Latinos may comprise 15% of the U.S. population, but white America is still absolutely clueless about them, says Phillip Rodriguez, a senior fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication at USC.
"Hispanics are not black or white," says Rodriguez, director of the documentary "Brown Is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream," which aired on PBS in September and will be screened this evening at Bovard Auditorium at USC. "They are this other thing -- they confound the American imagination."
Rodriguez says his main objective with "Brown Is the New Green" was to "update people's understanding of what a Latino is. They are not always poor. They are not always in need. Sometimes they are triumphant and sometimes they are arrogant."
And sometimes they are like Lopez, whose comedy series "George Lopez" ran for five years on ABC. "It is a rare occasion, I think, to see someone in the media space who is brown and unabashedly Mexican American, who speaks so forcefully and speaks so critically," says Rodriguez.
Though the majority of the film is an exploration of Lopez's life and career, it also is a critical examination of how corporate America is trying to profit from the "Latino market" and shaping Americans' perception of Latinos.
Rodriguez chose Lopez to build the documentary around because "George has been an agent, you could argue, for the normalization of the Mexican American identity in America the same way Bill Cosby was [for African Americans]. We have had very little of that. [Programs on] the Spanish-language [networks] are not coming from here. They are coming from Latin America and they don't resemble our existence here much at all."
Lopez agrees that it isn't easy to understand the Latino market. "You have so many different types of Spanish [dialects] and food," he says. "Some nationalities don't like each. It's hard to get a handle on it."
He and Rodriguez take issue with advertisers who think they can treat the Latino population as a niche market or with a "one-size-fits-all" approach.
"I am trying to sell that we are diverse, we're important and we should be included in America," Lopez says. "That means included in Honda commercials, in a Maytag commercial and a Bud Light commercial -- not just for the Southwest but for the United States."
After tonight's screening, there will be a discussion moderated by Oscar Garza, editor in chief of Tu Ciudad Los Angeles magazine, and featuring Rodriguez and several television producers.
'Brown Is the New Green'
Where: Bovard Auditorium, USC
When: 7 tonight
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