In the dual, art/industry nature of film, awards are only one part of the equation in determining the real cultural impact of a movie. Just look at that quintessential blockbuster and icon of American cinema, Jaws: not only did the film fail to earn a Best Picture Academy Award, but Spielberg was entirely shut out of that year’s Best Director nominations. Instead, the film picked up more traditionally minor prizes like Best Editing, Best Score, and Best Sound — and to this day Spielberg publicly resents the Academy’s snub despite audience’s rabid enthusiasm for his film. Forty years later, Latin American filmmakers are dominating awards ceremonies from Hollywood to Berlin, Cannes to Rotterdam, but how are they doing at the box office?
Box Office Mojo’s latest weekend report shows that, while we’re not exactly blowing up the box office with mechanical sharks, Latino-themed films are making a healthy showing across U.S. theaters. Naturally, the weekend’s top slots were reserved for the likes of Will Smith in Focus (co-starring Remezcla fave Adrian Martinez), along with the hand-spasm inducing Fifty Shades of Grey which bumped down to the number four spot after two weeks of box office dominance. But Latinos were representing (or were represented…) with the heart-warming, inspirational youth sports drama McFarland, USA, which has racked up an impressive $22 million in its first 10 days in theaters.
Directed by New Zealand indie phenom, Niko Caro (Whale Rider), McFarland, USA tells the story of a down-and-out Phys Ed teacher who takes over the department in the overwhelmingly Hispanic California farming community of McFarland. There he whips a ragtag band of cross-country runners into fighting shape while presumably learning new things about Latino culture. Notably, the film stars Kevin Costner (this is America folks, even Latino stories got to have a white lead) who likely hasn’t led a film to a $22 million box office since the 1990s. Leaving aside the fact that this is a Disney film directed by a white New Zealander, McFarland, USA actually shows some dramatic potential as well as an impressive level of cultural sensitivity. We may be in the presence of a Latino Cool Runnings with this one.
Then there’s the latest from Pantelion, the Latino-oriented Hollywood studio that brought us minor league blockbusters like Nosotros los Nobles and Instructions Not Included, both of which vied for box office records both in the U.S. and Mexico back in 2013. It’s no surprise that Pantelion continues hitting the mark with their Hollywood-style, low budget commercial formula. The latest is titled A La Mala and it picked up $1.44 million in its first weekend at the U.S. box office.
Starring Aislinn Derbez, daughter of comedy icon and Instructions mastermind Eugenio Derbez, A La Mala appears to be a sort of twisted, Latin American version of Will Smith’s Hitch. Derbez plays María Laura, an aspiring actress who finds a lucrative new career working for suspicious novias by using her charm to entrap unfaithful boyfriends. Along the way, she falls in love, but winning over her man isn’t as easy as she hopes. Or something like that.
With a moderately impressive first weekend, the oracles at Box Office Mojo have put A La Mala in the $3 – 4 million range for its entire release — not quite Instructions status (the film racked up $44 million in the U.S. alone), but typical for a Pantelion release and a hell of a lot more than I’ll be making this year.