Latinos In The Industry

Dora: The Pint-Sized Superstar

By Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times

The girl who helped change children's TV wasn't originally conceived as a fearless bilingual character. In fact, she wasn't always a girl. In the original concept, she was a rabbit ... a male rabbit.

But the creators finally fixed on doe-eyed Dora Marquez, who kicked off the first show with three simple words: "Hi, I'm Dora." Dora began traveling through the jungle -- speaking bits of Spanish along the way -- and onto the nation's television screens in August 2000. Now, in what seems like a blink of her big eyes, the eternal 7-year-old is preparing to celebrate 10 (¡diez!) years on the air.

Every morning brings a new adventure. At the beginning of each episode of "Dora the Explorer," which airs weekdays at 8 a.m. on Nickelodeon, the Latina heroine and her best friend, Boots the monkey, are presented a problem. The adventurous duo, with the help of dependable Map, embark on a fun-filled journey where they solve simple math and word problems, meet friends and overcome various obstacles. All that shouting kids are doing at their TV screens? That comes when Dora asks her pint-sized viewers to help figure out the solutions with them. Dora also teaches viewers a few new Spanish words or phrases that are used throughout the episode.

The idea was to foster pride among Latino children and familiarity with Latino culture among English speakers, but only indirectly as part of an entertainment show.

"It was just about creating a show we thought kids would love," said Chris Gifford, who created the series along with Valerie Walsh Valdes and Eric Weiner. "We didn't begin to think how long it might go for."

"She doesn't just talk to kids," Walsh Valdes said. "She engages them. She makes them part of her adventure. She's their friend." (Gifford had produced "Clarissa Explains it All," on Nickelodeon and Weiner wrote for Canadian TV before the team came together on "Dora.")

Amid these warm-hearted adventures, Dora became a pop-culture superstar, a lucrative franchise and a force that helped shift the globalized juvenile television landscape that has become increasingly multicultural and bilingual. Dora, in some eyes, also became a poster child for immigration and the target of anti-immigrant sentiment.

The animated series is now broadcast in more than 100 countries -- it's the No. 1-rated preschool show in many of them, including France -- and dubbed in 30 languages, such as Russian, Mandarin and German, with Dora mostly teaching English (in some cases Spanish).

"What's been innovative about the show is it wasn't conceptualized or presented as a Latino-themed show," said Chon Noriega, director of UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center. "It was an educational series for kids that happened to have a Latino girl as the lead character. And it didn't shy away from having a character that spoke Spanish. That allowed it to do something that was very unique."

"She's not the first or the only Latina character on TV," said Carlos Cortés, professor emeritus in history at UC Riverside and a consultant on the series. "But she's probably the only one to be embraced by the world.... She came at the right time."

As if the sports-loving gal couldn't get any bigger, a Dora balloon debuted in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2005. She has also been featured in a number of YouTube parodies, cranking it out to rapper Soulja Boy's song "Crank That" and subbing as Alec Baldwin's daughter after his infamous voice-mail leak. And a video began circulating recently showing what Leonardo DiCaprio's sci-thriller "Inception" would have looked like had Dora starred in it.

"I had been hearing how big she was becoming during the third season," Walsh Valdes said. "But, you know, we're writing with our heads down. It wasn't until I drove across country and was in very small towns, and I'd see 'Dora the Explorer' tchotchkes, that it began to hit me. It knocked me over when I was in Guatemala; I went to a place that was 100% Mayan and I saw a Dora piñata. It was a knockoff, but it was still pretty amazing to see the reach of her. It's beyond us."

In its first year, "Dora the Explorer," averaged 1.1 million viewers ages 2 to 5 and 2 million total viewers, according the Nielsen Co. These days, "Dora" delivers an average of 1.4 million viewers ages 2 to 5 and 2.9 million total viewers, beating out competitors "Curious George" and "Sid the Science Kid" on PBS and Disney's " Mickey Mouse Clubhouse." Over the years, the show has won a Peabody award for excellence, an NAACP Image award and Parents' Choice awards, among others, and has received 16 Daytime Emmy nominations.

Dora's pipsqueak voice and repetition of catchy words might have parents going a little nutty, but not enough to keep them from turning the brand into a cash-generating machine. From global live tours to video games and movies to backpacks and sippy cups, her sizable head and bowl haircut are plastered on every conceivable kind of merchandise. Nickelodeon estimates she's generated more than $11 billion in retail sales.

"Dora isn't just a show; she's DVDs, clothes, lunchboxes," said Karen Sternheimer, an associate professor of sociology at USC and author of "It's Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture's Influence on Children." "Nickelodeon has been very savvy about getting their characters into kids' lives through a number of different platforms. They've taken branding to another level."

That level was tested last year when Viacom, the parent of Nickelodeon, partnered with Mattel to release the Dora Links doll, an older version of the intrepid girl. A "teaser" silhouette featuring a girl with long, flowing hair and a more angular figure circulated on the Web and had many parents in an uproar over her sexualization -- a petition was launched by two child psychologists. "What's next? Dora the fashionista with stylish purse and stilettos?" they wondered. The doll made its way to store shelves anyway.

But it wouldn't be the only controversy the animated youngster would face; next, her life and immigration status would be scrutinized.

Several doctored mug shots -- one depicting a battered and bruised Dora accused of illegally crossing the border -- began circulating the Web earlier this year after passage of Arizona's controversial immigration law.

"There's a part of me that's almost like her mom," Walsh Valdes said, recalling the moment she saw the image. "I said, 'Why would they drag her into this?' It seemed totally inappropriate.... I feel very territorial about her, so when I see stuff like that, it's hard for me to laugh."

Dora's origins

She's a global star, but Dora has always been purposely a bit indistinct.

Brown Johnson, the Nickelodeon executive responsible for developing the program, said the thinking was: "If Dora wasn't from a specific country, more people could identify with her. We wanted the broadest possible audience for her, so where she was from was not important."

Even after her transformation from a cottontail to a girl, Dora was not envisioned as being Latina. Her original name was Tess. The idea for an ethnic rebirth sprang after Johnson attended an industry conference during which the underrepresentation of Latinos in media was discussed.

The 2000 census showed that Latino communities were the nation's fastest growing -- and the biggest five-year Latino age group is infants to preschoolers. Yet data have long shown that Latinos are underrepresented in prime-time TV: UCLA research found that 4% of prime-time's regular characters in 2004 were Latino, while Latinos make up about 15% of the U.S. population.

For years, the main source for children's multicultural TV was PBS' "Sesame Street." The ensemble show has a melting pot of characters and has featured a Puerto Rican family and a Mexican monster named Rosita. Dora's "success really reflects a change in the media environment for children over the years," Sternheimer said. "It's a great reflection of the shifting multicultural nature of our society."

Since "Dora," the children's TV landscape has embraced diversity. PBS Kids revamped "Dragon Tales" in 2005 to include Enrique, who is Colombian. "Jay Jay the Jet Plane" has added a bilingual plane named Lina. "Dora" also launched a spinoff, "Go Diego Go," starring Dora's 8-year-old cousin, in 2005. It's one of Nickelodeon's top-performing shows.

More than 300 people work to create "Dora the Explorer": More than a dozen in New York work on the writing, research and music; an additional 50 or so are at the Nicktoons animation studio in Burbank; and there's a crew of about 250 in Korea doing the full animation and coloring. Each show takes roughly a year to produce.

Schoolteachers, sociologists and historians are all brought in to advise on "Dora" episodes. More than 20 cultural consultants have worked on the show to make Dora's world reflect a pan-Latino culture that's not just tortillas and mariachi music, Johnson said. "It was important for us that Dora represented the idea that being multicultural was super cool," she said.

Cortés, who's serves as a cultural consultant on the show, said not giving Dora a specific heritage made that idea a reality. "Not knowing where she was from allowed her to be a source of pride for anyone of Latino background," he said. "She's more relatable if you don't peg her down."

But is such ambiguity a good thing?

"The show definitely homogenizes the many different origin groups that are comprised within the Latino ethnicity," said Jody Vallejo, an assistant professor of sociology at USC. "So Latino children are getting a very broad view of who they are. At the same time, it does allow people from those different origins to make her their own character, to take ownership. For non-Latinos who watch the show, it makes Latinos more relatable. It demonstrates that bilingualism is not that bad. But it makes it seem like Latinos come from a monolithic culture."

Such multiculturalism means that the writers need to choose Spanish words carefully: Not only do they have to be preschooler appropriate, but they also have to be universal, like azul (blue) or cuidado (watch out). "It couldn't be a Spanish word that meant one thing in Mexico and something else in Peru," Cortés said.

However, her influence isn't limited to language empowerment. "Dora is symbolic because she pioneered this sense of embracing someone who is different than you are," Cortés said. "It's the one social message I hope comes across with Dora."

To commemorate 10 years of exploring, a TV movie, "Dora's Big Birthday Adventure," will be shown on the network Aug. 15. Among its guest stars are Rosie Perez, Hector Elizondo and John Leguizamo.

"My kids grew up with that chica," said Leguizamo, who also guest-starred in a 2005 episode as Capt. Pirate Piggy. "I'm probably helping my career having my name associated with hers."

LALIFF Presents Free "Hollywood Connect" Events

The 14th Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) will return to the Mann Chinese 6 in Hollywood Thursday, August 19 through Wednesday, August 25. The seven-day event will highlight the best films and showcase both the auteurs and new talent in the Latin filmmaking community.

LALIFF is presenting Hollywood Connect from August 20-24. This FREE series of events, receptions, industry panels, discussions, conversations and presentations was created to build bridges between participating filmmakers and professionals from the Hollywood film community with the objective to interact with and learn from prominent experts, financiers, filmmakers, talent, and industry executives. These include indie and studio executives responsible for development, financing, production, and distribution and marketing.

Panels include: "The Advantages of International Co-Production" (Aug. 20), "Cafe con... Matt Lopez" (Aug. 21), "Director's Roundtable" (Aug. 22), "New Media and You" (Aug. 22), "A Guild Exploration" (Aug. 23), "From Financing to New Media Distribution: Deconstructing Film" (Aug. 23), and "A Dialogue on Immigration Issues: 'We Are America/Nosotros Somos America'" (Aug. 24). Download the flier here.

Events will take place at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and Spa at the Hollywood & Highland Center, unless otherwise noted. All LALIFF panels are free to attend.


"The Advantages of International Co-Production"
Presented by: EGEDA
Moderated by: Leon Ichaso, Director/Producer

Location: EGEDA U.S. Offices
681 Trenton Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
~Lunch Will Be Served~

This panel will discuss the "ins and outs", the "dos and don'ts" with industry professionals that have worked in and around the field of International Co-Productions.

Rafael Sanchez, Managing Director, EGEDA-SGR
Manuel Soria, Managing Director, Madrid Film Commission
Julia Steinweg, Founder/Producer, Steinweg Emotion Pictures
Gabriela Tagliavini, Director/Producer


"Cafe con... Matt Lopez"

Presented by: WGA, West
Moderated by: Ligiah Villalobos, writer "La Misma Luna"

Location: Renaissance Hotel & Spa, 3rd Level

The Writers Guild of America, West invites you to attend an interesting and insightful discussion moderated by WGA, West member, Ligiah Villalobos (LA MISMA LUNA) as she speaks with fellow WGA member, Matt Lopez (BEDTIME STORIES & RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN,) about his latest film, the Walt Disney Pictures action adventure, THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE.

Find out how Matt creates creative commercial projects that appeal to A-list talent such as Adam Sandler, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Nicholas Cage, and about his latest endeavor to expand his talents into producing.

This "Cafe Con..." will be preceded by a Special FREE Screening of Mr. Lopez's film "THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE" at 10AM at the Mann Chinese 6 Cinemas


"Director's Roundtable"

Moderated by: Sydney Levine
Location: Renaissance Hotel & Spa, 3rd Level

A dialogue with six exciting new voices whose films are being showcased in this year's Festival. Each filmmaker will share their stories on what it took and the roads they each travelled to get their current films made.

Fina Torres - Director "Havana Eva"
Carmen Marron - Director/Producer/Writer "Go For It!"
Consuelo Alba - Director "El Andalon"
Isabel Cueva - Director, "In the Name of Freedom"
Yvette Edery - Director, "Jillian Dillon"
Sarah Vaill - Director, "Women With Altitude"

Please check website for updates & additions,


"New Media and You"
Moderated by: Sydney Levine
Location: Renaissance Hotel & Spa, 3rd Level

Using social networking, DIY and Hybrid Models to market and distribute your film

Orly Ravid, The Film Collaborative
Vanessa Arteaga, Jaman

Please check website for updates & additions,


"A Guild Exploration
Presented by: SAGindie
Moderated by: Darrien Michele Gipson, Director SAGindie
"Representatives from SAG, SAG Indie and Writers Guild of America, West talk about independent film and new media - how to work with the Guilds and why. It's easier than you think..."

Location: Renaissance Hotel & Spa, 3rd Level

Kim Myers, WGAWest, Director of Diversity
Mark Friedlander, SAG, National Director, New Media
Elisabeth Flack, WGAW, Contracts Administrator, New Media


"From Financing to New Media Distribution: Desconstructing Film"
Presented by: Ethos Group

Location: Renaissance Hotel & Spa, 3rd Level

Moderated by: Ivan Cevallos, CEO, Ethos Group

Adrian Ward, SVP, Entertainment, Sports & Media, NBCal
Howard Cohen, Co-President, Roadside Attractions
William Wu, Entertainment Attorney
Marcos Cruz Gonzales, Partner, MCG & Co.
John Kuri, CEO/President, Elixir Entertainment


"A Dialogue on Immigration Issues: 'We Are America/Nosotros Somos America:'"

Co-Presented by: UCLA Latin American Institute
Moderated by: Lalo Alcaraz, (comic strip "La Cucaracha", host KPFK "Pocho Hour of Power")

Location: Renaissance Hotel & Spa, 3rd Level

This panel will address the issue of immigration as a civil rights crisis impacting the Latino immigrant community that has culminated with Arizona's anti-immigrant law, SB1070

Esau Melendez, LALIFF Filmmaker, Director of "Immigrant Nation"
Jose Jacques Medina, Federal Deputy, LX Legislature, 2006-09, Mexican Congress
Professor Justin Akers Chacon, San Diego Community College, Chicano Studies
Thomas Saenz, President & General Consul of MALDEF
Sebastian Cordero, LALIFF Filmmaker, Director of "Rabia"

Call for Entries: PaleyDocFest Pitch Workshop Contest (NYC)

The PaleyDocFest Pitch Contest offers a $5,000 grant, sponsored by SnagFilms, for an unfinished or work-in-progress documentary from an emerging filmmaker. The Paley Center for Media is using this contest, now in its seventh year, to choose five finalists who will pitch their unfinished films to a panel of experts and producers in front of an audience. This event, the PaleyDocFest Pitch Workshop, will take place on Saturday, October 16, 2010, in New York as part of the Paley Center's eleventh annual documentary festival.

Pitch Workshop Panel:
Diana Holtzberg, Vice President, Films Transit International
Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director, POV
Lauren Lazin, Filmmaker and Executive Producer, MTV Networks
Andrew Mer, Vice President, Content Partnerships, SnagFilms
Molly Thompson, Programming Director, A&E Indie Films
Susan Werbe, Executive Producer, History

Regular deadline: Aug. 17, 2010 ($25 / $20 for Withoutabox members)
Late deadline: Sept. 7, 2010 ($30 / $25 for Withoutabox members)
Withoutabox extended deadline: Sept. 14, 2010 ($45 / $30 for Withoutabox members)

For details and submission information please visit the PaleyDocFest Pitch Workshop Contest webpage.

  NYILFF Announces 2010 Winners
(NYILFF) - The New York International Latino Film Festival closes its 11th year as the premier Latino film festival in the country, with a series of awards recognizing the best of the best in six distinct categories: Best Picture, Best Documentary, Best International Feature, Best Director, Best Short and HBO Short Film Contest. FULL STORY

Broadcast Audience Older Than Ever
(The Hollywood Reporter) - According to the latest Nielsen data, the average audience of the four major broadcasters is older than ever. FULL STORY

Meet the Sundance Film Festival Programmers
(indieWIRE) - Timed to the looming series of deadlines for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the festival’s programmers offer their insights on how they create and re-create their yearly event. FULL STORY

Jobs & Opportunities

Visit the NALIP Job Opportunities page for all the latest listings.

Editors for Direct Response Campaign
Experienced editors needed immediately for direct response campaigns at high profile production company. FULL JOB DESCRIPTION

Casting: Bilingual Latinas and Latinos for Lead Roles, Open to Actors and Non-Actors
Now searching for bilingual actors and non-actors for lead roles in a feature film opposite major Hollywood star and director. FULL JOB DESCRIPTION

From the Editor
Alex Mendoza
Alex Mendoza & Associates
AMARTE Design & Digital Printing
9513 Longden Avenue
Temple City, CA 91780

1323 Lincoln Blvd., #220
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Rafi Mercado
NALIPster's short wins audience award at Cinefiesta

NALIP member Rafi Mercado's (LPA 2007) short film 204 won the National Audience Award this month at Cinefiesta in Peurto Rico. Rafi directed and executive produced the film. Its next showing will be at LALIFF on August 21 at noon. An article about the film is online here.

Abandoned siblings Charlie, Pablo, Tito and Marla live in a deteriorated city apartment that becomes their magical sanctuary. Evil landlord Vélez is unaware of their existence and tries to sell the apartment. But each time he shows the apartment, the children have done everything in their power to prevent the sale. Dead animals in unexpected places continue to scare off potential buyers until the children hear that a young, childless married couple is interested. The children change strategies, this time cleaning the apartment spotless in the hopes the couple will fall in love with everything and... everyone.

Felipe de Ortego y Gasca
NALIPster introduces "Studies in Latino Film and Drama" course at WNMU

NALIP member Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ph.D. is Scholar in Residence and Chair of the Department of Chicana/Chicano and Hemispheric Studies at Western New Mexico University where he teaches courses in Chicano Literature and Critical Theory, Playwriting, and a Faculty Development course for scholarly communication.

This summer he introduced a new graduate course to the university's curriculum entitled "Studies in Latino Film and Drama," particularly relevant at this time since the state of New Mexico (home of the Latino Producers Academy) has aggressively expanded its interest in becoming a "state of choice" for filmmakers. The university is presently developing an academic program to aid in the state's interest.

James Garcia Sotomayor & Richard Caban
NALIPsters win Best Short Film Award at BIFF-LA

NALIP members James Garcia Sotomayor and Richard Caban won the Best Short Film Award at the 2010 Broadway International Film Festival in LA for their film Taught to Hate.

Taught to Hate, a short film inspired by real life hate crimes, also won the Films That Heal Award at the Manhattan Film Festival and the Award of Excellence at The Indie Fest. It has also been nominated for the 25th Annual Imagen Awards.

James Garcia Sotomayor, director and executive producer, and Richard Caban, writer and producer, created the film to explore the sociological basis of racial violence. The story follows a young teen, played by Brandon Hannon (Vito Spatafore Jr., Sopranos) as he is forced to deal with his attitudes toward immigrants. Arturo Castro stars as Antonio 'Richie', a young latino immigrant trying to make his way in America. The film also stars Helen Proimos, Nick Raio, and Lorraine Rodriguez.

Additionally, Taught To Hate will screen at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival during the Shorts Drama Program II on August 22, 2010.


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