From ‘Star Wars’ to Sundance: This Podcast Uncovers How Latinos Shape the Movie Business

Lead Photo: Photo by Jonathan Olley. Courtesy of Lucasfilm
Photo by Jonathan Olley. Courtesy of Lucasfilm
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With so many options available to watch movies – Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Blu-ray, and the somehow now old-school-seeming DVD – it’s easy to forget that there was a time when going to the cinema was a special event. You’d get dressed up, buy tickets, load up on snacks, and settle into a comfy chair in a dark room full of strangers in order to watch the newest release on a big screen.

Nowadays when you head to the theater, you’d be hard pressed to find a film in the top 10 that features a Latino in front of the camera, or behind it. Even though studios are well aware of the fact that Latinos buy a quarter of all movie tickets despite only making up 17 percent of the population – we still remain vastly underrepresented in the entertainment industry. Back in the old days, in some respects, Latinos were better off.

In the silent era, Hollywood films often featured an international cast of stars. Since there was no dialogue, it didn’t matter if an actor had a heavy accent. In fact, some of the early movie stars didn’t even speak English. Take Lupita Tovar, a young actress discovered in Mexico by Fox Film Studios, for example. After playing a few small parts in silent films in the late 1920s, her big break came when Universal Pictures cast her in the Spanish-language version of Dracula. While the English Dracula starring Bela Lugosi is revered as a classic, the Spanish one – filmed at night using the same sets and costumes but different actors – is often obscured.

It’s stories like Lupita’s and that of Spanish Drácula that serve as a reminder that Latinos have been present in Hollywood since the very beginning of film history. It’s just that our achievements tend to get erased. We teamed up with NPR’s Latino USA to bring this forgotten cinematic history out of the shadows.

Together with Latino USA – in a special episode titled Silver Screen – we look at the long-standing relationship between Hollywood, Latin America, and Latino filmmakers. We go behind the scenes of how movies are adapted for Latin American audiences by talking to the team who dubbed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story into Spanish. Then, we look to the past to uncover the making of the Spanish-language version of the 1931 classic Dracula. Plus, we interview Mexican-American documentarian Bernardo Ruiz about border movies. And finally, we examine what it means to be an independent filmmaker today by hearing from US-born Latinos who screened their projects at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Listen to the episode below.

We teamed up with NPR’s Latino USA to co-produce Silver Screen, a special episode entirely dedicated to Latinos and film.