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This newsletter, edited by Astrid Galván, is 1,387 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Puerto Rican filmmakers pave success

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' Mariah Espada 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 adds. 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."

The bottom line: Mercado, Torres, and Soto say they hope the strides they made last year will help others.

  • Soto says with the success of having a full Latino cast in a film like "Blue Beetle," he's hopeful there will now be a precedent to also prioritize having Latino showrunners, producers, designers, executives, and more on films.

Part II: On the future of Puerto Rican filmmaking

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Funding films is not cheap. The average budget for a Hollywood motion picture is around $65 million, Mariah writes.

Zoom in: Puerto Rico has used tax incentives to bring several productions to the island, including films like "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" and television shows like Fox's "Fantasy Island."

  • But those tax incentives aren't always easily available to local Puerto Rican filmmakers, who must raise and spend a minimum of $50,000 per feature.

The big picture: 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 the issue of funding.

  • "We need more funds and a better incentive for local filmmakers. 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, and says he too wants to work with the island's government on the matter.
  • "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. There's more amazing talent out there. They just need the chance to be supported."

The Puerto Rico Film Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

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2. Advocates vow to fight for reparations

Paul Pino, a Trinity Test downwinder from Carrizozo, N.M., talking about the effects the test had on his family. Photo: Courtesy of 47th State Film

New Mexicans impacted by the Trinity Test — the world's first atomic explosion — say they are still hopeful one day they'll be included in a federal compensation bill despite Senate leaders last month pulling a provision that would have done that.

The big picture: A federal law that awards financial reparations to people who lived downwind of nuclear testing sites is scheduled to sunset this summer if Congress does not renew it, and it's unclear what lawmakers will do. A provision in last year's bill to renew the act would have included New Mexicans and others for the first time, Russell writes.

  • If Congress lets the law expire, it's unlikely the excluded victims will ever see any compensation to deal with health problems linked to nuclear testing and waste. If it renews it, it likely won't include the added beneficiaries.

What they're saying: "It was immoral that we were taken out of the bill because some (Republican House member) said it cost too much," Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, tells Axios Latino.

  • "This is the closest we've ever gotten to being included in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act and we are not giving up. Congress will hear from us."
  • She and other "downwinders" plan on touring the country to promote a new documentary about victims of the Trinity Test to draw more attention to the cause.

Background: On July 16, 1945, the U.S. Army detonated an atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert developed at the then-secret community of Los Alamos.

  • The bomb's aftermath later caused rare forms of cancer for many of the 30,000 people and their descendants in the area surrounding Trinity.

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3. Dems' changing tune on immigration

Hundreds of migrants attempt to reach the border in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on Dec. 29. Photo: David Peinado/Anadolu via Getty Images

Democrats are entertaining border policies once treated as complete non-starters as pressure from a united GOP, angry Democratic city officials, and desperate Ukrainians threatens to boil over into political disaster, Axios Stef W. Kight writes.

Why it matters: Republicans believe that if they can make 2024 the year of the border, President Biden will be defeated in November.

Driving the news: As bipartisan Senate negotiations sputter over a deal to pair Ukraine aid with an immigration crackdown, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) yesterday led a delegation of 60 Republicans to a border site in Eagle Pass, Texas.

  • As cameras captured scenes of migrants attempting to cross the border just yards away, members of the GOP delegation threatened to shut down the government unless Biden "shuts down the border."
  • "House Republicans are once more compromising America's national security and economic growth with shutdown threats," White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in response.

Zoom out: A key turning point for Democrats came when major cities began sounding the alarm over their ability to serve thousands of newly arrived migrants.

  • "Democrats have certainly shifted," Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told Axios. "It is mainly because they're now starting to feel and see what we in the border communities have been experiencing for so many years."
  • "There's a more significant urgency to actually face this challenge," said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who also represents a border district.

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4. Stories we're watching

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

1. Thirty-one migrants who were kidnapped in Mexico near the U.S. border were freed yesterday in Tamaulipas, authorities said.

  • The Venezuelans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Hondurans, including children, had been forced off a bus by armed men reportedly while on their way to the U.S. for visa appointments.

2. The number of migrants who crossed the Darién Gap in 2023 was double that of the year before, for a total of 520,000 people trekking the dangerous terrain, according to Panamanian authorities.

  • That includes 120,000 minors, which is also a record.
  • Most of the migrants traveling through the Darién are Venezuelans, Ecuadorians, and Haitians trying to escape food and medicine scarcity and violence.

5.🪅 Pachanga: Brigitte Davila

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Davila

Our congrats today go out to Brigitte Davila, who last month retired from San Francisco State University after 30 years of teaching!

  • Brigitte was the first in her family to attend college and she also has a law degree.
  • Much of her career was devoted to community activism and to helping Latino college students succeed.

We hope you enjoy retirement!

🎤 Have you recently accomplished something you're proud of? Let us know by replying to this email!

🏈 Russell is getting ready for the Houston Texans showdown with the Indy Ponies. An NFL playoff spot is on the line!

🍿 Marina will be watching "Society of the Snow" tonight, a film with Latin American talent on the Oscars shortlist.

🪲 Astrid can talk all day long about the most Latino aspect of "Blue Beetle": The protagonist's family hiding all sorts of info from him to spare him from worrying.

Our thanks to Patricia Guadalupe, Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath, and Axios Visuals for their help with this newsletter!