Jan 4, 2024 - World

Puerto Rican filmmakers are paving their own Hollywood road

three different photos of Puerto Rican directors are side by side. From left, Angel Manuel Soto poses with his hands in front of him. Aristotle Torres is in a green jacket. Kristian Mercado holds his red tie.

From left: Filmmakers Ángel Manuel Soto, Aristotle Torres, and Kristian Mercado. Photos: Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association, Araya Doheny/Getty Images, Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SXSW

Three Puerto Rican filmmakers tell Axios that they hope the strides they made in cinema last year will lead to larger momentum for other up-and-coming filmmakers.

Why it matters: Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. territory and its historic economic hardships have resulted in limited resources for art forms like cinema. But from major blockbusters to award-nominated indies, filmmakers say there's a path for Puerto Ricans to succeed.

State of play: DC Comics' "Blue Beetle," the first live-action feature to have a Latino superhero lead, grossed $129.2 million worldwide at the box office — despite competing with Hollywood strikes.

  • The film, directed by island native Ángel Manuel Soto and released last year, received critical and audience acclaim, and it knocked "Barbie" off the top spot its opening weekend.

Puerto Rican filmmakers were behind other major films last year.

  • "La Pecera," directed by Glorimar Marrero Sánchez, is a drama about a terminally ill woman who returns to her home island of Puerto Rico. The movie made history as the first Puerto Rican film to nab a Goya Award nomination.
  • "Story Ave," directed by Aristotle Torres, is a drama about a young man navigating life and art in the Bronx. It won a special jury award for cinematography at SXSW.
  • Kristian Mercado's "If You Were The Last," starring Zoe Chao and Anthony Mackie, is a romantic sci-fi film following two astronauts stuck in space. The film premiered at the SXSW Film Festival and is now available to stream on Peacock.
  • "All these films are unique," Mercado tells Axios Latino. "That speaks volumes to this idea that the Latino experience is not singular or just one thing."

What they're saying: "Making films is not exactly encouraged for Latinos and it's a hard art form because it requires resources," Mercado says. One way to tackle the issue is for there to be more diversity among executives who serve as gatekeepers, the directors say.

  • Torres says for the creation of "Story Ave," which features a Latino co-lead character named Luis, he attended over 100 meetings with film executives, and in only two of them were minorities present. None was Hispanic, he adds.
  • "I had producers and financiers telling me straight out, if the Luis character was white, we think we could be really interested in the story. I had financiers offer me more money for a more ambiguous lead actor."
  • Soto recalls being the sole Latino in a meeting with nearly 40 executives.
  • "There was one Latino present for a movie about Latinos," he says.

Between the lines: Funding films is not cheap. The average budget for a Hollywood motion picture is around $65 million.

  • Lester Rivé, who in 2009 launched the Puerto Rico Film Festival, says the island's government needs to work on a long term plan to address this.
  • "We need more funds and a better incentive for local filmmakers," he says. "The government needs to realize how important the film industry is to contribute to the local economy. We can bring a new generation who wants local films."
  • Soto, whose "Blue Beetle" production injected $76 million into the Puerto Rican economy, agrees.
  • "I am hopeful that something will happen, but we cannot drop our guards. We have to continue to push stories and demand equal treatment when talking about economic development," Soto says. "There's more amazing talent out there. They just need the chance to be supported."

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