Language Versus Culture In The Latin Film Industry

Viviana Pendrill (HuffPost Latino Voices)

I just saw a Mexican movie. It made me laugh, made me cry, and made me wonder, “Will it do well here?”

In Mexico it was intended for the elite that make up about 10% of the population of most countries in Latin America — they are the target of movies, advertising and of course, kidnappings. After all, they are the only ones who can afford to pay.

The Spanish-dominant population in the US hardly ever went to the movies in their country of origin, so mainstream movies in Spanish are never made with them in mind. It works there the same as it works here. Movies target a specific audience, teen males, kids, women, pot heads, intellectuals, etc.

There are movies made in Latin America for the class who comprises the Spanish dominant audience in the US, but these movies never make it across the border. Nothing to do with tall walls, bigotry or immigration laws, the audience is just too small. Once they have working knowledge of English, they graduate very quickly to Hollywood movies.

Also, a transformation happens when people cross the border, the appetite for romantic comedies dies and the hunger for action, adventure and horror takes over. (Let’s not try to find a meaning for that one!) Is there a future for romance, the staple of many Latin American countries or will these movies languish brokenhearted in empty theaters whishing for at least an opening weekend?

Are the bilinguals the audience for this movie despite it being in Spanish? If it is a good movie, they probably will go to see it, as they will go to see movies in French, Italian or Chinese. It’s not the language that’s important with this audience; it’s the appeal of the movie itself.

Were they ever the target audience for the movie? Probably not. There is very little in common culturally and otherwise between the reality of the bilingual population in the US and what goes on in their parent’s country of origin. There’s probably little nostalgia, no sense of what’s been left behind. These babies were born or raised in the US. For them, life is a composite of both cultures; they pick and choose the best from each and create their own. Their own which fits them like a glove.

So, who is the audience? Is it the art house crowd? Just because a movie comes with sub-titles, doesn’t mean it is artsy. Some movies were meant to be merely entertainment in their original country and don’t have any of the ingredients that make a good art house film, other than the need to read what’s on the screen to understand what’s going on, unless you were really good at Spanish in High School.

Is it the language or is it the culture? All I know is those who attempt to import foreign business models to this very complex market, do so at their own risk. The content of the movie has to align with the target segment and demographic or something will definitely be lost in the translation.


Categories: NGLC Conference

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