Robert Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana and Lin-Manuel Miranda are ringing the bell on U.S. Latinx talent. As part of the second annual L’ATTITUDE entrepreneurial conference, a Latinx-focused event held at San Diego’s Grand Hyatt from Sept. 26-29, the filmmakers will unveil LATINXT, a curated list of emerging creative voices who are ready for their big break.
“I would get calls all the time from colleagues looking for that next person that represents the future, so I wanted to create a version of that which would be available to everyone,” Rodriguez tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The goal is to help talent ascend to the next level in their careers by letting people in the industry know who they are. These are all people who caught our eye and whose work and potential we responded to.”
The El Rey Network founder, who just signed onto Apple’s El Gato Negro with Diego Boneta, continues: “Everyone on the list is out there working, but how do we get this certain writer to be the next showrunner? How do we get an actor to become a full-fledged writer or director?”
The full list of roughly 60 Latinx creatives ranging in age from 26 into their forties amounts to a multidisciplinary pipeline of talent — showrunners, writers, directors, producers, actors and poets. Six of the artists previewed to THR include: Rafael Agustin (a writer, actor, producer who wrote for Jane the Virgin), Darlene Demorizi (a Vice Media host and stand-up comedian), Rosa Salazar (the Alita star is also a director and writer), Riverdale actor Camila Mendes, Andres and Diego Meza-Valdes (directors) and Lemon Andersen (poet, actor, writer, producer).
“Calling these kids has been like being Santa Claus,” says Theresa Vargas Wyatt, who works alongside Rodriguez as chief growth officer at La Reyna, the joint venture between El Rey and Vice’s advertising agency, Virtue, to focus on helping brands connect with the U.S. Hispanic market.
“They’re accomplished, like working for Netflix. But they still have not been seen,” Vargas Wyatt continues. “They’re just waiting for their big break. What’s been missing is once they get their first gig, then what happens to them? They needed help ascending, and that’s where we saw the void. The only way you do that is if someone vouches for you and pulls you to the front of the line.”
Saldana and Rodriguez first became involved with L’ATTITUDE as participants in last year’s conference, which highlights the influence of Latinx consumers who are digitally-oriented and demographically more diverse than in the 20th century.
“This is all about our economy. In the case of U.S. Latinos, they’re now generating over $2 trillion of GDP in our economy today,” says L’ATTITUDE co-founder Sol Trujillo. “If you’re a Disney, a Warners, a Sony, clearly the audience has dramatically gotten a wider angle lens. If you run any kind of business and don’t optimize this economic opportunity here, translating into audience size, ability to buy tickets, to stream, to subscribe, then you’re leaving money on the table.”
Featuring workshops and panels across four days dedicated to media and entertainment, politics, business and economics, and entrepreneurship and capital, L’ATTITUDE will see appearances from stars including Emilio Estefan, Eugenio Derbez and the Terminator: Dark Fate cast. Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez were surprise guests in 2018.
“A-Rod and Jennifer Lopez are the example. They’re monetizing. Look at Jennifer Lopez’s Las Vegas show,” says Trujillo. “She had a massive audience of Latinos and non-Latinos. Because that’s what the country likes. A-Rod is one of the greatest baseball players of all time, but he also became a great entrepreneur and investor. People want to be involved with L’ATTITUDE to shine this spotlight on visibility. It’s all upside.”
Wyatt Vargas notes that Rodriguez had met Saldana on the Avatar set and had helped direct Miranda’s video “Immigrants Get the Job Done,” but LATINXT cemented their relationship. “We collectively decided to not let the next generation be left to chance,” says Rodriguez, who recalls the lack of Latinx faces in the Hollywood star system when he first started in the industry.
“I decided I needed to create my own Latin star system by giving new talent a place to showcase their work and to build up their name. I cast people like Antonio Banderas, who up until then had been working exclusively in Europe. I would discover people like Salma Hayek and Danny Trejo, and then craft lead and significant roles to highlight their talent and star power,” Rodriguez adds.
“I’d do this project after project, knowing that through that kind of exposure, Hollywood could see the immense talent they had and they became stars in their own right. Moving forward, when I had a big project and I needed a Latin star to power it, we now had an amazing pool of stars to choose from. Zoe, Lin and I want those kinds of breakthroughs to keep happening,” he said.
The focus on U.S.-born and -raised creators for LATINXT was intentional. “It was incredibly important for all three of us as well as Sol’s main message in creating L’ATTITUDE. Since we were all U.S.-born Hispanics, we saw and experienced the disconnect that happens when you’re born here yet overlooked, or worse, to have stories told about you that are not authentic and not truly representative of who we are,” says Rodriguez.
“The U.S. Hispanic [population] is growing rapidly in numbers, yet our authentic stories go untold. These are stories that have the ability to unite, and we need more of them, and more proportionate to the nation. Even though the industry is getting better about representation, we are not where we need to be.”