Moctesuma Esparza puts the Latino experience on the big screen
There arent 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 doesnt ring a bell (Moctesuma is the Mexican
rendering of Montesuma, the last Aztec emperor before the Spaniards arrived), chances are youve 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
wont 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 producers belief in his grand plan. Larger forces have slowed us down, says Esparza, speaking from his office in downtown L.A., but were regaining speed and are actively seeking building sites.