Our Diverse 100: Meet Jorge Gutierrez, an animator with a flair for Mexican culture

Animated film director Jorge Gutierrez.
Animated film director Jorge Gutierrez. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

As co-creator and lead animator of the Emmy-winning Nickelodeon series, “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera,” Gutierrez’s work often centers on Mexican pop and folk culture. His approach to animation and creation helps to diversify animated content on television and in films, including 2014’s Golden Globe-nominated “The Book of Life.” This Q&A is part of a special series examining diversity in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Read more profiles here.

What was your first job in the industry?

I sold an Internet cartoon about Mexican wrestling to Sony. After that I pitched Latin-themed cartoons all over town. Every time there’s a fear — is this too Latino? I keep saying, “Hey, there’s a whole generation of kids who grew up with ‘Dora the Explorer.’ I think they’re ready.”

How have you felt being Mexican has impacted your career?

My life mission as a filmmaker has always been to do things that deal with my culture. Early on, people warned me, “You’re trying to sell things no one’s buying. That’s not something audiences are interested in.” I saw things change as the economic realities of new audiences began to dawn on executives. It’s still not easy, but now my culture is viewed as a strength.

Was there a person you saw in the industry who looked like you and made you think Hollywood was a field that was open to you?

For me it was Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Inarritu. In film school I saw a magazine with a picture of all three of them and it said “Three Amigos.” I put it above my desk and said, “If those guys can do it, I can do it.”

What was your reaction to #OscarsSoWhite?

It was heartbreaking to see. I thought, “Wow, in 2016, this is not what the world is. This is not a reflection of the US. This is not a reflection of moviegoers.” The academy is reacting to the movies being made. I think what they’re doing now is great — reaching out to people who are trying to show another side of the stories of the world. It’s cool to go to all the big restaurants, but you should also go to the side streets.

What’s your favorite Oscar moment?

I always watch the Oscars with my parents. I show them all the movies. We make a whole thing of it. I was watching the Oscars with my them in Tijuana when Guillermo del Toro won for “Pan’s Labyrinth.” My mom said, “One day, Jorge, that could be you.”

What’s your favorite movie?

“Seven Samurai.” I saw it as a kid with my grandfather. I’d never been to Japan but I totally connected to it. I thought, I want to do Mexican films the whole world can feel.

READ MORE: Here are 100 people in Hollywood who could help fix the academy’s diversity problem

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