Stage-managed Latino Image

Brown is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream airs 9.12.07

Published on LatinoLA: September 10, 2007

Stage-managed Latino Image

Brown is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream, a new documentary from Phillip Rodriguez, airs Wednesday, September 12, 2007, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). This fresh, provocative film examines how corporate efforts to profit from the ‘«£Latino market‘«ō are shaping America‘«÷s perception of Latinos. The program features the extraordinary insight and observations of Latino icon and advocate George Lopez through rare behind-the-scenes access to the actor/comedian‘«÷s remarkable life and career.

Numbering 44 million, Latinos are not only this nation‘«÷s largest and fastest-growing ethnic group, they are also big business. According to The Selig Center for Economic Growth, Latino buying power will grow to $1.2 trillion by 2011.

‘«£Impressive numbers notwithstanding, Americans are in a collective state of confusion about Latinos,‘«ō says Rodriguez.

‘«£This isn‘«÷t surprising given that the Latino image is stage-managed by marketers and media companies. Latinos are caught in a netherworld,‘«ō Rodriguez adds. ‘«£Mainstream media have largely ignored them, while Spanish-language networks and Hispanic ad companies have served up an exoticized image that has no basis in contemporary American reality.‘«ō

As Bill Cosby did for African Americans decades ago, George Lopez normalizes the image of Latinos through entertainment. Lopez, whose ABC sitcom is the longest-running show with a Latino lead in the history of television, strives to represent Latinos in a manner true to their realities and aspirations.

In Brown is the New Green, we see actor/comedian George Lopez walk a tightrope between ethnic authenticity and primetime appeal. In his TV sitcom, he plays the Guy Next Door who happens to be Latino. In sold-out theatrical performances, he adopts an edgier, more Chicano-specific persona to send up the idiosyncratic details of Chicano life. In writers meetings, he delicately maneuvers to maintain a Latino sensibility amidst a staff and industry dominated by non-Latinos. And in behind-the-scenes conversations, he speaks candidly of his childhood longing to fit in, as well as the costs and rewards of working within the system.

‘«£I‘«÷ve been in meetings with Warner Bros. when I wasn‘«÷t particularly happy with what I was hearing. And the Chicano in me would say ‘«ˇI‘«÷m leaving,‘«÷‘«ō Lopez recalls. ‘«£But when you leave, you‘«÷re out. So I made myself stay. Probably a lot of people would say that‘«÷s selling out. But it‘«÷s not selling out. It‘«÷s the way the business is set up.‘«ō

While Lopez advocates Latinos‘«÷ move into the media mainstream, Hispanic marketers have a different agenda; to present Latinos as a separate America. Whether their target audience is elderly immigrants or predominantly English-speaking youth, these Hispanic marketers are pursuing Latino dollars via the myth of cultural Otherness. Brown is the New Green reveals clips of their programming ‘«Ű from ‘«£folkloric‘«ō commercials to cheesy Latin American soap operas to butt-shakin‘«÷ bicultural videos.

Brown is the New Green features interviews with a variety of influential Latinos, who weigh in, often with conflicting opinions, on the role of marketing and media in shaping Latino identity. Interviewees include Advertising Executive Hector Orc?°, actor Bill Dana (‘«£Jose Jimenez‘«ō), author Arlene D?Ūvila, media activist Alex Nogales, and the George Lopez show producer Bruce Helford (who also produced Roseanne and The Drew Carey Show).

The film also features conversations with members of the much coveted Latino youth market, whose tastes and interests are far more eclectic than one might think.

Phillip Rodriguez‘«÷s documentaries include Los Angeles Now (2004), Mixed Feelings: San Diego/Tijuana (2002), Manuel Ocampo: God is My Copilot (1999), and Pancho Villa & Other Stories (1998). A Senior Fellow at Institute of Justice and Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communications, he recently received the first annual United States Artist‘«÷s Broad Fellow Award.

Brown is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream is a co-production of 213 Projects, LLC and the Independent Television Service (ITVS). Brown is the New Green was made possible by PBS, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Latino Public Broadcasting, the Independent Television Service, USC Annenberg‘«÷s Institute for Justice and Journalism and is presented by KQED San Francisco. Travel provided by Southwest Airlines.

Additional information and digital photography from Brown is the New Green is available at http://pressroom.pbs.org/programs/brown_is_the_new_green.

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