Jan 26, 2024 - News

Eugene Hernandez leads Sundance as film fest's first Latinx director

Eugene Hernandez. Courtesy: Sundance Institute

One of Eugene Hernandez's goals in his first year as the Sundance Film Festival director is to continue the event's legacy of showcasing diverse narratives on the big screen.

The big picture: Hernandez is the first festival director in Sundance's 40-plus-year history to identify as Latinx, bringing much-needed representation to an industry that's long struggled to reflect diverse audiences.

By the numbers: Just 2.3% of theatrical film leads in 2022 were Latino, according to the 2023 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report. Latinos account for about 20% of the U.S. population.

While serving as chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 2020, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) commissioned a two-part study to explore Latino representation in the media and entertainment industry.

  • It found that 12% of media and entertainment workers were Latino.
  • Today, the film industry is not doing enough to elevate Latinos, Castro told Axios Salt Lake City in a recent interview at The Latinx House.
  • But seeing people like Hernandez taking the helm of a major film festival is a step in the right direction, the congressman said.

What they're saying: "You see the progress and realize that we have more to do," Hernandez told Axios Salt Lake City. "The work doesn't end. It's never enough. We have to keep working towards that representation."

Flashback: Hernandez first stepped foot at the film festival in 1993.

  • He said he was mistaken for filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who was at the event showing his movie "El Mariachi," after a fan asked him for an autograph. He didn't have the heart to correct the fan and signed his autograph anyway.
  • Hernandez felt "seen" after watching Rodriguez's movie and said it was significant to see a filmmaker share his Mexican heritage.
Eugene Hernandez at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy: Sundance Institute

Context: The Park City-based festival founded by Robert Redford has helped advance the filmmaking careers of Quentin Tarantino, Ava DuVernay, Jordan Peele and others.

Catch up quick: Hernandez grew up in Indio, California. His father worked for a telephone company, and his mother was a bilingual teacher's aide.

  • Before coming to Sundance, Hernandez was the festival director for the New York Film Festival.
  • He's also the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Indiewire and has more than 25 years of experience in the film and media industry.

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