With his new web series Los Americans, writer-director Dennis Leoni has been resurrected. The creator of the short-lived Resurrection Blvd. series for Showtime has gone from a show about a working-class Latino family with championship boxing aspirations to a show about an upper-middle class Latino household led by a newly unemployed, Americanized patriarch. Played by veteran actor Esai Morales, Lee Valenzuela bristles at the use of Spanish in his home, eschewing his Mexican roots as the Valenzuelas confront issues faced by most American families.
The irony is even more pronounced when you consider that the eight-episode series is now not only on the internet but also on TransitTV, a closed-circuit network aired exclusively on L.A. city buses. The partnership will bring the program to one million mostly working-class viewers every day.
“Forty-eight percent of the bus riders are Latino,” says Tuscon-bred Leoni, who left college for stunt work at Old Tucson Studios before heading to Hawaii, where he moved to work behind the camera as an assistant director on Hawaii Five-O, finally coming into his own with Resurrection Blvd.
Featuring an ensemble cast anchored by Morales, Yvonne Delarosa as the
rock solid wife and mother as well as Lupe Ontiveros as grandma Lucia, Los Americans was developed by V-Studios, the production arm of One Economy Corporation, a global non-profit that seeks to bring the power of technology and information to under-served and low-income communities. In collaboration with actor-writer-director Robert Townsend, V-Studio is charged with making public purpose media for distribution on www.pictv.com (Pubic Internet Channel), also the home of the award-winning Diary of a Single Mother.
“Robert came to me and said 'we need a Latino series, and you're the guy to do it,” Leoni says. “He was always a big Resurrection fan.” According to Leoni, Los Americans was departure for him on many fronts. “We tried to do something from a different perspective,” says Leoni, who was himself, he says, raised in a home where English was favored over Spanish. There, a pronounced ethnicity was somehow something to be ashamed of, a stigma.
What really distinguishes Los Americans, however, is its interactive components and the links on the show's website to organizations, programs and agencies that viewers can reach for direct assistance with issues addressed in each episode. Problems such as alcoholism, unemployment, teen pregnancy and immigration are the fulcrums of discussion on the comments board. Specific resources related to those issues are linked, taking the series one step further than simple “edutainment.”
“It's good for everybody all around,” Leoni says of the Transit TV deal. According to him, internet broadcast and closed-circuit transmission on one of the largest public transportation systems in the country as of Labor Day this year are as significant as a slot on any premiere cable net. “Obviously, you just have to read the comments.”
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