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Movie minority

Hannah Jones, an accounting major at UTPA, loves attending the movie theater. The Harlingen native religiously watches a new movie at least twice a week, a habit she picked up from her family which is Hispanic on her mother’s side.

“My family always sees going to the movies as a family affair. My aunt takes my cousins there every weekend,” the 23-year-old explained. “It’s a great way for all of us to get together and have fun for a few hours and relax.”

According to a July 7 report from pop culture magazine Entertainment Weekly, the 2014  box office earnings are down 4 percent from this point  last year. However, attendance from Hispanic moviegoers is on the rise.

The Motion Picture Association of America, or the MPAA, released its annual Theatrical Market Statistics March 27. Among the numbers that were reported, it was revealed that Hispanic audiences are becoming big consumers.

Despite the fact that Caucasians account for 54 percent of total ticket sales in 2013, they only watch an average of three movies per year, the lowest attendance of any ethnicity. Hispanic audiences made up the highest attendance by watching an average of six while African Americans and other ethnicities marked as “other” watch four films a year.

Jones’ views on moviegoing and family entertainment for Hispanic audiences is reflected in a January 2013 report from Nielsen Holdings. Nielsen, a New York based group that monitors what consumers buy and watch on a daily basis, found that Hispanic audiences were 86 percent more likely to attend movies with friends and family compared to any other demographic. 

Even though UTPA senior Arnold Fonseca hasn’t had a chance to go to the movies since the start of the spring semester due to schoolwork, he believes these numbers are important and reflect the rise of the Hispanic population, which is expected to nearly triple by 2060 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics are already the largest minority group in the country with 52 million people, or 17 percent of the American population.

“This culture isn’t going anywhere and we’re seeing how it’s affecting everything, even the movies,” the 25-year-old physics major said. “Attending the theaters is a form of escapism that’s perfect for hanging out with friends and family members and now we know that other cultures enjoy it, especially since there’s a lot of deals going on to make going to the movies relatively cheaper than usual.”

The average price of a movie ticket is currently $7.96, down from $8.35 in the previous quarter, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In addition, several Rio Grande Valley theaters are currently participating in “Discount Tuesday,” where tickets are on sale at $5.25 all day every Tuesday at selected Carmike and Cinemark theaters nationwide.

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS

Despite representing 17 percent of the total American population, Hispanics made a huge contribution in total ticket sales last year, according to the MPAA. Of the 1.34 billion tickets sold in 2013, a full quarter were bought by Hispanic moviegoers alone.

A recent film that succeeded due to its Hispanic audience was the Spanish-language comedy Instructions Not Included, starring Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez. The film was a “sleeper hit” when it opened last summer, as box office analysts failed to predict the film’s final gross of nearly $45 million domestically – even though it opened in less than 350 theaters nationwide, according to Box Office Mojo. The movie ended up becoming both the highest-grossing Spanish film and the fourth highest-grossing foreign film in the U.S.

In an attempt to recapture the success of Instructions Not Included Pantelion, the studio that distributed the film, is releasing the Spanish-language drama Cantinflas during next month’s Labor Day weekend. This is the same weekend Instructions was released in theaters last year. Cantinflas centers around Mario “Cantinflas” Moreno, the popular comedian who is often referred to as the “Mexican Charlie Chaplin.” The film depicts Cantinflas’ personal life as he films his American debut, the 1956 Academy Award winning film Around the World in 80 Days.  

Seemingly, studios tried another method of luring Hispanic audiences to the theaters this past spring by releasing Spanish-dubbed versions of several movies. These included the religious dramas Son of God and Noah as well as the biopic Cesar Chavez.

According to an October 2012 article from The Hollywood Reporter, Hispanic audiences flock to movies with religious themes as well as animated and horror movies. 

Jones, a Harlingen native, isn’t surprised when she heard such types of movies are most popular with this demographic, citing those are the genres she and her family watch.

The same article mentions that studios promote their movies to Hispanic audiences on Mexican radio channels and television stations such as Univision and Telemundo as well as in heavily populated Hispanic areas such as California, South Texas and Miami.

EXPECTATIONS

After hearing about these findings, UTPA student John Garza said the results were “eye-opening” and that he hoped it would lead to an increase in Hispanic actors. Nonetheless, he worried about what kind of message this could send studios, especially if they would decide to make more Hispanic-themed films.  

“Even though I’m Hispanic, even I wouldn’t want to see a movie that is minority-oriented because it would feel like pandering,” the 21-year-old senior said. “In most of the movies I’ve seen, Hispanics get the stereotyped roles like a cleaning person or the one who knows all about demons in horror movies. When are we going to get a movie franchise of our own?” 

This past March, Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron became the first Latino to win an Academy Award for best director for blockbuster film Gravity which may have given the Latino population in entertainment more credit.

Despite the large attendance from Hispanics, Hispanic-themed films aren’t immediate successes. Cesar Chavez ultimately ended up grossing $5.5 million despite the legacy of the civil rights activist. The crime-horror film Deliver Us from Evil, which features a Spanish priest in a secondary role, was released July 3 and has so far accumulated $25 million. Last August saw the release of the Matt Damon sci-fi film Elysium, which was set in Los Angeles and featured a supporting cast of Hispanic actors. With a budget of $115 million, Elysium underwhelmed at the box office by grossing $93 million domestically.

Brian Warren, a UTPA professor in TV/film/theater, speculated that those films disappointed at the box office not because of the emphasis on Hispanic themes, but because of their quality.

“As a biopic, a horror film and a sci-fi film, all three of them don’t look anything different than what we usually get,” the University of Houston alumnus said. “Those films may have failed because of how oversaturated the marketplace is with films of the genres, and they didn’t look like they provided audiences with anything new. Despite the audiences it tries to reach, films need to be good, or at least look like they’re offering something different.”

While the Iowa native thinks the findings of the survey are vital and reflect what audiences want in their movies, he believes people respond to good stories, regardless of the race depicted onscreen. 

 “I still remember seeing the film Gandhi and being mesmerized by it, despite the fact that the movie featured a lead character who was Indian. Story supersedes race,” he explained, “Movies tend to cross other barriers and can speak to anyone. They are a universal form of entertainment that people can enjoy despite who they see onscreen.”

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