A friend of mine recently made a joke on his Facebook feed, referencing the controversy over #OscarsSoWhite and the African-Americans who have chosen not to attend as a result: “I don’t know why Asians don’t boycott the Oscars every year.”
And it’s a very good point. Asians, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, you name it. Where are these people in Hollywood? I live in Los Angeles and I’ve met a whole bunch of people, so I know they live here. I see them all the time. I’m even friends with some of them. Where are their movies? Let’s start with the most diverse of this field, shall we? Latinos.
Now, according to the Internet, over 500 million people in the world speak Spanish. So when we talk about “Latino” and Spanish-language films, we have to first acknowledge that we’re basically talking about “people who eat food and stand upright.” In other words, we’re going to cover a lot of ground.
And what we find right off the bat is that Hollywood has drawn a very strict line between the “high prestige” films of noted filmmakers, and the other ones that almost don’t exist. In fact, Spanish-speaking filmmakers have become some of our awards favorites (and deservedly so), but very often for making films with American casts that aren’t particularly “Latino” or even “Spanish.”
And sure enough, this year, there are no shortage of high-quality films coming out of Spain and Latin America (mostly Spain). And I’ll detail some of the Spanish-language films below that I’m most excited about.
But what about English-language films, starring and/or written and directed by American Latinos? That’s where you really start to see what all the fuss is about. There is a systemic problem with excluding the Latin-American voice in Hollywood. And never is it more clear than when you try to find all the great American films by Latinos coming out this year. (Hint: You’ll have to look really hard.)
But I did find some, and I’m very excited about them. So we’re going to do two lists here. The first—Spanish Language, featuring the films I’m most anxious to see this year from Spain and Central and South America.
And the second, home-grown films with Latino directors or stars who have found a way into the jungle of Hollywood filmmaking. First…
The Mexican Three Tenors—Iñárritu (The Revenant), del Toro (Crimson Peak) and Cuarón (Gravity) are busy this year promoting last year’s work and producing TV shows. Also, it looks like we’ll have to wait until next year for the adaptation of Virginia Vallejo’s memoir about her love affair with Pablo Escobar, starring Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz.
Not to worry. The Spanish-speaking world is bringing us some EPIC cinema this year. Here’s the top five:
Director Pablo Larraín, best known in America for Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus, is bringing us this story of an inspector (Gael García Bernal) who hunts down Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) in the 1940s. Neruda became a fugitive in his home country after joining the Communist Party and fighting for the rights of striking miners. During this time, he began writing “Canto General,” a 231-poem ode to Latin America.
Pedro Almodóvar is returning to his “cinema of women,” previous installments of which include All About My Mother, Talk to Her, and Volver, with his new film Julieta. Starring Spanish actresses Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suarez as younger and older versions of the same character, we meet the protagonist in 2015 on the verge of madness, remembering a more prosperous time in her life from 30 years before.
Almodóvar told the Financial Times of London last year that silence is “the principal element that drives the worst things that happen to the main female protagonist.” Now this is a director, of course, who brilliantly handled the subject of silence– and specifically the things we cannot or do not say to each other– in Talk To Her. Can’t wait to see what he does with this one.
3. 33 DÍAS
From Spanish writer/director Carlos Saura, Antonio Banderas plays Pablo Picasso during the 33 days it took him to complete his epic mural Guernica. The film focuses on that project as well as his relationship with artist Dora Maar (Gwyneth Paltrow).
The New York Times called Guernica Picasso’s “harrowing representation of the bombing of a Basque town that has come to symbolize the outrage of warfare.” Should be beautiful.
4. THE QUEEN OF SPAIN
Director Fernando Trueba is reuniting with his The Girl of Your Dreams star Penélope Cruz for a serio-comic sequel to that film entitled The Queen of Spain. Cruz will be reprising her role as Macarena Granada, a fictional Spanish movie star. Set in the ‘50s, this new film will have Macarena returning to Spain to play Isabella I of Castille.
I love Miss Cruz when she speaks Spanish. I don’t know why, but she’s always lost a little something in translation for me. But give me Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes, or the movie that became Vanilla Sky) or Volver any day.
Mexican writer/director/actor Demián Bichir (Oscar nominated for A Better Life), is bringing us Refugio, the description of which on IMDb is so epic I’m just going to paste it here: Refugio, a romantic dreamer whose years long quest to find true love takes him from the circus life in Mexico to the nightlife of New Orleans, where he unexpectedly falls for a beautiful exotic dancer with a complicated past and a dangerous ex-lover who refuses to let her go.
What the what? Circuses? New Orleans? Exotic dancers? Could be a hot mess, could be fantastic. We’ll have to see.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILMS:
1. THE PROMISE
Not wanting to focus exclusively on Spain and Latin America, let’s talk about American Latinos, starting with my favorite, Guatemalan-American actor Oscar Isaac, who will star in The Promise, from director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, Reservation Road), along with Christian Bale.
Here’s the IMDb description:
Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and Chris – a renowned American journalist based in Paris.
And from The Wrap: “The Ottoman Empire was dissolved in 1922 following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, which resulted in an estimated death toll of between 800,000 and 1.5 million people. The subject has been near and dear to George, who in March 2013, was a guest of the Armenian State Pedagogical University, where the Irish filmmaker compared the Armenian genocide to the Rwanda genocide that he chronicled in Hotel Rwanda.”
2. A MONSTER CALLS
Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) may be bringing us the next Jurassic World movie in a couple years, but first he’s going to do what he does best: scare the crap out of us. With A Monster Calls, coming out this fall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson—or his voice, anyway—will bring us the story of a bullied little boy, described on IMDb as “damaged, guilty, and mostly angry,” who meets a tree monster that forces him to tell the truth. Seriously, chills.
3. LOS VALIENTES (THE BRAVE ONES)
Writer/director Aurora Guerrero, the only woman on this list, I’m afraid, is following up Mosquita y Mari with Los Valientes. Set in a conservative Pennsylvania town, it tells the story of a gay, undocumented immigrant. And even though it’s actually in Spanish and English, I’m including it here because it’s set in America and deals with a very American problem: undocumented workers.
So this film was made with a grant from the San Francisco Film Society, and while IMDb lists it as a 2016 film, it does not have an official release date. This is unfortunately super common with minority films, and especially films that aren’t seen as having a large audience base. In short, we just never get to see them. But sooner or later, these things usually end up being streamable, and when this one is, I’m going to let you know. Because Miss Guerrero is one of the few Latina women successfully making films right now, and hers is an important voice that deserves to be heard.
4. LOW RIDERS
Demián Bichir, not content to merely bring us the Spanish-language Refugio (above), will also be brushing up on his English for Peruvian director Ricardo de Montreuil’s Low Riders, costarring Melissa Benoist and Eva Longoria. And yes, this film is about the low-rider car culture of the ‘70s, delving into the dark side of the lifestyle and the obsession with status. So basically, it could be Fast and Furious, or it could be Bullitt. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.
5. HEMINGWAY & FUENTES
Cuban director/writer/star Andy Garcia is finally making Hemingway & Fuentes, the story of the boat captain who inspired Ernest Hemingway to write “The Old Man and the Sea.”
So Andy Garcia announced this passion project at Cannes… in 2009. As with most passion projects that lack studio funding, it takes a loooot of passion to make things happen. At one point, Anthony Hopkins was slated to play Hemingway against Garcia’s Fuentes. (And man, I would have loved to have seen that.) Then it was Jon Voight playing the crusty old writer. Now, who knows? IMDb only lists Garcia, but it also declares a 2016 release date, which vibes with the fact that Garcia himself told Variety last fall that the financing was finally in place and photography was set to begin.
And those are my two lists. What do you think? Did I leave anything out? Anything you’re excited to see? Let me know in the comments section below.