February/March 2000

Forging the Path for Latinos in the Film Industry

by Maria GuadalupeRomo

On the move in Culver City’s fertile entertainment industry, Cheryl Quintana Leader rises up with a new crop of writers, directors, and producers whose point of view reflects an America lush with diverse hues. As destiny would have it, on my journey to discover what’s right with the Westside, I was introduced to this rare energy source at t a public speaking engagement for Multicultural Americans of Southern California.  With piercing blue eyes, and the high cheek bones of an ancient Aztec goddess, Quintana Leader moved the audience with the screening of her award-winning short film, “Tanto Tiempo” (So Much Time).

As one of two women writers ever chosen for Universal’s Hispanic Film Project, Quintana Leader opted to also direct and produce her film, a semi-autobiographical story of a young woman who comes to terms with her Mexican ancestry.  Quintana Leader defines herself as “a new breed, an evolving American.  A woman born of the Phoenix in Arizona whose ashes rise from a long line of Mexicans (a mixture, in my case, of Spaniard, German and Aztec), Russians, Germans, Poles and French.  My mother is a second-generation American by way of Texas and Sinaloa, Mexico; and my father is also a second-generation American by way of Boston and Eastern Europe.”

Quintana Leader believes that “we in the United States are very fortunate to represent so many diverse cultures.  My only quest, as a determined agent of change,” she proclaims, “is to continue to impact our society with positive images which accurately reflect the richness of America’s diversity and what we look like today on our television programs and in our movie theaters.  Creating projects which are inclusive of all is surely one way of healing a nation.  I believe we’re all painfully aware that the current exclusion of diverse talent, both in front of and behind the camera, creates a gross imbalance.  When the majority of images we see, emulate, revere and, for the most part, emotionally connect with, are those whose skin is always a lighter shade of overwhelming misrepresentation.”

Quintana Leader has screened her film at over 100 festivals, universities, colleges, corporate entities and private community screenings for the past six years with the message of remaining proud of one’s American heritage regardless of its origins.  Tanto Tiempo,” has garnered five national awards and was inducted into New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s Xicano Retrospective.  A relative “contemporary pioneer,” Quintana Leader marked new territory by having her film televised throughout the country during Hispanic Heritage Month hosted by Edward James Olmos and sponsored by AT&T and Kodak.  It was the very first time that films written, directed and produced by Americans with Latino heritages were able to share their personal stories.

“Because of my mother’s past in a world that defined her as a “dirty Mexican,” which unfortunately still resonates in our society today, and her inability to positively embrace her heritage, my main focus has been to work on projects that positively embrace her heritage, my main focus has been to work on projects that positively reflect Americans with a Latino heritage,” Quintana Leader says.  Instead of waiting for others to green-light her projects, she created her own company, INDIVISION Productions, primarily to produce educational videos in English and Spanish.  With clear insight, she connected corporations who wanted (or were mandated by the government) to finance projects for Latino consumers with non-profit organizations that sought to educate.  In three years, Quintana Leader produced over fifteen projects via United Way, GTE, March of Dimes, ARCO, LEARN, LAUSD’s Parent Community Services, UCLA Women’s Sports, and the Escalante Program, to name a few.  “Although I’m a newcomer to the business,” she reflects, “which comes with its own set of interesting biases, both from the Latino community and those in the entertainment industry – as I’m not fluent in Spanish, nor do I come from ‘the neighborhood’ – I clearly saw a need that other Americans with Latino heritages had yet to tap.  For me, what I do is very rewarding and in perfect combination for resourcing my talents and abilities in combination with directly supporting others.”

In addition to her educational pursuits, Quintana Leader has also created projects for the commercial industry.  She was asked to write “Young Heart Diaries,” a pilot exploring the Latino heritage of young girls (12-14) for ABC Children’s Programming.  However, after the Disney buyout, the project was back out on the market.  “Now,” she notes, “the current is moving in the Latino direction once more, and both the  networks and studios are being held responsible for lacking the presence of Americans with Latino heritages within their programming and productions.  That proverbial ‘small window’ is being offered to open at Sony, CBS, Showtime, Nickelodeon, and Warner Bros., where I’m pitching a sitcom, a min-series, and a Movie of the Week, among others.  It’s my destiny to be an active part of the Class of 2000 ad whatever,” she proclaims.  “In the near future, we’ll witness striking headlines from Daily Variety claiming, ‘Latino TV Ratings Highest Ever!,’ and The Hollywood Reporter’s ‘Latino Boxoffice Soars!’  In a perfect country, I would be just as excited to celebrate the personal and commercial success of my projects regardless of their Latino essence.  However, until we’re able to see America as it is, in equal balance of all those representing America (and that included positive women’s portrayals), the definitive labeling will continue to separate us all.  I’m a big believer that there’s enough success to go around for everyone.”

In addition to her creative endeavors, Quintana Leader also pursues opportunities to enhance her leadership abilities.  This year she was one of 50 women chosen from the state to the prestigious Leadership California program on behalf of a generous scholarship provided by The Gas Company.  Prior to this, she was a scholarship candidate at the Center for Creative Leadership in San Diego.  Currently, she serves on the Advisory Council for CINE in Washington, D.C. and is Chair of HOPE-PAC’s (Hispanas Organized for Political Equality-Political Action Committee) 2000 Fundraising Reception assisting Latinas running for political office.  Having been the only one in her family to graduate from high school (South Torrance High) and college (UCLA, English/Women’s Studies, gymnastics team athlete and Chi Omega sorority member), Quintana Leader looks upon life as a “plethora of choices.”  “You can choose to wait or make things happen.  Personally, I’m an active supporter of the latter,” she says emphatically.  “I’m always in search of  ‘the doing,’ and in most cases, I’m the first to have done it.  A new breed?  Sure, why not?  Inclusivity, that’s my vision.  Although I’m usually met with tremendous resistance, as is the human response toward any implementation of change, I continue to forge ahead with the blood of a revolutionary coursing through my veins!  If change equals growth and growth equals becoming evolved, then I’m all for it!”

Maria Guadalupe Romo is a Santa Monica freelance writer.  To reach INDIVISION Productions, call (310) 390-6200.