Imagen Awards: Helen Hernandez Discusses Hollywood Latinos' Progress (Q&A)

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The Imagen Foundation co-founder tells THR why the entertainment industry would do well to market to the Latin community.

The 26th annual Imagen Awards, which takes place Friday, Aug. 12 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, honors positive portrayals of Latinos in film and television.

Just prior to the ceremony, Helen Hernandez, who co-founded the Imagen Foundation with Norman Lear in 1985, chatted with The Hollywood Reporter about the progress of Latinos and explains why the entertainment industry needs to market more to that demographic.

The Hollywood Reporter: What recent film or TV show has made the most impact on you this year?
Helen Hernandez: The most impactful movie I saw, A Beautiful Life, wasn’t even nominated for an Imagen Award. A Beautiful Life tries to create an understanding of the issue of immigration and the impact specifically on Central American and Mexican immigrants. All they want is to earn a living for their families. They’re not asking for anything else. I like to remind people that you always see a Latino immigrant selling oranges, selling cherries, selling flowers — you never see them begging. Our community has a strong work ethic. A Beautiful Life really impresses upon the importance and value of what our community brings to this country.

THR:Why wasn’t it nominated?
Hernandez: We have a very specific entry process. People have to submit in order to be considered. We want everybody to submit but if they choose not to — you know that saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink?

Look at the movies that were submitted — From Prada to Nada, Gun Hill Road — the directors of those films were eligible, too, they’re Latino, but for whatever reason, they chose not to submit, either.

THR: Do you send out reminders that it’s time for entries?
Hernandez: Of course. We work through the networks; we work through the production companies. Honestly, I think a lot of times this has to do with the talent representation. Most of the talent representation isn’t Latino. They don’t really understand the Latino market or the Latino community so I don’t know if they put the value on (an Imagen Award) that they should.

They need to. My mantra these days is that we are one in six — one in six people living in this country are Latino. It’s in the best interest of the entertainment industry to realize this. They may want to look at marketing more to Latinos because we are going to be the market of the future.

THR: How would you rate this past year in terms of providing projects or visibility for Hispanics in the industry?
Hernandez:It just keeps getting better. Roles for Latinos are not restricted to gang members or drug dealers anymore; we’re seeing more and more ensemble casts on primetime and movies that are being produced about the Latino experience. Are we where we want to be? Not yet. Are we on our way? Absolutely.

THR:How has the business changed since the Imagens first started 26 years ago?
Hernandez:We have more Latinos executives in decision-making positions, there are more producers, we have a few showrunners — but not as many as we’d like. One of the areas that we’re still lacking in is writers. To be able to create a program that is about the Latino community, you really need to have people that know the experience in order to be able to write about it.

THR: Are there writers out there who are just not getting the chance?

THR:How is that situation changed?
Hernandez:I’d like to encourage the production companies and the networks to start looking for more Latinos writers. We certainly can be very helpful in that area. Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC — they all have writers programs. A lot of them are designed to give people an opportunity. I know several people that were in the ABC Writers Program — who were recommended by Imagen by the way — who are now staff writers. The networks need to look at their own programs in order to find the writers they need because they’re being mentored by the writers within their own system.

THR:How can the Imagen Foundation help?
Hernandez: We can help identify the caliber of writers they need for primetime, whether it’s on cable or network.

THR: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Hernandez: My life’s work has always been to try to make a difference. Working with people cooperatively to make a difference for our community and for the industry as well, that’s what drives me. I don’t do this for money. Anybody who knows me knows that my husband and I are very middle class. We’re not wealthy but I have been very, very rich in the opportunities that I have been given.