The Impresario

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Moctesuma Esparza puts the Latino experience on the big screen

 

Moctesuma Esparza in his Los Angeles office.

 

There aren’t many Latino big wheels in Hollywood, and of those few, Moctesuma Esparza, film producer, community activist and entrepreneur, is arguably the biggest.

As co-chairman and CEO of Maya Entertainment, Esparza, 62, acquires, produces and distributes feature films that give voice to the Latino experience in all its permutations.

Even if his unforgettable name doesn’t ring a bell (“Moctesuma” is the Mexican
rendering of “Montesuma”, the last Aztec emperor before the Spaniards arrived), chances are you’ve seen his films.

Whether a box office hit like Selena, The Milagro Beanfield War or The  Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, or an edgy indy flick like Without Men,  an Esparza production features Latino characters who play against type – or, more precisely, Hollywood stereotype. And if this ambitious man has his way, it
won’t be long before Spanish-speaking audiences are watching those films in Maya-owned movie theaters.

 

 

 

A Red Carpet For Latinos

Tapping into the Latino entertainment market is the idea behind Maya Cinemas, a multiplex chain that caters to Hispanic moviegoers. The original plan called for building eight multiplexes across the U.S., all showing first-run releases with at least one screen devoted to a Spanish-language film. Then the credit crisis hit, and it became harder to finance new construction.

Undaunted, Esparza opened two theaters in the California counties of Salinas and Bakersfield, where the population is roughly two-thirds Hispanic. With their cheery Mexican decor, the venues, which have 14 and 16 screens,  respectively, are bright spots in the gritty heart of what Esparza characterizes as “communities that were very distressed.”

Ticket sales at both locations have outstripped those of local competitors including national chains, validating the producer’s belief in his grand plan. “Larger forces have slowed us down,” says Esparza, speaking from his office in downtown L.A., “but we’re regaining speed and are actively seeking building sites.”

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