The world has at least 154 million people who are either Mexican or have Mexican ancestry. 35 million reside in the United States alone. These are large numbers yet media tends to expect them to stay with their own Spanish language media. While shows like Sense8 and Heroes Reborn have Mexican characters in supporting roles, Jane the Virgin and Fluffy Breaks Even will be the only current English network shows to revolve around Mexicans or those of Mexican ancestry. Are they afraid of Donald Trump? Meanwhile, films haven’t been much better even though recent history has shown how important Mexican films and filmmakers are to the United States.
In 2013, Instructions not Included/No se Aceptan Devoluciones premiered in the United States. Despite only playing in 348 theatres, it reached #4 for that weekend’s box office. This past weekend, the #4 film was The Perfect Guy which played in 2,230 theatres. For a regular film to achieve #4 while playing in so few theatres, it would be phenomenal but Instructions Not Included is far from a normal film. It’s bilingual with the majority of dialogue in Spanish with English subtitles as a Mexican father deals with life in the United States with his bilingual daughter. Eugenio Derbez, the director, complained at the time about how hard it was to find a child actor who was blond, blue-eyed and bilingual, “it saddened me to see that all the children that live in the U.S. that are [the daughter’s] age don’t speak Spanish. Children of Latinos. And those that do speak Spanish, speak … with terrible Spanish and terrible grammar. It was so sad.
It is important that we Latino parents don’t lose the language. In school they learn English, but at home it’s important to conserve and use Spanish, so that they are bilingual. Absolutely bilingual.”
The film is still Mexico’s biggest grossing film in the United States and the fourth biggest grossing foreign language film of all time. When it opened in Mexico a few weeks later, it became the biggest grossing opening and overall take for a Mexican film in Mexico.
Of course, family films should be assumed to be a guaranteed hit. Huevocartoon has been a Mexican production company since 2000. They started making low budget flash cartoons for their website that often revolved around the Spanish word for eggs doubling as a term for testicles. However, the egg and farm characters were a huge hit with children. The company expanded into commercials, films and a card game all based off their characters. Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos was their third film and the first to feature 3D animation. In Mexico, theatres included 3D presentations, but this was not offered in the United States. However, Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos was the first animated Mexican film to have a limited wide release in the United States. Premiering in just 395 theatres on September 4th, it reached #9 at the box office for that weekend. Even more amazing and hard to understand, those 395 theatres were not evenly distributed across the country so some regions, like the entirety of Arizona, were left out. The next week, it increased to 616 screens, including Arizona and might still be showing at a theatre near you. The company has also announced their first project made primarily for the United States. It will be a short miniseries, likely streamed, where the problem of vampirism in a small Texas town will be a metaphor for immigration. The adult series will be live action with computer generated elements. There’s no word on a distributor yet.
Mexican filmmakers have also been an increasing presence in more mainstream and Oscar nominated films especially Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro. All three were born in Mexico and have reached worldwide acclaim while continuing to help their fellow countrymen. Gonzalez won Best Picture and Best Director for his film, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), earlier this year at the Academy Awards. Cuaron won the Oscar for Best Director the year before in 2014. Del Toro has yet to win an Academy Award but his films are always very anticipated, including Crimson Peak coming out on October 13. Yet the filmmakers don’t just collect accolades, they help others with script reading, editing choices or just encouragement. A person would expect someone like Steven Spielberg to have a lot of Thanks in his IMDB credits for his 50+ years of service in the film industry and he does have 121 credits. Now, compare that to Gonzalez, Cuaron and del Toro who have only been in a position to help others for the past 24 years. Gonzalez has helped with 23 productions, Cuaron has helped with 43 productions and del Toro has helped with 55 productions.
Could the success of Mexican films and filmmakers in the last two years be an indication that more and more Mexican films will be easier to see for the average person? Will the large multiplexes adopt a model more like Europe where films in three or four different languages might be shown in the same theatre?
One setback to Spanish language films being shown in mainstream theatres in the United States is Underdogs/Metegol. The film is Argentina’s most expensive film ever but also became its biggest local hit, setting a record for selling 104,000 tickets the first day of release July 18, 2013. With football/soccer such a popular worldwide sport, the animated film about foosball players that come to life was quickly subbed into other languages. In March 2014, six months after Instructions Not Included‘s success, The Weinstein Company announced distribution rights and plans to dub an English version for the United States. A British company was faster with its English version and released it on August 15, 2014. This version of the film, The Unbeatables, suffered from mixed reviews, complaints about the quality of dubbing and tepid box office. In response, The Weinstein Company pushed back their version to January 2015. It was pushed back two more times before it was announced that the film was no longer scheduled for release at all.
Why not release it in its original form with subtitles like Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos?
Sprout, the cable offshoot of PBS, debuted a new children’s show this weekend, Nina’s World. Nina is a six year old whose family, including Abuelita, moves from Puerto Rico to a diverse community in New York City. Her new neighbors include those who are African-American, Chinese, Indian and Jewish. Another neighbor that lives right next door teaches her American Sign Language and is played by a deaf actor. This is a rarity for television and especially important for children’s programming.
Regular viewers of Sprout might find Nina and her magical pillow, Star, familiar as their older counterparts also host The Goodnight Show every evening.
With Stonewall expected to bomb, will we ever get a more factual representation? Even Nigel Finch’s 1995 film, Stonewall, has grievous errors.
Next Week- Is it time for a new Magneto?