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chapter 14 From Selena to Walkout an interview with moctesuma esparza Kathryn F. Galán (Executive Director, National Association of Latino Independent Producers) “When you struggle against something, you grow,” says preeminent Latino film and television producer Moctesuma Esparza. Growth and struggle define Esparza, a first-generation Chicano from East Los Angeles who has become an esteemed businessman, filmmaker, and Latino advocate. Those who know Esparza’s work think of him as the man who brought us Selena, with the then explosive new talent Jennifer Lopez, or as the producer behind Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, plus great hbo films such as Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca, and Walkout, directed by Edward James Olmos. Some know of his work developing the Sundance Institute with Robert Redford , and his support and training of new Latino/a film, television, and documentary makers through the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, or nalip, an organization he helped found. He is an activist involved in the education, business efforts, and media representation of the Latino community. Through these accomplishments and others, Esparza has defined himself as an agent for social change. His strategies for positive impact on and in his community keep him grounded in a difficult profession and serve as both challenge and inspiration to a new generation of filmmakers. How would he characterize his approach? Audacity. Fearlessness. A willingness to fail. I spoke to him in his office at Los Angeles Center Studios in the summer of 2005 as he completed his twenty-ninth feature film, and as nalip began its seventh year as an organization that supports the professional development of Latino/a film, television , documentary, and new media makers. Esparza has long coached filmmakers to cultivate their own capacity to persevere, to withstand rejection, and to stick to a course without concrete results, sometimes for a very long time. A visionary who continues to make commitments that keep him focused on his path, Esparza spoke about his journey T4989.indb 289 T4989.indb 289 2/27/09 6:58:02 AM 2/27/09 6:58:02 AM 290 kathryn f. galán and his plans for the future, reiterating his challenge to students and colleagues: Do the impossible. kathryn galan: You have just completed production on Walkout, an hbo film that draws from activist and media experiences that occurred at the very beginning of your career. How did you begin your journey as a film producer? moctesuma esparza: I started off in the entertainment industry as a political activist, as an organizer for the Chicano movement and the Chicano student walkouts. I was eighteen years old, a freshman at ucla, and my job was to act as liaison with the media for strike committees that were organizing student strikes in East Los Angeles. It was 1968, and I came in at the culmination of four years of conversations and efforts to impact the public schools in a positive way. The problem was an over 50 percent dropout rate, a devaluation of Latinos in the schools and of Mexican Americans in general, and a lack of Latino/a presence in the curriculum with respect to our existence in the country, or of Latino contributions to the history of this country. During these four years, we did surveys and asked questions of students, plus had communications with other organizations, such as us, core, and the Black Panthers, but no one else was paying attention to our particular situation: lack of educational access. Latinos were at the bottom of the barrel, and ironically , thirty-five years later, we still are. Latinos still have the lowest educational attainment rates, the highest dropout rate, and the lowest college participation rate per capita of all ethnic minority groups, with the exception of Native Americans. kg: You graduated from Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles. How was your personal education, on the eve of this conflict, and how many of you went on to ucla? me: I was one of four who attended ucla; from an original class of over 300, only 150 in my class actually graduated. I had managed to take advantage of an excellent curriculum that was beginning to disappear in the early 1960s—Lincoln High School originally served a more Italian American population, and as it transitioned to being Mexican American, the school district cut back on all of the arts in their budgets. I was a theater arts major in high school...


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