This month marks another important milestone for the Imagen Foundation and their signature awards event the Imagen Awards, which honors Latinos in entertainment. 33 years after their first modest luncheon ceremony, the Imagen Awards now includes 218 nominee submissions and an expansion of categories that recognizes young online filmmakers, students and documentarians who are making a difference. As Foundation president and founder Helen Hernandez explained to us in an exclusive interview, August’s 2018 ceremony represents incredible progress and a wealth of Latino talent that was sorely lacking in movies and TV three decades ago. We were thrilled to speak with Helen about the organization’s ongoing mission and the industry advancements that the awards show continues to recognize.
‘LL:As we prepare for the 2018 Imagen Awards on August 25, can you share some of your reflections and feelings about the event?
I remember the first year we struggled to find Latinos to honor because there really wasn’t anything to choose from in 1985. We wound up giving NBC an award because they had Hill St. Blues on the air, but that was about it. Then in 1988, David Putnam, the Co-CEO of Columbia Pictures, sent a very harsh statement to the industry saying that we could not even find one project to award. The message was that these executives needed to take a look at this vibrant community and that they needed to produce more Latino projects. Gradually it did get better, especially in the last five years. Now there are more Latinos employed in the industry and we measure that by how many submissions we get. 2018 broke a record of sorts, with 218 submissions. That’s a 50% increase since 2013.
‘LL:Are there certain elements that make this year’s event different from the awards shows of the past?
Yes, one thing we’re really excited about is giving a voice to Latino student filmmakers. We have opened up categories for them and for independent online web series. We have students and content creators submit to us for a whole separate effort. Then the public can go and vote, making it much more interactive. We’re using it as a mechanism to promote new talent and that is something that we are all very proud of.
‘LL:Can you share a little bit about the history of the Imagen Foundation and how this important organization came to be?
The inspiration actually came from Norman Lear, the famous producer. It originated from a meeting that Norman and I had with the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) 34 years ago. The topic came up about Latinos and how to help change their image in the media. Norman encouraged them to create an awards program. He provided the seed money and the staff person, which was me, to make it happen. So for the first 10 years, we were part of the NCCJ. They were going to eliminate the program in 1995 and a group of us who were still involved asked to turn the awards over to us. It was then that we established it as the Imagen Foundation.
‘LL: And the Foundation has evolved quite a bit as well. Can you share some of the other ways that you are empowering Latinos?
Imagen is an organization that celebrates all Latino talent. The awards are our hallmark event, but during Hispanic Heritage Month we are now honoring Powerful & Influential Latinos in Entertainment. That is an initiative focused on industry execs and people who are in mainstream media with significant positions. We started it because over the years people would say, “We’d love to hire Latino executives, but we can’t find any!” By creating this event, there is no longer an excuse. Now headhunters are using it to identify qualified Latinos for positions. Our Foundation wants to showcase our creative talent and our brain trust. The entertainment industry needs to look at us more carefully now because of our sheer numbers.