alfonso Gómez Rejón, who is currently working on Citizen, about a superhero in the largely Latino neighborhood of East Los Angeles and which will be showcased on the online streaming service Hulu. His movie "Me and Earl & the Dying Girl" has received critical acclaim and honors.
Both Alonzo and Gómez Rejón received the NHFA’s Horizon Award, which recognizes rising stars in the arts and entertainment fields.
The gala honored MSNBC/Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart, who received the Raúl Juliá Award for Excellence, named for the late Puerto Rican actor Raúl Juliá. Díaz-Balart, one of the more prominent bilingual journalists, is an anchor for Noticiero Telemundo and its public affairs show "Enfoque" and also anchors "The Rundown with José Díaz-Balart" on MSNBC.
The NHFA was established in 1997 to increase the numbers of Latinos in the media, telecommunications and entertainment industries. Co-founders include actors Jimmy Smits, Esaí Morales and Sonia Braga.