3 Groundbreaking Mediamakers on Pushing the Boundaries of Latino Content

William Caballero's 'How You Doin' Boy?'

When it comes to getting one’s foot in the door of the entertainment industry, access is one of the perennial dilemmas. It’s true that with the advent of digital media, a surplus of content exists available for consumers to find. However, the wider reach of television is still a desirable form of distribution for content creators.

During this year’s NALIP Media Summit, presented by the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP), public media heavyweights PBS and Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) hosted a session focused on three Latino talents working in different media spaces, who benefited from their support and exposure. Hosted by Pamela Aguilar, Director of Programming and Development for PBS, and Luis Ortiz, Managing Director of LPB Media, the panel opened by showcasing clips from the channel’s current Latino slate followed by clips of the participant’s work. Veteran documentarian Hector Galan (Children of Giant), filmmaker Karla Legaspy (Gold Star), and multimedia creator William Caballero (Grandpa Knows Best) shared their creative processes and opinions on subjects ranging from current politics, to fluid sexual orientation, and cultural authenticity in their projects.

Both Aguilar and Ortiz made a point of letting attendees know how open and accessible their companies are. PBS, for example, is open to pitches from any creators out there who want to email or call the broadcaster. The fact that, as one panelist stated, “this is not your grandma’s PBS anymore,” has opened new opportunities within public media, such as PBS’ YouTube channel PBS Digital Studio. Direct interactions like these are not as common with networks or cable channels, but through their different partnerships, PBS can be a viable option for Latino filmmakers looking to broaden their reach.

Lastly, Ortiz spoke about LPB’s joint venture with PBS, Voces, which is the only Latino anthology series that showcases documentaries on Latino issues and Latino arts and culture. As the speakers attested, creating meaningful content that goes beyond mere entertainment is crucial to the advancement of Latinos in the media. It’s not just about what you make, but the messages it sends.

Check out some of the best moments from this inspiring NALIP session.

Pamela Aguilar on Injecting That Latino “Stuff” Into Our Projects

We are Latino makers that tell really powerful stories, that don’t necessarily have to be Latino stories. I’m a firm believer that if we are in the room, we are in the crews, we are writing, we are directing, we are producing, and we bring a little bit of ourselves to that piece; no matter what the story is there is that “stuff” that we come with and gets injected into projects.

Hector Galan on His Upcoming Project and the Power of the Latino Vote

This piece that I’m working on now on Willie Velasquez just kind of fell into place. I had the honor of meeting [the subject] back in 1983, when he was trying to get a million new Latino voters together to vote right before the ’84 election. I got very rare footage of him that nobody has. He died young from kidney cancer. What he started was this grassroots movement to empower people by getting them to register to vote. He went to a place that a lot of people weren’t going to so they could get representation. He went against the Texas rangers who kept Latinos and Tejanos oppressed. This is a piece on the growth and the power of the Latino vote. Latinos will be able to elect the next president of the United States in a very short while.

Karla Legaspy on Empowering LGBT Latino Youth With Her Short Film Gold Star

Gold Star is a narrative short film about a young girl who has a crush on her teacher. I think right now we are coming to terms with young folks, especially in LA, that don’t really think about having to identify themselves one way or another in terms or their sexual orientation. This little girl is singing a song to her teacher during her school’s talent show and gets backlash. She sees how horrible our environments are and how sometimes we challenge young people. We make them grow up and make them feel ashamed of some of the simplest things, like the innocence of your first crush.

William Caballero on His Innovative HBO Series Gran’pa Knows Best

This started off as a web series and was later picked up and licensed by HBO, it’s called Gran’pa Knows Best, and this show features printed and hand-painted 3D models of my Puerto Rican grandfather. It’s sort of an interactive show, so the premise is that the viewer is actually able to ask grandpa a question. You can email, send me a Tweet, or a Facebook message with a question and I will literally call my grandpa up, put the phone down, put a recorded next to it, and I’ll record the conversation. These videos become shorts branching out different topics such as, “Grandpa give me advice on eating healthy and avoiding junk food,” or “Grandpa, what’s your opinion on rap music?” Obviously, he has these really crazy opinions, but they are what you’d expect an 87-year-old Boricua to say.

“I realized that Latino stories are just as smart, just as good, and just as powerful as any other one.”

Hector Galan on Being Pigeonholed as a Latino Creator

People like to pigeonhole you. People like to put you in categories, especially if you are working with a big institution like WGBH-TV, like I was. For a while I didn’t want to do Latino stories because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. It’s a battle that you fight with yourself. It took a long time. I did 11 programs, and it took maybe the sixth or seventh before I could do another minority program. The National Council of la Raza offered an opportunity but I turned it down because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. Until que se me prendió el foco, and I said, “To hell with that! I’m going to tell the stories I want to tell.” I realized that Latino stories are just as smart, just as good, and just as powerful as any other one. I know that there are some people out there who are going through those trials. How do you get away? You are damned if you do and you are damned if you don’t.

Karla Legaspy on Writing Latino Stories That Are Universal

When I write, yes I do write a Latino, brown, woman, mostly queer perspective; but I feel that the notions of family, love, friendship, and identity are super universal. For some reason even if I decide that my lead character is a young Chicanita living in East LA or El Sereno, she’s still going to school everyday, has a best friend, they are both a little awkward, people don’t really like them but they have each other’s support. Those are all things that play really well with the same young person in Germany who is going through the same thing at school. So even though I do specifically try to show images of my community that I feel we don’t ever see, I also think that anyone can identify with the things we tap into.

William Caballero on Inspiring Other Latinos to Tell Their Stories

Working in this medium has allowed me to forge forward in this new niche because nobody is really using this technology to tell our stories. One of the best compliments I get from people who see this is: “My grandpa is like your grandpa,” and this comes from Latinos, white people, black people, Jewish people, all different cultures. I think that’s really stunning.

I approached LPB with an idea that changed throughout the process of receiving the grant. The next project I’m doing I’m calling it Storybored U, and the idea is that it’s going to be a web series that will educate and empower young diverse millennials to tell their stories through film, through creative writing, through spoken word, through music, and things of that nature. It features 30 printed miniatures of myself. Now I’m transferring myself into this protagonist and it will have my voice.

It’ll hopefully be a really great YouTube series that will empower the viewers to feel confident that their stories matter, because I feel that most people who look like us are so nervous because we turn on the TV and see so many people who don’t look like us. They have a monopoly on why their stories are important, but the reality is that we all have something to share.