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María Hinojosa: This is Latino USA, the radio journal of news and cultura. It’s Latino USA. It’s Latino USA. Welcome to Latino USA. 

I’m Maria Hinojosa.

We bring you stories that are underreported, but that matter to you. Overlooked by the rest of the media. While the country is struggling to deal with these problems. We listen to the stories of Black and Latino students. A united Latino front. A cultural renaissance. Organizing at the forefront of the movement.

I’m Maria Hinojosa. ¡No se vayan! 

I think we have a long way to go, but there are green shoots and the Latino community, specifically, has a lot of energy and community building that will pay dividends in the long run. (MUSIC).

From Futuro Media and PRX, it’s Latino USA, I’m Maria Hinojosa. Today, a number of Latinos and Latinas and folks from Latin America have been nominated for Oscars. So, what does this all mean about the state of Hollywood and Latino storytelling?

In a few days, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hold its 96th Oscars ceremony. It’s a new opportunity for many in the moviemaking business to be recognized for excellence in cinema. And yet, another year in which, unfortunately, representation from Latinos and Latinas, Latine, Latinx on the big screen has remained somewhat stagnant.

Just 5.5 percent of speaking characters in Hollywood movies are Latino or Latina. This, despite the fact that Latinos make up 19 percent of the U.S. population and have a buying power of 3.4 trillion dollars and Latinos buy lots and lots of movie tickets. 

This year, America Ferrera has earned her first Oscar nomination for her supporting role in the movie “Barbie.”

America Ferrera: “I’m just so tired of watching myself and Every. Single. Other. Woman. Tied herself into knots so that people will like us.” 

María Hinojosa: And that Coleman Domingo has become the first Afro-Latino nominated for Best Actor for his performance as civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. 

Coleman Domingo: “We are going to put together the largest peaceful protest made up of angelic troublemakers such as yourself.”

María Hinojosa: But there are several other Latinos and Latin Americans in different roles in Oscar-nominated films who you might not have heard about yet. We’re going to speak with some of them today. 

We’ll hear from Maite Alberdi, whose film “The Eternal Memory” is nominated for Best Documentary Feature about Alzheimer’s.

We’ll also hear from producer and writer, Phil Lord, nominated for “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” 

But we’re going to start with the movie “Society of the Snow”, nominated for Oscars in the Best International Feature Film category and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. I had a conversation recently with Roberto Canessa, one of the survivors of the 1972 plane crash in the Andes on which the movie is based.

We also spoke with Matías Recalt, who is the young actor who plays him in the film. Roberto Canessa, the survivor, is a cardiologist now, in his native Uruguay, and that’s where he joined me for this conversation. 

Roberto, so a lot of people now will only know you as Roberto from the plane crash when you were in your 20s.

You are, how old now? Con todo respeto

Roberto Canessa: 71. 

María Hinojosa: And, and, and frankly, you look amazing, Roberto, I just have to say. You, you look amazing. 

Roberto Canessa: But you lied to me. You said that you were 25 and you look 27, baby.

María Hinojosa: (LAUGHS). Well, now that we’ve brought up age, right? What I want to tell you is that most people will not know now that you have become a very well-established medical doctor in Uruguay, and that you, this is what you did with your life. Your life went way beyond what happened in the Andes in 1972. So congratulations on a great career and on giving back in this way.

I was, I guess, 11 years old when the plane crashed. And so, I was watching on television in Chicago, in my parent’s apartment, and we were watching the footage of what was happening. 

News Anchor: “A film of what very nearly amounts to a real miracle. Survivors of a plane crash in the Chilean Andes. The plane went down 10 weeks ago. The 45 people aboard were given up for dead.” 

María Hinojosa: We knew the story, and that’s why I just want to say, in particular, it means a lot to be talking with you. Oh! I got emotional. 

Roberto Canessa: I am like a legend. I am like a walking bronze statue. [LAUGHS] It’s very funny, because it happens how people look to me, and then my everyday life. Thanks God I, I don’t buy all this popularity. 

María Hinojosa: If you can just tell me, like, what it was like, if you go back to 1972, disco music was happening, right? You were happy, excited, and you’re getting ready to board the plane. So what did your life look like? 

Roberto Canessa: Well, I was a medical student, second-year medical student, and playing rugby.

I had made it the previous year to the national team, which I was very proud of. And we had done the trip one year before to Chile, so everything was fun. 

María Hinojosa: You know, everybody focuses on what happens in the movie, right? This, this extraordinary period of about 70 days. But you have this other life. I mean, did you do a lot of therapy?

Roberto Canessa: No, no, no, no. I mean, when I came out of the Andes, it was like I had an elephant sitting on my shoulders. Yeah, I was so happy, so happy that I… and I walked out to the Andes to go to my life, you know, to have an interview 50 years later in Latino with Maria. So, and when I was back at home, I saw people who were suffering lots more, the parents of my friends that had died, they wanted to talk to me, they wanted to know what did they say, what happened, I mean, they didn’t care about the way we had to survive, they cared about what their sons were saying and the rugby team was completely distorted and we had to rebuild the team and the coach said we’ll need five years to get the team running again.

And on that year we became champions. And, and the father of Arturo Nogueira, that died on the plane crash, hugged me and told me, “My son is not here, but you are here.” So he gave me a very strong responsibility and support. And I had to go to the Faculty of Medicine. And if I didn’t study, I didn’t get up with my exams and I had my girlfriend.

So I didn’t have any time for the psychiatrist to sit there and ask him how I feel, how I do it. I mean, I am very kinetic. And I, and I like achieving things. 

María Hinojosa: What exactly do you mean by kinetic? And what do you think that the fact that you are kinetic has to do with the fact that you survived. 

Roberto Canessa: My mother says that when I was in the cradle, I was moving my hands all the time. So, and, and I wanted to go back. I didn’t want my mother to cry for a dead son. So I want to tell her: “Don’t cry anymore, I’m alive.” And it was my, my driving force. 

María Hinojosa: So would you say that, you know, this thing that you survived 50 years ago, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it now? Or do you now, because of the movie, all of this has come back in the last five years in the making of, and how has that been for you? Or was it always with you? 

Roberto Canessa: Yes, it’s with me, but I don’t want to contaminate my life with all the time in the Andes. But nowadays with the film… And I see all the people, so enthusiastic. The other day I was in Miami and, and a teenager came around and she couldn’t speak and say, “Are you Roberto? I cannot believe it’s you.”

She was from Colombia. There’s a lot of, eh, young people with the philosophy of the mountain. And I think that’s a, a very good contribution to, to life. And that’s the reason why I think that this film should get the Oscar, because it’s changing people’s life. Besides being a film, it’s also a contribution to be mejor, a better person for people.

María Hinojosa: It is that film that’s just like: Wow! Somehow you can survive anything, the power of the human body and spirit. So I think you’re right. It is a film that says, just never, never give up. And that is a, in truly powerful message. 

Roberto Canessa: It’s a contribution to humans’ behavior. I think we should treasure it and should get around.

Matias Recalt: So what was it like for you, Roberto, to see the film? 

Roberto Canessa: Well, I thought, “Oh! This is quite different than what happened in the mountains.” And then I thought, but this is not a documentary. It’s a film. And when I told the director, he said, Roberto, if we show what you went through, people leave the movie. I want to have a movie that people will enjoy seeing the movie, and they have a movie experience, not a torture.

And this is the masterpiece of how he did the things to make it artistic. The spirit is there. The spirit, we get it. I get very emotional when I see the movie. Then I have always tears pouring through my eyes. 

María Hinojosa: Oh.

Roberto Canessa: When I see, when I see how, how God has been to me that has let us achieve what we achieved.

María Hinojosa: No, you’re crying, Roberto. We were saying we were not going to get emotional in this conversation, but… 

Roberto Canessa: Come on, when you see those, the helicopters flying over there, over the guys. And we were left with Nando walking, maybe to die walking. And then we send them two gorgeous, sexy helicopters to get them. I mean, if that’s not the triumph of human spirit, I don’t know what it is.

María Hinojosa: And you used the word torture. Can you just talk to me for a second about the use of that word, torture, to refer to what you lived through in the Andes? 

Roberto Canessa: It’s a never-ending pain, for the soul and the body. But incredibly, incredibly, this film has no malignancy. This is a film that could be seen by 12-year-old boys, because there’s no human malignancy. It’s the ancient fight of men against nature. We’re facing nature. 

María Hinojosa: Eh, Roberto, sabes, me acabas de romper el corazón un poquito. Just a little bit.

Roberto Canessa: I am, I am a cardiologist, so I can fix it. 

How can you mend a broken heart? How can you stop the rain from falling down? How can you stop? 

María Hinojosa: ¡Tan lindo! 

Roberto Canessa: How about that? I’m a romantic. I’m a terrible romantic. I can’t stop it. 

“How can you stop the rain from falling down?”

María Hinojosa: This song is Al Green’s hit, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” It came out in 1972, the same year Roberto survived that plane crash in the Andes. 

Coming up, I ask actor Matías Recalt what it was like to play Roberto Canessa in the film, some of the challenges that came up with some very intensely emotional and physical scenes in the movie, and what has stayed with him about the story of relentless survival.

Stay with us. ¡No te vayas!

Hey! We’re back. Before the break, we heard from Roberto Canessa, one of the 16 survivors from the 1972 plane crash in the Andes. The incredible story has been taken to the big screen and is now Spain’s candidate for an Oscar in the Best International Feature Film category. In the movie, Roberto Canessa is played by Matías Recalt.

Matias Recalt: Mira, mirame a los ojos, mirame a los ojos. Estudio medicina. Soy Roberto. ¿Vos cómo te llamas? Álvaro, Álvaro. 

María Hinojosa: Before playing Roberto, Matías had already gained some recognition in his native Argentina for his supporting role in the Netflix series “Apache”, but “Society of the Snow” is definitely a breakthrough for this actor.

So I wanted to take him back to when he was first auditioning for the role and finding out who Roberto was, the character that he would be playing. And by the way, even though Matías speaks English, he felt more comfortable chatting with me in Spanish.

So, Matías, I know that the process of auditioning for the film was just beautiful. And the moment when all of you find out that you were actually cast, how much did you know about Roberto before you played Roberto in the film? 

Matias Recalt: Bueno, eh, a Roberto, no, antes del rodaje, lo conocí meses antes, especialmente para poder construir el personaje.

Eh, yo antes la historia la conocía por ser de Argentina y en Argentina, es una historia que que que desde chico está está dando vueltas en tu familia.

María Hinojosa: Matías said that he remembered hearing about the plane crash when he was little because members of his family would be talking about this event that happened in 1972.

Matias Recalt: Cuando, cuando me dicen que quedo para Roberto Canessa, yo estaba, eh, había vivido unos meses antes en en la casa de mi profesor de teatro, y mi profesor de teatro tenía dos libros sobre la tragedia de los Andes o el milagro de los Andes. Uno era “Tenía que sobrevivir” de Roberto Canessa. Así que fue como, como, muy, muy místico, eh, que ese libro este año.

María Hinojosa: And then, Matías tells me that he ends up visiting his theater teacher, who happened to have a copy of the book that Roberto Canessa wrote about his experience in the Andes. It’s a book that not everyone has and Matías says he found this kind of mystical.

Matias Recalt: Y bueno, después lo conocí a Roberto. Conocí a su familia también. La primera vez que nos conocimos, jugamos un partido de tenis. Ganamos. Jugamos los dos Canessa contra los dos Zerbino y ganamos los Canessa. 

María Hinojosa: He says the first time Roberto and him met in person, they played tennis against another survivor of the plane crash, his name is Gustavo Zerbino. Along with the actor who played him in the “Society of the Snow” the real-life and the fictional Canessas actually beat the Zerbinos in that game.

Roberto what was it like you when you met Matías? 

Roberto Canessa: Well, it moved my heart because he was going to give his best to do everything.

I then I thought, I’m going to help you, but it’s up to him how much he will receive. 

María Hinojosa: So I’m wondering, and I know this is strange Roberto, all of it is strange, right? See yourself in your twenties, pero dime, ¿cómo lo hizo? ¿Bien? How did Matías do?

Roberto Canessa: Come on, spectacular! 

Matias Recalt: Very good, very good. 

María Hinojosa: So, eh, en este momento, Matías, what have you learned from Roberto as a human being who is alive, right, and what did you learn about Roberto as a character that you were playing during the entire filming process?

Matias Recalt: Eh, creo que un poco, eh, a a valorar, ¿no? los los los pequeños momentos, eh, lo veo a Roberto de una persona muy familiar, muy amiguera, que disfruta de, de la familia y los amigos como, como algo muy importante en su vida y creo que, creo que eso, aprendí mucho, eh, me quedo con, con eso. Y bueno, hay algo que también creo que tenemos algo parecido que es esto de que Robert un poco en la montaña, dice que puso mucho para el resto y un pedacito se guardó para él. Yo también soy debe de dar mucho, pero también de alguna manera, en los momentos así malos, hay una parte mía que se se resguarda y se cuida. 

María Hinojosa: Matías told me that he appreciated how much Roberto values his family and his friends. And he learned from Roberto that, while, he was willing to step up and give so much of himself in that extreme situation. He, like Matías, also kept something private just to themselves, things that they didn’t share with the others.

It’s kind of crazy, because this film has gone worldwide, all of those things that you say that you appreciate about Roberto, the person, are things that we’re now learning about him and the whole world is learning. So speaking of which getting really huge, you know, when the film gets nominated for an Oscar, it is in fact a big deal.

So I want to know, where were the both of you when you found out that you actually had been nominated, your film had been nominated for an Oscar. So what was your immediate reaction? 

Roberto Canessa: I was not very impressed. I mean, I think that there are so many stupid films around. It was about time to give time for an important film speaking about human values and, and, and, and being made so well by, by a Latin, you know?

Well, something that they deserve. I mean, these poor actors, they were all day, they’re putting snow under, under their clothes to feel the cold. They were, and among themselves, they built a group and they took care about, about each other. And, and that was great. I mean, they suffered a lot until eight o’clock when they went to a hotel to get their hot shower.

María Hinojosa: (Laughs) Like Roberto, Matias tells me that he actually wasn’t that impressed with the Oscar nomination. He also said he knew the movie deserved the recognition. 

Matias Recalt: Creo que que cuando, a medida que fue avanzando el proyecto, nos fuimos dando cuenta que era un proyecto grande que podía llegar a apuntar al Oscar. 

María Hinojosa: And then he said winning would be a nice surprise though.

Matias Recalt: Creo que voy a sorprender si lo ganamos, pero pero la verdad que obviamente feliz, feliz porque se trabajó mucho, porque es una historia increíble y porque hemos puesto mucho muchas personas para que esto para que esto salga bien y para que esto sea lo que es. 

María Hinojosa: So, Matías, I actually wanna ask what was the hardest part of it all? 

Matias Recalt: Bueno, eh, coincidimos todos en que en que el momento más difícil fue el momento de filmar el alud. Creo que fue el momento a nivel físico, emocional y técnico más complicado. 

María Hinojosa: Matías said that reenacting the avalanche that took place 17 days after the plane crash. An avalanche that will kill eight of the initial survivors was the hardest part of filming, physically, emotionally and technically.

Matias Recalt: Fueron dos semanas, dos semanas de estar metidos en un avión con hielo, nieve de verdad, donde las escenas eran realmente muy emocionantes, donde se habían muerto ocho compañeros.

Y pienso que ese fue el momento más más más difícil.

María Hinojosa: Matías said it would take them two weeks filming inside a plane with real snow and ice, in order to get those scenes. And yet Matías adds that there were multiple hard moments during the filming. 

Matias Recalt: Todos los momentos son duros, ¿no? Desde el accidente del avión hasta, hasta el día 10, hasta que no los buscan más, hasta el alud. Y así que cada uno se va muriendo. Y parte nosotros filmamos cronológicamente, entonces, a medida que pasaban los días, el cansancio lo iba sintiendo cada vez más, el agotamiento, la dieta, eh, que hicimos para bajar de peso. 

María Hinojosa: Now, particularly, he says, it’s because they chose to film chronologically, which meant that death, became more and more present with every day that they were filming because, people were dying in real life and then the actors had to interpret that, along with the exhaustion, because all of the actors had to lose weight in order to stay true to the story and their almost starvation.

I know that watching the film, you’re right, as Matías said, there are several things that happen, which is like, getting punched over, and over, and over again, things continue to happen. But when there is the avalanche, I did feel like, how do you just not give up?

Was in fact the avalanche one of the worst things that happened? Or was it like, oh, otra cosa, just one more thing? 

Roberto Canessa: No, that was the worst. 

María Hinojosa: Yeah. 

Roberto Canessa: I mean, it’s like when you, they kick you on the floor. That’s what I felt. And I was being beaten on the floor and… and this state of spiritual state that I was in I had envy for the dead people. I thought that they were, they were better than me, that I was a worse person and I needed to pay my sins because I didn’t have anything. The only thing I had is life. And on the next day, Carlitos Páez says, “this is a very important day, today’s my sister’s day. And next year we will, like, we’ll have a barbecue with cream and cheese and everything.” I said, “Shut up Carlitos, don’t be stupid. We’re dying here and you’re speaking about your stupid party.” And he said, “Canessa, you have very ill temper. I’m not going to invite you to the barbeque.” 

María Hinojosa: Me encanta. (Laughs). Oh, my God. Okay. So obviously the question has to be the role of humor in all of this, the role of laughter in your survival. 

Roberto Canessa: Look, Maria, between sublime and ridiculous, there’s no limit. And to laugh at your own disgrace, it helps you to get around, suffer less.

María Hinojosa: Matías, what do you hope that people get from the film? Like, what do you think is the message of the film? 

Matias Recalt: Eh… Creo que la importancia de, de la unión colectiva entre personas para, para un bien, luchar por las cosas, eh, conjunto y no, más en estos tiempos donde vivimos mucho en la individualidad, confiar en que en que bueno que, que, que, al final del pasillo hay luz. 

María Hinojosa: He says it’s also about the ability of human beings to overcome anything, including death. Matías lost his father two months before he began filming. 

Roberto, what can you share with us about the thing that kept you alive, that miracle, what is it? 

Roberto Canessa: Being very stubborn for what you want. Realizing that someday you’re going to die, but what about the other days? And that dying is not that bad. When I was buried alive in the avalanche, and I felt I was dying, it wasn’t that bad. 

María Hinojosa: Les quiero abrazar. 

Roberto Canessa: Come on, cry, you. You are a chronicle crier. 

Matias Recalt: Chronicle crier. (Laughs). 

María Hinojosa: De nuevo, llorar y reír. Chronicle crier. Roberto, we know that you have to go back to your patients, so thank you so much for your entire story and for spending some time with me and with Matías on Latino USA.

Roberto Canessa: And I am very, very proud of Matías, he did a great job in the film. He’s like the voice of the conscious, he’s always there, hearing and ready to make contributions, in a very humble way, which is not like me. 

María Hinojosa: An absolute masterpiece, 100 percent. 

Matias Recalt: Gracias, Robert. 

Roberto Canessa: Kisses, kisses, kisses. Bye bye. 

María Hinojosa: ¡Vamos por el Oscar! 

Roberto Canessa: Muchas gracias, Maria. Vamos por el Oscar. 

María Hinojosa: Un abrazo a todos y felicidades.

Maite Alberdi is the first Chilean woman to be nominated for an Academy Award. 

This is the second time one of her films is nominated for Best Documentary Feature. This time she’s competing with the film “The Eternal Memory,” which is a documentary about the relationship between Chilean journalist Augusto Góngora and his wife, the actress, Paulina Urrutia. They are coping with Góngora’s Alzheimer’s disease. 

Góngora, the journalist, dedicated most of his career to exposing human rights violations during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, from 1973 to 1990, and he was committed to keeping that memory alive.

It is a powerful movie and so I start my conversation with Maite by telling her why I found her film to be so incredibly relatable.

I have to tell you, your movie, bueno, it was really profound because my father, who was a very accomplished medical doctor, with a brilliant mind, also had Alzheimer’s. And, and basically my mom and my brother were told by my dad’s doctor, once he passed away, they said, had it not been for the amount of love that you gave, el Doctor Hinojosa, he would have died at least five years ago.

So, I wanted to ask you a little bit about, what did you learn about love, in the making of your film, “The Eternal Memory?” 

Maite Alberdi: I think I learned that there is not only one way to understand love, there is not only one way to live relationships, and, and I learned that when you have a good love, even the tragical events or situations, do not became dramas, like, you can live it in another way.

María Hinojosa: Your film opens with the story of a very well-known journalist, his name is Augusto Góngora. His wife, who is 17 years younger than him, her name is Paulina Urrutia, and she’s this beautiful and captivating actress, and very quickly, your film goes into their love story. 

Movie: “Es que te quiero mucho”, “Yo también”.

María Hinojosa: But it’s a love story surrounding Alzheimer’s. And at first, I was just like, oh my God, how, where, and how does she find the patience to shower her husband who is losing his memory, with so much love and tenderness and patience? And I want to know more about your decision to open your film in this way. 

Maite Alberdi: Yeah, I started the film there because it’s like, a moment that it’s so, that represents so good the mood of the relationship, like he got out awake in the middle of the night, completely lost, so if I were there, as a wife, probably I will get crazy, like, why you don’t remember me? But she makes completely the opposite, like, she laughs, and she’s like: “Well, I’m your wife. We have been together for 20 years.” And he’s like, “Really? I have a wife?” “Yeah, you have.” And in a very nice, tender mood, with a patient and with her capacity as an actress to repeat, and repeat again, and repeat the emotion. This is because he was a good husband too. So, like, she makes something that is really important that he never felt that he has an empty space of memory because each time that he forgets something, she’s there to give the information. 

Movie clip: “Yo soy Augusto. Y tú, qué eres? Yo soy la Pauli. Nos conocemos hace más de 20…” 

María Hinojosa: You know, it’s a very intimate film. We basically spend, ah, all of this time being very intimate with, with the couple, with Augusto and Paulina, which makes me think about how you end up getting introduced to them. And I mean, they were a public couple, people knew them, they’re high profile, but what made you say, you know what, let me put a camera in your house. 

Maite Alberdi: I was teaching in a university and she works there, and I realized that she bring him to her work and I knew that he has Alzheimer’s and he was so in society, and they were so in love, that for me was a big example of how we have to take care today as a society.

The people that was working with her, integrate him and she was not embarrassed and she didn’t isolate him. And there were a couple that were in the world and were trying to be on society. And that was like, my first image and what I really wanted to represent with them. 

María Hinojosa: And one of the things that happens with “The Eternal Memory” is that, because Paulina is an actor, at certain moments, you’re like, wait, am I watching a film or am I watching a documentary?

So can you actually describe for me, like the moment, the worst moment when you had, I don’t know how many hundreds of hours of tape, and then the decisions that you made to help you understand what the through line was gonna be? 

Maite Alberdi: Yeah, I think that I was very lucky, as you say, because as she’s an actress, for me it’s the first time that it’s super fast to them to get used to the camera.

And in the editing, yeah, I think it, it’s the challenge that all the documentary filmmakers have that, to have so many hours that I, I always said that, the documentary filmmakers are like a sculptor artist that we have a big rock and we have to take out, take out, take out to make the figure appear. I think that all the portraits that we see in cinema about Alzheimer’s, we always see the dark side and not everything it’s a nightmare. And, and that is something that we have to understand.

María Hinojosa: The Eternal Memory premiered in Chile last year, just as the country marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Salvador Allende, the president who was deposed and murdered, in a military dictatorship that took over in 1973. 

Archival tape: Son las 12 del día, 9 minutos, 30 segundos, esta es Radio Cooperativa, 11 de Septiembre 1973. El centro de Santiago se está convirtiendo en un campo de batalla. 

María Hinojosa: So, I was alive on September 11th, 1973, when the democratic government is destroyed and the dictatorship begins, and your film, for many people is again, it’s about that memory too, but in many ways it is a deeply political film.

Maite Alberdi: It’s a, it’s a deeply political film because my characters are so commit with politics, like Augusto, worked for preserve the historical memory. So the film is trying to make the same exercise that he did all his life in his job. Like he, he has a clandestine newscast to report on everything that was happening in the country during dictatorship.

So, I think that the film, it’s trying to make the same, that he did during all his life. 

María Hinojosa: Maite, was it a big deal for you to get nominated for an Oscar? Was it something or were you more just like, oh, okay, well that’s, that’s nice. 

Maite Alberdi: No, it’s, it’s always a big deal. It’s a lot of work behind that. It’s a lot of people working on that. And it means the possibility of continued shooting and that it’s for me, the, the power of awards and nominations.

María Hinojosa: Which means that it makes your hustle as a filmmaker just a little bit easier. 

Maite Alberdi: Yeah. 

María Hinojosa: Thank you so much, Maite. ¡Felicidades! It’s a, it’s a beautiful film. Thank you. 

Maite Alberdi: Bye. Thank you very much.

María Hinojosa: That was director Maite Alberdi speaking to us from London, where she is busy working on her next documentary. And no, she would not reveal what it’s about.

Coming up, I speak to Cuban-American producer Phil Lord about all things “Spider-Man.” 

Stay with us. ¡No te vayas! 

Phil Lord is already an Academy Award-winning producer. His movie “Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse” got the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in the year 2019. 

Movie clip: “Myles”, “Yeah”, “We gotta go”, “If you want me to drive you, we gotta go now. Personal chauffeur going once.” “It’s ok”. “Seriously, dad, walking would have been fine.” “Breaking news, Spider-Man saves the day again.” 

María Hinojosa: Phil Lord has also made a name for himself alongside his producing partner, Christopher Miller, for films like “The Lego Movie,” “21 and 22 Jump Street,” and now the “Spider-Verse” trilogy. But even though Phil Lord is Cuban-American, there’s not a lot out there about his Latinidad, which is why that’s where I wanted to start.

So Phil, it’s really great to have you on the show and thank you so much for for making time with us. 

Phil Lord: Oh my gosh, it’s an honor to be here. 

María Hinojosa: Oh, well, thank you Phil. So dime, we are talking on Zoom we’re both on camera and your ID on your computer here in Zoom says Phil Lord y Betancourt.

Phil Lord: Betancourt is my mother’s family name, she’s a, born in Cuba, moved to, uh, this country in, uh, 1960, moved to Philadelphia and, uh, down the line met my father, who’s an American, at a music therapy convention in, I think, Minnesota.

María Hinojosa: That’s a great story. So, can you just paint a picture of little Phil? ¿Tú mamá te decía cómo? How did your mom call you? 

Phil Lord: Felipe. 

María Hinojosa: Felipe. So, take us back to, uh, little Felipe. Half Cuban kid growing up in Miami. And you’re watching movies and you’re like, Hey! I want to do that or were you thinking I’m going to be a medical doctor?

Phil Lord: No, I mean, it was, my parents are both, their first love is music. My father ran a dance company in South Florida, which was a bit of a merging cultural landscape for modern dance. And they, and, you know, we’re still like a refugee family, so it was all about like what can you do so that you won’t starve?

But my parents, you know, they also understood and instilled in my sister and I a love of the arts. So it’s not a surprise that by the time I was, you know, 10 years old that it was something that I was going to do. I think they knew it before I did. 

María Hinojosa: So jumping super fast, how does one get from the kid in Miami who’s like, dreaming like maybe I’ll go into the arts, to you’re now in Hollywood and you’re producing and writing major motion pictures.

Phil Lord: I mean, a short answer is you get there by accident, right? Like I went to college, I met my writing, producing, directing partner, Christopher Miller there. 

Neither of us are one in a million at filmmaking, but we work hard. We come from strong, supportive families. We have, we’re creative and, and we’re sometimes smart, and when you compound those things, they can add up to one in a million, right? 

María Hinojosa: And then you win your first Oscar, actually, for your “Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse” Best Animated Feature in 2019. 

Movie clip: “Spider-Man. I mean, this guy swings in once a day, zips zaps up in his little mask and answers to no one, right? Yeah, Dad. Yeah.” 

María Hinojosa: So, how does that connection happen right there? 

Phil Lord: The thing that’s great about “Spider-Man” and comics is when,  when Marvel was coming to prominence in the 60s, their whole idea was populism. Their characters were not from outer space. And Spider-Man is not someone who has power because it’s his birthright. He has power because he was chosen at random. And he succeeds because he’s got a big heart. And so we, we’ve always tried to ignore any artificial barriers between, you know, the stuff that people enjoy on mass and, and the things that, that make us feel transported in an art museum or in a concert hall.

María Hinojosa: Hmm. Hmm. ¡Orale, Phil! [Laughs] Okay. Okay. So look, I’m just going to be really honest with you. I’m not, you know, comic books. Okay. To be honest, I’m not like a big “Spider-Man”, like, “Oh my God, like I have to be there.” 

Phil Lord: Right.

María Hinojosa: But I will tell you this. I did watched this film that is nominated. Bro, I friggin loved it! I was so, so surprised.

It’s not the, the glitzy glam of Superman and Clark Kent. It’s like my neighborhoods, mis barrios. There’s all of these, um, hints, right? One of my favorite, of course, is when the mom says, “Bendición.” Or he asks for the bendición, which is just like. 

Movie: “Bendición mami.” “Qué Dios te bendiga.”

María Hinojosa: So the truth is, is that I really did fall in love with Miles Morales in this film, and it is a big deal to see an Afro-Latino teenager as Spider-Man, and as essentially, kinda ruling New York City. Tell me why, why were you like, yeah, he’s gotta be Afro-Latino, for sure. 

Phil Lord: First of all, you’re gonna make, you’re making me tear up.

María Hinojosa: Oh my god, why? 

Phil Lord: Just cus it’s so lovely that, that you connected with the movie. We, you know, so many people put so much energy into the details. And we hoped that they aggregate into a, you know, a feeling. 

María Hinojosa: They did. They did. 

Phil Lord: And we try not to, like, you know, we want those things that you noticed, we want that to feel commonplace.

Miles comes from two creators, an Italian woman named Sarah Pacelli, an illustrator, and Brian Bendis, a, a comic book creator, lives in Portland, and they, Brian has two daughters from Africa, and he was looking around for comics to, you know, turn them on to and there he said that there wasn’t enough. So he’s like I’m gonna write one. So when Amy Pascal our producer came to us and said will you do a Spider-Man movie animated?

We said no, and hanged up, you know, maybe two minutes later, we said well, what if it was about Miles. At that time Miles is the, is the most popular new comic book in the Marvel Universe. And we called Amy back, we said, “What if it’s Miles Morales? Who’s Miles Morales? He’s a, you know, Afro-Puerto-Rican kid with an intact family.”

She says, “I love it!” 

María Hinojosa: Oh my god.

Phil Lord: And she hung up. 

María Hinojosa: (Laughs) I love it! Goodbye. Do it. 

Phil Lord: I love it. Goodbye. But the choice to center Myles and his family is was really little and easy. 

María Hinojosa: How much do the production teams and writers take into consideration that, you know, 30 percent of movie ticket sales are bought by Latinos and Latinas?

Phil Lord: And over-index for animation, by the way. 

María Hinojosa: Oh! That’s a new one that I didn’t know. So Latino and Latina viewers over-index in terms of their connection to animation. 

Phil Lord: That’s right. And I, I wish I was a sociologist and can tell you why. 

María Hinojosa: Interesting. Interesting. Anyway, so I thought that there would be a whole lot of, um, frankly, kind of corporate thinking about what we definitely want to make sure that this is a Latino, Afro-Latino focus, because it’s going to help us with the movie sales, and you’re like, nah, it wasn’t, it wasn’t like that. But in fact, it is a brilliant marketing strategy and just, well, factual inclusivity, right? 

Phil Lord: Yeah. We want to represent the world as it is. So, we want to, if you go to New York and you look and listen, like, this is what you see, and you’re almost, you’re being a dishonest, not very effective artist, if you don’t represent the world that way.

Apart from the strategic and commercial premise that, if we meet the audience where they are, we can all, you know, win big. It really just starts with wanting to make a good movie. 

María Hinojosa: I mean, it does ultimately, I mean, it is about making a good movie, which means that when you make a good movie, and it’s different, and it connects with people, it means that you get nominated for an Oscar.

So when you heard that you were nominated again, what happened? 

Phil Lord: I mean, we’re very proud and happy for the crew, more than anything else. You know, every movie is a risk. This movie is a big one. It’s a huge financial investment from the studio. You’re very grateful that the movie resonates, because when a movie like this is a hit, and this is the third-highest-grossing domestic release of the year.

María Hinojosa: Okay, humble brag. Just.

Phil Lord: Yeah, sorry. (Laughs) It means that, that people will make more. 

María Hinojosa: So why do you think that Spider-Man and the whole story of Spider-Man continues to resonate?

Phil Lord: I mean, he’s one of us and it’s as simple as that. That’s what makes Miles unique from most of the other spider people, is that his parents are both alive and they’re together.

And one of the things I’ve learned making movies is conflict is overrated. There’s a big difference between watching people in a fight and two people trying to get along, and watching people in harmony is so entertaining. 

María Hinojosa: And taking a Latino family with all of that nuance and saying: Check this out.

Movie clip: “Miles’s grades are pretty good. ‘A’ in AP physics.” “That’s my little man.” “And AP studio art.” “He takes after his uncle.” “‘A-‘ in English.” “She’s a tough grader.” “And a ‘B’ in Spanish.” “What?” “Woo, okay.” “Miles, are you trying to kill your husband?” “Cálmate, mami, eso no es my fault.” “¿Qué, qué es eso que esto no es my fault? ¿Tú estás tomando una clase en Spanglish?” “I just missed a few classes.” “Oh, just a few classes.” 

Phil Lord: You know, a big surprise of the movie, the first time we showed it to an audience, you know, we were saying to ourselves, half this movie is people flying around and doing cool stuff. And the other half of the movie is people in rooms talking, usually just two people having long conversations.

They’re like, well, I know they’re going to like half this movie. And, and somebody in the audience said, you know, this is a coming of age story for the kids and the parents.

María Hinojosa: And you’re saying this is like super intentional on your part, like as, as a writer and producer, very intentional. 

Phil Lord: So what’s critical to making that work is Miles´ desire.

He’s going to get back home to his family and that that chase represents something deeply emotional, which is, I thought I was going to be part of this group. I thought they were going to be as supportive, more supportive than the people that I left back home. And I was wrong. They betrayed me. And now I’m on my own. Like people in a story having an emotional experience. What, Peter, why did you betray me? Like, that’s what it’s really about. 

María Hinojosa: And ultimately, always listen to your mother. 

Phil Lord: For real, you know, I think my mother would relate to this, like, you, you could give them the answers to the quiz, but you’re not, they’re not ready.

They have to find it themselves.

María Hinojosa: So, talking, talk about finding things by ourselves, can we talk for a moment about the state of Latinos and Latinas, Latinex, Latine folks in Hollywood? Does it feel like 2024 is a little bit different or is it like, nah, this is how it goes and it is still always and continuously a hustle.

Phil Lord: It’s always a hustle. I speak as someone, you know, a white Cuban from Miami who has not faced a great deal of discrimination growing up. It’s like, it’s just different down there, right? However, the Oscars are a very small sample size and there’s a lot of noise in the data. I think this year we have a lot to celebrate.

America Ferrera’s nomination is historic and wonderful. She’s a wonderful filmmaker. She’s got a long way to go. This year, there’s also a nomination for “Flamin-Hot,” one of my favorite movies of the year. 

María Hinojosa: Oh, okay.

Phil Lord: It’s not a rise and fall story. It’s a rise-and-rise story. 

Movie clip: “Good idea. It’s a spicy chip. It’s gonna change everything.” “It will save our factory. And you’re a janitor.” “OK, no, no. Don’t hang up.” “It’s a crazy idea.” 

María Hinojosa: And the first Afro-Latino Coleman Domingo.

Phil Lord: That’s it. And so, not bad. I think we have a long way to go, but there are green shoots. And the Latino community specifically has a lot of energy and community building that will pay dividends in the long run.

María Hinojosa: And so what do you recommend in terms of continuing to try to make that happen?

Phil Lord: The boring answer is you have to have intention and you have to have insistence. So, you need, you can’t just go like, here’s our one Latino project, and oh, whoops, it didn’t work out. You have to have 10, and you have to put the intentionality and resources towards developing it.

María Hinojosa: And of course, everyone thinks Hollywood, you know, once you’re there, it’s easy. It’s a hustle, and it’s a hustle for Latino and Latina stories in particular, which leads me to, um, what’s coming up next in terms of the “Spider-Verse” trilogy? Um, am I going to love it as much? Eh, dímelo Felipe, ¿me va a gustar?

Phil Lord: The next picture is about really interesting emotional ideas. It’s really about the question of what do you do with your disappointment and anger, and the feelings of betrayal that Miles is left with at the end of this movie. How does Miles take that, those feelings and turn them into something beautiful?

That’s kind of what we’re trying to make the next picture about. 

María Hinojosa: Phil Lord y Betancourt. 

Phil Lord: Y Betancourt. 

María Hinojosa: Y Betancourt. Muchas gracias. Thank you so much for having this conversation with me about the Spider-Verse. Congratulations on your nomination for an Oscar. 

Phil Lord: Thank you very much.

María Hinojosa: Um, I hope you win.

Phil Lord: A ustedes. Thank you so much.

María Hinojosa: “Spider-Man Beyond the Spider-Verse,” the final part of the trilogy will be released later this year, and the Oscars will be seen on Sunday, March 10th. And good luck to all the nominees.

[Theme music]

This episode was produced by Marina Peña. It was edited by Andrea López-Cruzado. It was mixed by Gabriela Baez. The Latino USA team also includes Victoria Estrada, Reynaldo Leaños Jr., Glorimar Márquez, Marta Martínez, Mike Sargent, Nour Saudi, and Nancy Trujillo. Peniley Ramírez is our co-executive producer.

Our director of engineering is Stephanie Lebow. Our senior engineer is Julia Caruso. Additional engineering support by JJ Carubin. Our marketing manager is Luis Luna. Our theme music was composed by Xenia Rubinos. I’m your host and executive producer, Maria Hinojosa. 

Join us again on our next episode. In the meantime, look for us on social media.

And remember. No te vayas, hasta la próxima. Chau!

Sthepanie Lebow: Latino USA is made possible in part by the Ford Foundation, working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Alonzo Cantú. 

Roberto Canessa: Bueno, Matías, ¿cuándo, cuándo es que te dan ahora… lo del Oscar es en estos días, no?

Matías Recalt: El Goya es el sábado.

Roberto Canessa: Mejor actor de reparto tenés ahí ¿no? 

Matías Recalt: De revelación. 

Roberto Canessa: Revelation actor, look at that! 

María Hinojosa: Felicidades, Matías. Felicidades. We hope you win the Goya. 

Matías Recalt: ¡Gracias! 

Roberto Canessa: ¿A quién tenemos que pegarle para que salgas primero? 

Matías Recalt: A unos pares 

Roberto Canessa: ¿Quién, quiénes son? ¿Argentinos también? 

Matías Recalt: No, no, españoles, españoles. Te queda un poco lejos, pero bueno, ya hice mi trabajo, Robert. Vos, vos, quédate tranquilo. No te ensucies las manos. Vos quedate tranquilo. Ta’ todo en orden. 

María Hinojosa: Oh my God, you’re so funny! 

Roberto Canessa: Que parezca un accidente. [laughs] María Hinojosa: He’s interpreting Marlon Brando. 

Roberto Canessa: Make it look like an accident. 

María Hinojosa: Oh my God! 

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