John Leguizamo Speaks About MTV Documentary 'Inocente'

7:44 AM PST 08/17/2012 by Eriq Gardner
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The actor urges other Latino entertainers to get more involved in helping enact social policy change.

On Friday night, MTV attempts something different with the television premiere of Inocente, an award-winning documentary about the plight of a homeless teenage immigrant who pursues her dream of being an artist.

The documentary is executive produced by actor John Leguizamo, who says he came aboard after being shown early footage from Albie Hecht, the co-founder of Shine Global, a non-profit film production company dedicated to ending child abuse and exploitation. Leguizamo says documentary is his favorite genre and was drawn to the character of Inocente, a 15-year-old undocumented Latina who speaks directly to the camera as her colorful artworks are shown, representing her transformational escape from a tough upbringing.

It's not the usual fare for a network best known these days for Snooki and J-WOWW.

"Their mojo is usually the lower the brow, the better, but now and again they will come up for air," says Leguizamo. "The way this is shot, this definitely belongs on MTV."

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Leguizamo is a politically-active individual who has lately been walking a careful balance in the way entertainment mixes with hard social issues. In the wake of the theater shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, he's agitated for stricter gun control laws, taping PSA spots on the subject. He waives off concerns that on-screen violence itself contributes to the problem, calling any such theories of copycat violence "scapegoating." But he does believe that people emulate role models including entertainers.

On social media, Leguizamo often tweets support for several different policy changes. He says reaction can be vitriolic at times from those who don't believe that celebrities can have legitimate opinions on serious subjects.

"Some actors like Sean Penn are very political in their lives and I admire that," he says. "But a lot of people won't do it because of the backlash...I wish Latin athletes, actors, producers who have so much power would do more. I don't hear them speaking up enough about an issue like immigration."

For Inocente, Leguizamo used his name brand and the social media sphere to raise funds for the film, pointing his followers to contribute to the making of the documentary via Kickstarter.

The result is the inspirational tale of a teenager whose father was deported for domestic abuse, and after moving from one homeless shelter to the next, finds "revolution," as she says, in color. Directed by Academy-Award nominated Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, the documentary garnered the Best Short Documentary prize at the San Antonio Film Festival before being snapped up by MTV, whose programming executives say they wish to inspire a dialogue on youth immigration and homelessness issues.

Leguizamo says he sees in the documentary the story of the "journey of most artists," including himself, and believes it has the power of re-framing discussion on the subject of immigration by presenting it in terms of this journey and connecting it to both younger subjects and audiences. Hence, the documentary's place on MTV tonight.

As for the actor, his next trip is to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina early in September. He hopes to push the Democrats not to take for granted the Latino vote. "There are a lot of important issues and I understand why the economy and jobs are on the minds of a lot of people," he says. "But there are a lot of smaller issues like immigration. If Obama wants the Latino vote, part of it comes to that."

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner

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