"The Latin community is one in four moviegoers, yet we're four percent of the movie roles out there right now," notes journalist, host and bona fide multi-hyphenate Nicolas Barili. "It's crazy to think that [there are] 60 million Latinos living in the States, but we're really not seeing ourselves represented."
That statistic – one that unfortunately has not drastically improved in recent years – is what prompted Barili to partner with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on the new series, Seen. The show features Barili in conversation with Latin[a/e/o/x] luminaries, sitting down together to deep dive into craft, culture, and the Latin[a/e/o/x] impact on filmmaking. Watch the first trailer for the series now.
"For the Academy to be taking time and recognizing that these are valid and important conversations for us to have, it means a lot," Barili says. "And also, to be fully transparent. Let's really have these conversations, and let's really provide a platform for our community to speak uncensored about what they feel."
For Barili, Seen has been a lifetime in the making. "I'm a first-generation immigrant. I came to the U.S. with my mom when I was eight, and a lot of the times when I turned on the TV, I never saw myself represented," he recalls. "Luckily, every two, three, four years, I would get a movie like La Bamba or Stand and Deliver or Mi Familia or Selena, [and] I felt like I got to see myself and see my culture in some way."
That list would grow to include films about and by the Latin[a/e/o/x] community, such as The Motorcycle Diaries – one of Barili's personal favorites – as well as Like Water for Chocolate, Amores perros, Real Women Have Curves, Pan's Labyrinth, and Bajo La Misma Luna, among others. Still, more films depicting the Latinx experience need to be produced and distributed, especially when many of the films that currently exist depict harmful stereotypes.
It's important to have conversations about why we're not seeing three-dimensional characters and why it's taken so long.
"It's important to have conversations about why we're not seeing three-dimensional characters and why it's taken so long," Barili says. "And I think talking to the people who've actually had journeys through TV and film and theater gives us some insight into why we are where we are and ways where we can move beyond."
The series kicks off with a candid, in-depth conversation with John Leguizamo, the star of films like Carlito's Way, Romeo + Juliet and, most recently, Encanto. It was a full-circle moment for Barili, who saw Leguizamo's one-man stage show, Freak, when he was a senior in high school and experienced one of those pivotal moments of truly feeling seen. "His contributions to film, theater, TV [and] comic books are just incredible," Barili says. "He's been such an influential person that kind of hasn't really got his flowers, so to be able to give him his flowers in the first episode, it really moved me."
Subsequent episodes will feature Edward James Olmos, the icon, activist and Academy Award nominee for Best Actor in a Leading Role for the 1988 drama Stand and Deliver, and Eva Longoria, the actress-producer-director. "On top of her great accomplishments in acting and directing, I'm excited to talk to her about why it's important for her to shine her light on other people and other communities that aren't getting that light shone their way."
I want to talk to a lot of the younger generation too, because I think what's important for the series is to talk to people at different steps of their journey.
You'd be hard-pressed to enlist more esteemed talent for your first season, but Barili already has a list of dream guests for future installments of Seen. "Someone like Rita Moreno, who I watched her documentary and I almost was in tears over what she went through to be one of the first and the struggles that she had to get to where she is," he says. "Lin-Manuel [Miranda] is another person that I deeply resonate with, in terms of somebody who grew up in music and has used his passion to impact theater and now movies and animation. I want to talk to a lot of the younger generation too, because I think what's important for the series is to talk to people at different steps of their journey. There are so many!"
Seen premieres on Jan. 24 on The Academy's official YouTube page.