Celebrating, Educating, Advocating

LEMI's conference addresses successes, challenges of Latinos in the media

By Ernesto S. Martinez
Published on LatinoLA: May 25, 2002

Celebrating, Educating, Advocating

An estimated 200 registrants participated in the Latino Entertainment Media Institute?s (LEMI) Emerging Filmmakers conference that took place from May 15 through 18 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. Being LEMI?s 7th conference since 1995, attendance seemed a bit down from previous years, which was at odds considering the increase in the Latino presence in Hollywood.

Attendees varied from established players in the Latinowood scene to aspiring actors and filmmakers seeking to network and gain some knowledge from the various panels offered throughout the conference.

LEMI is a non-profit organization for Latinos (and others) founded in 1997 (http://www.golemi.org). LEMI?s goal is to function as an education and information provider of ?knowledge necessary for Latinos ?to gain access to the entertainment media and communications industry in the U.S.? To this end, LEMI organizes the annual conference and other ongoing programs throughout the year, including networking events and conversations with filmmakers.

The conference? began tepidly with a welcome address the first evening, followed by a screening of Leon Ichaso?s "Pi?ero", topped off with a Networking reception. Bel Hernandez, Chairperson of LEMI and publisher of Latin Heat Magazine, welcomed attendees on Wednesday evening. Hernandez announced a need for the diverse Latino community in the entertainment industry to work together for the larger goal of the whole. ?We have an agenda? Hernandez stated.

Hernandez spelled out that agenda as she described the strategic alliance formed with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the Latino civil rights organization that organizes the American Latino Media Awards (ALMA).

The focus of the agenda is twofold: Addressing the dismal number of Latinos in the entertainment industry, both behind and in front of the camera and in challenging the still negative images of Latinos by the industry. This problem remains -- in fact it has grown worse in terms of ratio percentages that take into account percent representation versus population percentage -- in spite of the fact that Latinos in the United States are now the largest minority group and that the buying power of Latinos is at $250 billion.

The goal of this agenda is to increase the number of Latinos in the entertainment industry. How to increase this number is the complex question raised in one of the first panels on Thursday morning. The panel titled "Strategic Alliances", comprised Hernandez of LEMI; Kathryn Galan, executive director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP); Marlene Dermer, executive director of Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB); Kristi Lomax, membership manager of the Independent Feature Project west (IFP West); and Lisa Navarrette of the NCLR.

This panel was a snapshot of the various organizations that are working towards educating, advocating, and building Latino media arts culture through the various conferences and workshops they produce, along with organized protests and challenges to the industry. Latino media arts organizations are initiating some dialogues on how to better coordinate their services in terms of providing knowledge and information for Latinos to gain entry across different levels of media arts production. At the same time, there is an awareness of a need to better organize challenges to the industry and Public Broadcasting through advocacy organizations like the NCLR and the National Latino Media Council (NLMC).

Other panels provided a variety of information: How to use film festivals to market your films or whether direct to video may be the best distribution option for a feature film. Another panel focused on how to secure a studio deal. The panel members, Santiago Pozo, CEO of Arenas Entertainment, and Darlene Caamano, of D-No Entertainment provided information about what type of projects they work with and what they are seeking from Latino writers and filmmakers.

An interesting series of comments ensued when a conference attendee asked a question regarding these two companies, one a distribution and marketing company (Arenas) and the other a production management company (D-NO). The question put to the two panelists was whether this panel was about discussing the distribution of Latino-themed entertainment or whether it was about supporting Latinos regardless of the content of the product.

Pozo?s answer to this was ?I sell tacos?, meaning his company was intent on selling a Latino product. Caamano?s response was to indicate a different stance. Her company supports Latino talent whether they make Latino-themed projects or not.

These diverse answers to the cogent question speak to the subtleties underlying the logic of this particular Latino media conference. For Pozo, providing a Latino product is a strategy for gaining entryway into the mainstream media. For Caamano, supporting Latino talent regardless of content is also a strategy for gaining entryway into the mainstream. In both cases the end point is the same. However, the means of attaining that endpoint is noticeably distinct. Both strategies seem to be betting on the daunting task of getting Latinos, as consumers, to behave as one, i.e. a specific demographic.

Pozo, the keynote luncheon speaker, opened his speech on Thursday by stating, ?We are in a very important moment.? He then followed with a talk on how Latino self-representation is a necessary social good for the U.S.

Is anyone listening?

About Ernesto S. Martinez:
Martinez is a PhD candidate at UCLA.

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