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(Left to right ) Cecilia Aldarondo is a director-producer from the Puerto Rican diaspora who works at the intersection of poetics and politics; Nicole Mejia is a Los Angeles based director, writer and producer; With five feature films, Yulene Olaizola is one of the most prolific female directors from Latin America. Courtesy The Latinx House .
(Left to right ) Cecilia Aldarondo, director-producer from the Puerto Rican diaspora; Nicole Mejia, Los Angeles based director; and Yulene Olaizola, one of the most prolific female directors from Latin America. Photo: Courtesy The Latinx House.

Getting ​more Latinas in film production

Something is wrong with an entertainment industry that continues to ignore behind-the-scenes Latina talent. The Adelante program has an answer.

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Out of the 1300 top-grossing films released between 2007 and 2019, there were only 12 individual Latino directors represented, and only three of the 1447 directors were women of Hispanic/Latino origin. That's according to a study by the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, released in 2021.

The report explains that, despite a broad statement of intentions, the U.S. entertainment industry continues to fail to implement equality and diversity policies.

While large corporations and production companies are trying to define comprehensive policies, young talents — aware of this flaw — are coming together to promote initiatives focused on giving non-binary Latinx and Latina filmmakers a chance.

The Adelante program is one example. Born out from a coalition between The Latinx House, Sundance Institute’s Women at Sundance program, Netflix, Shondaland and Gloria Calderon Kellett’s GloNation Studios, the Adelante Fellowship is an opportunity created for underrepresented voices behind the camera.

“This program supports the professional development of emerging filmmakers, creating a gateway to push independent filmmakers as they grow their careers and learn more about how to direct a TV show. This coalition will help create more behind-the-scenes opportunities for underrepresented voices to develop more honest, inclusive and authentic narratives,” said Olga Segura, actress, producer and co-founder of The Latinx House, in an interview with AL DÍA.

Adelante was created in 2021 and has set ambitious goals that, little by little, are becoming a reality. But the challenges would not be achievable without allies who support the cause of The Latinx House.

“It is essential that the industry dedicate the resources requiered to develop a strong portafolio of Latina and non-binary directors. We believe it is critical to work with like-minded partners in Hollywood to accelerate change,” added Segura.

The first Adelante winners

The call for applications opened in February 2022. Every application was reviewed by a jury made up of four prominent entertainment directors, producers and showrunners: Christine Davila, head of Development and Production at Ojalá; Francesca Gregorini, Emmy-nominated writer, director and producer (Dropout, Killing Eve); Leopoldo Gout, film director, producer and author (American Jesus, Molly’s Game); and producer Jay van Hoy (The Witch, The Lighthouse).

In July, the beneficiaries of the program were announced: Cecilia Aldarondo, a director and producer from the Puerto Rican diaspora, who works at the intersection of poetics and politics; Yulene Olaizola, a native Mexican filmmaker whose most recent film, Tragic Jungle, premiered in competition at the 2020 Venice Film Festival; and Nicole Mejia, a Honduran-born and recent graduate of the American Film Institute’s directing program who creates stories about the resilience of the human spirit through drama, suspense and magical realism.

All three will have the opportunity to continue their training in TV show direction, receive a grant and participate in an immersive mentorship program with master classes and one-on-one support, guided by different executives, directors and showrunners.

Is working hard enough?

Segura hopes this fellowship will set a precedent. 

“We need more Latin people in positions of power to give the green light; executives who can understand our stories, take risks and recognize the need for greater diversity. It’s a challenge to go out into the market to present our stories when only few people understand who we are as a community,” she said.

It’s also about inclusion and diversity being a direct consequence of the gender gap.

“People tend to recruit in their image; most directors are men, and they hire men. Besides, Latin direction has not been the most common thing for Latin women,” insisted the co-founder of The Latinx House.

Segura regrets that Latin female directors, apart from working twice as hard to conquer spaces, must face racial prejudices in the United States.

“We need more Latin showrunners — women and men — who take ownership of our stories, hire and provide opportunities for the first time across the board,” she said.

Latin directors also face the challenge of making visible stories of the community that have nothing to do with some of those conceived by Hollywood.

“Nothing about us, without us, will help change the cultural narrative of how we are perceived in the U.S. and around the world,” Segura said.

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