Cepeda: Why do Hispanic women flock to movie theaters?

By Esther Cepeda, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

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photoEsther Cepeda

My family attended the first morning screening of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," which won its opening weekend's box office with a $73 million debut. According to Lucas Shaw's recent article "Hispanic Women Are This Summer's Most Avid Moviegoers" on the entertainment news site TheWrap, we are propping up the movie industry.

Shaw's analysis of entertainment consumption — "Hispanic women over the age of 25 are the most frequent moviegoers of all" — lists attendance rates for movies representing a wide range of tastes. "22 Jump Street" made the list of films most popular with Hispanic women, as did "A Million Ways to Die in the West" — both eyebrow-raisers since they're targeted toward young men.

Even though it's true that I'm the driving force behind our family's intense moviegoing — and summer blockbuster attendance, in particular — I've mostly stayed home this summer and packed the boys and their dad off with extra money for popcorn. I simply didn't want to spend my time on yet another rebooted comic book "franchise." Apparently, I was an exception.

According to the market research firm C4, which polled more than 1,500 moviegoers who go to six or more movies every year, Hispanic women over 25 flocked to see "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" in higher percentages than Hispanic men and both non-Hispanic men and women.

Myths are universal

In his quest to understand why Hispanic women turned out for the superhero movies, for "Godzilla" and even for the raunchy "Neighbors," Shaw interviewed Kate Perkins, an analyst for brand consultancy TruthCo, who theorized that Hispanics identify as both American and Hispanic, just as most superheroes identify as both human and as a superhero.

"That bicultural identity is the basis for the cultural resonance of superheroes," Perkins said. She recently wrote a report on the changing face of the American family, with a special emphasis on Hispanics, in which she argued that they see a parallel in superheroes because of "the foregrounding and backgrounding of two identities that are equally important."

That seemed far-fetched to me — and just more noise that seeks to portray Hispanics as different rather than acknowledging the obvious: Superhero myths are universal and therefore cheer those who feel less powerful than others.

Take the "Cesar Chavez" movie — starring Latina stars America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson in leading roles — which flopped at the box office this spring. Some observers suggested its poor performance was the fault of "clueless" critics who called the film dull, boring and quiet. Others posited that not enough Hispanics really care about Chavez because he's so specific to a particular niche — California farmworkers.

I stayed away because it didn't look particularly great, even with Michael Pena, a favorite of mine, in the lead. The trailer seemed to focus less on Chavez's achievements as a leader than on the aspect of friction between Mexican-Americans and terrible white men — not really how most people of any ethnicity would describe "entertainment," and isn't that, really, what it all comes down to?

Perkins may be spot on about Hispanics being attracted to fictionalized identity duality. I'd never even considered such a thing — though anyone who knows me would immediately point out that I love envisioning myself as a superhero, perhaps even more than the average Joe — but something about it rings at least a little true.

Still, I'd bet that the mystery of the moviegoing Hispanic's love for big-budget action movies can be solved by understanding that the more people are stressed out by their lives — in the case of Hispanic women, their larger share of economic, social and health pressures — the more escapism they seek in their entertainment.

By the way, I loved "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." What's more fantastical than a war-painted ape galloping over fire on a black stallion while shooting two fully automatic weapons? In any culture, "That's Entertainment!"