Thursday, November 14, 2013

How Can Sci-Fi Romance Reach Out To Latino Audiences?

Michelle Rodriguez from MACHETE KILLS

Check out this eye-opening article: Latinos Attend More Movies Than Anyone Else But Are The Least Represented On Screen (Via Huff Post: Latino Voices).

Here's the highlight:

Hollywood studios appear to be missing the mark when it comes to representing one of their biggest consumers on the big screen.

Latinos go to more movies than any other group, including whites, and yet they play only 4 percent of roles onscreen, according to a new study by the University of Southern California

Despite this awful discrepancy, studios don't hesitate to market their films to Latino audiences:

But the industry has noticed the demographic in theater seats, even if it's not putting Latinos on the screen. Studios have started advertising more heavily to Latinos, especially via websites and in Spanish language media, according to Clara Rodriguez, who studies Latinos in the media as a professor of sociology at Fordham University.

AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the second-largest cinema chain in the U.S. by locations, is looking at where Latinos live when deciding where to build theaters, The Wall Street Journal reported. One such theater is currently under way in San Antonio, Texas. 

Yet studios are still reluctant to feature Latino actors in lead roles? Why not create a win-win situation?
"Your certainty of return on your investment is greater in a Hispanic-populated area than anywhere else," AMC Chief Executive Gerry Lopez told the Journal.

Sanchez contends that that return on investment could be even greater "if films had individuals that Latinos could connect to."
It's important and necessary for studios with real power to release big budget films featuring more Latino actors in film. Latinos in high-profile roles should be a regular mainstream occurrence, not something relegated to niche/low-budget films. But the article also made me wonder how science fiction romance is serving the Latino audience. Studios aren't the only players who ought to give them represention.

Unfortunately, I can only think of four Hispanic main characters in SFR off the top of my head: Marisol de la Vega from Diane Dooley's BLUE GALAXY; Lara Soto from Lisa Paitz Spindler's THE SPIRAL PATH, Jules Guerrero from Alisha Rai's NIGHT WHISPERS, and Queenie from my book QUEENIE'S BRIGADE.

I read sci-fi romance regularly and it dismays me that this is the current track record. Why am I not encountering more of them? And one of the books is one I myself have written? Noooooooo! I can't be the only reader who's interested in Latino heroes and heroines. I refuse to believe that.

Surely there's a Latina author out there who has written a science fiction romance? Or maybe someone has one in the works and has a blog or Web site I can follow for news updates? I am here ready to explore it and talk about it. If I'm not searching the right places for Latina authors of SFR, please show me the way.

But at least the Hispanic characters are the heroines! In fact, the picture of Michelle Rodriguez at the top of the Latino Voices article made me think she'd make a superb lead for any of the above stories--and probably those yet to be written. I checked her IMDB listing. She's currently filming FAST AND FURIOUS 7, but beyond that I don't see anything else on her schedule. Maybe she'd be interested in throwing her weight behind an adaptation of one of the aforementioned sci-fi romances? *Cheshire cat grin*

We have some sci-fi romances featuring Latino characters and there's potential for many more. Authors can make choices in the interest of diversity--that's one area totally under their control. But how can we connect SFR to Latino audiences in a film medium? Can you say Holy Astronomical Chances, Batman?

We all know the societal and practical obstacles keeping SFRs featuring Latino leads off the big screen so I don't feel compelled to list them here. But two of them merit discussion because they relate to the issue of personal control.

They are called complacency and the self-fulfilling prophecy. Who among us has a connection to a major studio or an actress like Michelle Rodriguez? So why bother trying, right? Why bother incorporating more Latino characters into science fiction romance? What's in it for the SFR community?

Therefore, we're not even ready when opportunity strikes. We don't believe--often without statistical facts to back it up--that the Latino audience is significant, so we don't bother serving them. We simply shrug our shoulders and move on.

Hollywood film studios have been dismissing the Latino audience for decades. They do so at their own peril. The article implies they've already lost many ticket sales by going the route of ignorance--and probably prejudice.

Have you seen the box office numbers for a Mexican comedy-drama film called INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED? This movie released on August 30, 2013. To date, it's already made over 85 million dollars worldwide. (Watch the trailer--it's fun!) Do you know what the budget was? 5 million.

According to the Wikipedia entry:

Instructions Not Included grossed $7,846,426 from 347 theaters in its opening weekend in the United States,[2] making it the fifth highest-grossing film of the 2013 Labor Day weekend.

It (almost) goes without saying that I would love to see what a Latino team could do with a film version of QUEENIE'S BRIGADE. I'd love to see how the story could be altered/expanded to resonate with Latino audiences. Doesn't have to be a theatrical release. I'd take a 13-episode Netflix series any day!

I know what some of you might be thinking. Sure, Heather, dream on. What makes your book--or BLUE GALAXY or THE SPIRAL PATH or any others that apply--so special? Why do those deserve a film adaptation any more than other books?

The answer is, they don't. Taste varies and I'm not talking about one film and that's it. Heck, adapt a slew of them for the big screen. Maybe a Latino filmmaker loves a story, but the heroine is white. Change her ethnicity--many stories would allow for that.

Studios don't believe Latino actors deserve on-screen representation or can translate to sales, even though statistics now show otherwise. However, I'm willing to bet there are Latino actors and filmmakers outside of the studio system who are accessible and/or up and coming. Science fiction romance represents a wealth of affordable properties. Why keep these two things apart? Why not explore what they can do for each other?

All of the above is the reason I wanted to bring the Latino Voice article to your attention. The SFR community doesn't have to repeat the kind of mistake and oversight made by studios, at least where books are concerned.

But how will we achieve--or at least try to achieve--the goal of an SFR film adaptation for Latino audiences, regardless of where it's released? I'm not sure Latino filmmakers would come to us. We may need to produce more of them and bring the relevant books to their attention. Naturally, one way would be through huge sales numbers.

Barring that, another strategy would be a long-term awareness campaign.

I had an opportunity to recently pitch two SFR titles--one QB, one not my own--to a film director currently seeking his next project. Why couldn't we do something like that more often as a team?

If digital-first publishers won't or can't pitch SFR books with Latino characters to film agents, what about forming a list of titles and dividing the work of cold emailing smaller studios and accessible Latino actors who'd be willing to hear our pitches? Why not form a task force to represent ourselves, as a group?

Despite the fact that there's a mutually beneficial partnership waiting to happen between SFR and Latino audiences, I fear the response will be one of feeling massively overwhelmed by the obstacles. I understand why, but I also wish that weren't a strong possibility. I would love it if someone proved me wrong. :)

Joyfully yours,