John Leguizamo has a plan to grow the Latinx presence in entertainment
Actor John Leguizamo has starred in a variety of movies, including “Romeo + Juliet,” “Collateral Damage,” and even as the iconic plumber Luigi in “Super Mario Bros.” But even he can’t break through Hollywood’s glass ceiling.
“It’s made out of plexiglass and it’s bulletproof, and you can’t get past it,” Leguizamo said in an interview.
Over the years, he said, studio executives have rejected his pitches for stories, telling Leguizamo — who is of Colombian descent — that Latino people apparently don’t want to see “feel-good movies,” he said.
“Until we start seeing executives that look like us, like a brown Latino, I find that it’s going to be very difficult for them to give us the appropriate space,” he added.
To help remedy the problem, he’s merging his own New York-based digital media company, NGL Collective, with GoDigital Media Group’s mitú, an LA-based digital media company that creates stories and videos targeting Latino audiences. Mitú also operates a 14,000-square-foot studio in L.A.'s Eastside.
GoDigital’s acquisition of NGL is valued at more than $60 million and will create what the companies describe as the “largest digital first Latinx media powerhouse” in the U.S. The combined company of mitú and NGL will have more than 90 employees, 92% of which are Latinx.
Leguizamo launched NGL Collective with entrepreneur and co-founder David Chitel in 2012. The company creates content targeting NGL — new generation Latinx — audiences. It works with influencers and produces unscripted TV programs and documentaries, stories on such topics as fashion, parenting and recipes, as well as videos that help promote brands like Amtrak and Lexus.
“David and I have always tried to pioneer Latin content and to create a space for Latin content so Latin people can see themselves reflected in our content and have the opportunity to have a medium that includes them when they’re excluded in every other medium,” Leguizamo said. “We want to change things.”
Latinos still woefully underrepresented in Hollywood, with major movie portrayals remaining rare and stereotypical, USC study finds.
Merging with mitú will give NGL Collective more scale to attract additional advertisers and content for the Latinx audience, NGL executives said.
“This merger will provide really an unmatched opportunity for both consumers and advertisers alike to benefit from the sum of those parts,” said Chitel, NGL Collective’s chief executive in an interview.
Latinos represent roughly 19% of the U.S. population, representing much of the country’s population growth in the last decade, according to the U.S. Census. The group is also big consumers of entertainment, spending 34% of their time streaming video, compared to whites, who spend 25% of their time doing that activity, according to Nielsen data.
That growth is a key reason why companies like NGL are attractive to buyers.
“Latinx media consumption is exploding,” said Jason Peterson, chairman and CEO of GoDigital Media Group in a statement. “This acquisition cements our foothold in the U.S. Latino media space.”
Last summer, downtown Los Angeles-based Mitú, known for its ambitious goal to expand online video content for Latino youth, was in retreat.
Maribel Lopez, founder and principal analyst of Lopez Research, said the pairing of the companies make sense, adding that more advertising dollars will allow the business to increase content production and reach a wider audience.
“Anybody that is serious about having a presence in the new media world has to have Latinx content and not just Latinx content, but a broader portfolio of Latinx content,” Lopez said.
Hollywood, however, has remained mostly white and male on screen and in executive positions. Latinos represent just 6.3% of broadcast scripted TV show roles in the 2019-2020 season and just 4.9% of roles in 1,300 popular movies in 2019, according to the 2020 UCLA “Hollywood Diversity Report” and a study from USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
“It’s hard for old Hollywood and streamers to give up power, to give up that space that they’ve had for so long,” Leguizamo said. “I mean, if we go by the box office — 30% of it — we should be 30% of the stories, 30% of the actors in movies, 30% of the executives in streamers and Hollywood.”
Leguizamo, who won a Tony Award for his solo show “Latin History for Morons,” hopes the deal will create a company that can provide more opportunities for Latinx creators.
He pointed out that Latinx consumers represented about 30% of box office ticket sales for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” “and yet we’re virtually invisible in the media, in publishing, in corporations. It’s crazy,” Leguizamo said.
“It’s almost like a cultural apartheid that we’re living in, with such a predominant culture in most of the big cities, and yet, we’re virtually invisible, and yet, and we’re online, we’re alive, and we’re creating content,” Leguizamo said. “All these young kids are creating things such great, funny and powerful content and we want to get that out much more and welcome much more content of that sort.”
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