New York – For decades, big Hollywood studios have been skeptical about producing films with a heavy Latino theme, going off the perception that they won’t sell in the box office.
While the track record in this is genre of film has been inconsistent at best, producers Jay Weisleder and Ben Silverman want to throw out the argument and change the game with the help of their new production company, Fuego Films.
“Very (few) take the risk but that’s the exception, not the norm, and I think it’s because we Latinos – when you cross borders, culturally we are different but we are very similar,” Costa Rican-born Weisleder told Fox News Latino. “So it’s gotten harder for them to figure out how do we attack them as a whole group, how do we get the mass to come the films.”
Looking for an answer, Weisleder tried to find those Latino stories that cross all borders – “people that we share” – and found it in the name of champion boxer Roberto Duran.
“Duran is one example of the (heroes) we share because at the time that he crossed all the barriers of validation, general market and mainstream, he did it really early on where a lot of people did think Latinos would strive,” he added.
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“Hands of Stone,” a film that bears the nickname of the Panamanian boxer who fought 119 bouts in five decades, is the first feature movie by Fuego Films. It opens in theaters on Friday.
Filmed in Panama and New York, the movie by Venezuelan writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz tells the story of a boxer that emerges from extreme poverty to reach fame and fortune. It shows the rivalry between Duran (played by Edgar Ramirez) and Sugar Ray Leonard, portrayed by Usher, including their two bouts for the welter title in 1980.
Robert De Niro, who famously won an Academy Award for playing Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull,” plays Ray Arcel, Duran's septuagenarian trainer.
“When I started working in the ‘Hands of Stone’ project, I was thinking about ‘How do I get a story to cross over?’ So Latinos in general love boxing and I partnered up with Jonathan and together we went to Ben because ben at the time had just come out with ‘Ugly Betty’ – he was probably the only one at the time and I think he is the only one today that has actually done content with Latino-themed stories that had made it into the general mainstream market,” Weisleder said. “It’s very important having someone in those waters saying ‘Look, it can succeed’ – if you do it right.”
The film is being promoted as the "biggest" Latin American production. Except for the fights choreographer and the costumes designer, the rest of the crew is Latin American.
For Weisleder, the game is changing and he is proud to be part of the wave. The next project will be a biopic about Puerto Rican baseball player Roberto Clemente, another hero of Latinos.
“I think there (are) so many options today that you can do TV shows like ‘Narcos’ – ‘Narcos’ really changed a lot of the way that people are looking at producing in Latin America and content that’s in Spanish. Even two or three years ago, you would come and say to me, let’s make a film in Spanish or a TV show with a lot of Spanish and I would say ‘nobody would watch it.’ But today I would say, ‘Let’s do a film 60, 70 percent English, 30, 40 percent Spanish.’ It’s not 100 percent Spanish, but if you want the film, you will feel it’s authentic.”
Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com.
Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang