The lack of representation and negative, reductive portrayal of Mexicans and Chicanos in American film and television has been a longtime concern for Jose Luis Ruiz, a Southern California dentist, entrepreneur and community advocate who hails from Mexico City.
To address the problem, he recently launched a program to help fund film and television projects that accurately and fairly depict those communities.
The Mexican-American Cultural Education Foundation’s (MACEF) Filmmaker and Television Grant aims to empower Mexican-American filmmakers to tell their stories and improve the perception of their people in the U.S.
Mexicans face a problem in the media that is even bigger than stereotypes, said Ruiz. “It’s our absence from American film and TV.”
Americans often have a limited, stereotypical perspective of Mexicans. They often view Latinos as gardeners, janitors, maids, farmhands, nannies, construction workers and other menial jobs, he said. Or, the media portrays Hispanics as criminals, gangsters, drug traffickers and other negative roles.
“It’s always been shocking to me,” he said, noting the Mexican-American reality is different. “Our community is diverse. We have doctors, teachers, lawyers, astronauts, artists, office and restaurant managers and many more people in great positions.”
His desire to change the perception of his community led Ruiz to start MACEF.
He reached out to prominent community leaders, such as Alex Nogales of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Emmy Award-winning journalist Naibe Reynoso, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Moctesuma Esparza (“Selena,” “The Milagro Beanfield War”), actor Mike Gomez (“The Big Lebowski,” “Greenland”) and Bel Hernandez of Latin Heat Media, among others, to be on MACEF’s Advisory Board.
Film grant details
The program offers three grants of $10,000 each to seasoned and upcoming filmmakers who need funds to finish their short films, feature-length films or TV pilots that could then be presented to production companies, studios and networks.
While the program is open to filmmakers of any background, their crews must include at least one producer, writer or director and main actor who identify as Mexicans or Chicanos. Priority will be given to projects that present non-stereotypical stories, according to Ruiz.
The program is now accepting applications and the deadline to apply is June 15.
The filmmaker grant is part of a new multi-prong approach recently announced by the foundation that Ruiz established three years ago to highlight the cultural contributions of the Mexican-American community to the U.S.
Other media efforts are a scholarship program for film and TV college students and a film festival.
In addition to the filmmaker grant, MACEF partnered with two higher education institutions to sponsor scholarships to Mexican-American students pursuing a career in film and TV. The University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) and the American Film Institute (AFI) each will be offering $60,000 in scholarships in the next four years, starting this year.
“We are now working with USC (University of Southern California) to start a scholarship program there, too,” he said.
About MACEF’s founder
A doctor of dental surgery with a diploma from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, Ruiz came to the Golden State looking for more professional opportunities. He arrived in the late 1980s. Ruiz began his professional dental practice in Burbank and enrolled in various dental university programs through the years, such as an aesthetic dentistry mini-residency at UC Berkeley.
In the early 2000s, the USC Continuing Education department hired him as a clinical instructor of dentistry, a position he has held for many years. He also founded the L.A. Institute of Clinical Dentistry & Ruiz Dental Seminars.
Concerned about the lack of Mexican and Mexican-American students in dentistry, Ruiz helped with recruitment at USC. He made progress, but says more work needs to be done.
Nearly 5 million Latinos live in L.A., with the vast majority, 61 percent, being Mexican and Mexican American, according to the U.S. Census. The largest concentration of Mexicans outside of Mexico, lives in L.A. Census figures show that more than 3.5 million Mexicans call it home.
According to the website DataUSA.io, Latinos account for 14.6 percent of USC’s student population, but no specific data is available on Mexican or Mexican-American student enrollment.
MACEF will start its fest next year
Through the years, Ruiz also remained concerned about the perception of Mexicans in the United States. He knows his homeland is a leading nation in Latin America, exporting music, movies and culture to the rest of the Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas.
“Mexico is a powerhouse in Spanish-language movies and television,” he said. “It’s like the Hollywood of Latin America.”
In the summer of 2022, the MACEF Film & TV Festival will launch in Hollywood. It will offer another platform for Mexican and Chicano filmmakers to showcase their works. The finished projects of the MACEF scholarship and grants recipients will screen at the MACEF Film & TV Festival.
“I’ve realized public image is very strongly shaped by the media. They form opinions of who we are,” he said. “So, we are focusing on education, television and film because we want to affect big, massive change. We need more directors, producers and writers to tell our own stories.”
To apply for the MACEF Filmmaker Grant, click here.
For more information on MACEF and its other programs, visit www.mexicanamericancef.org
(Edited by Gabriela Alejandra Olmos and Fern Siegel)
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