‘Los Americans’ show explores Latinos’ struggle with American identity

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Award-winning actor Esai Morales; Dennis Leoni, director of “Los Americans” and actor Tony plana. (Photo/ D. Leoni)

It’s safe to say that Dennis Leoni—award winning writer, director and producer—put Latinos on Showtime.

He spent about five years working on “Resurrection Blvd.” a show starring Tony Plana about a working class Latino family that struggles with financial hardships, life changing decisions and maintaining their family legacy of boxing alive. It aired for three seasons, from 2000-2002, and helped Showtime gain a Latino audience.

Leoni’s new project “Los Americans” is an eight-part series that focuses on a multi-generational, middle-class Latino family living in Los Angeles. It was released online in the summer of 2011.

The show is different because it focuses on a family’s struggle with their Latino identity, unemployment and alcoholism. The show features Esai Morales, Lupe Ontiveros, Raymond Cruz and Tony Plana.

Leoni, who wrote and directed the series, joined forces with One Economy Corporation, a non-profit that works on providing access to technology to minorities, and its video production company, V-Studios to produce the show.

VOXXI interviewed Leoni on his latest project and where “Los Americans” will go from here.

Watch “Los Americans” full series

Q: How is working on a web series different from television?

It seems like you’re doing one act in a 15-minute episode.  I’m use to doing one hour episodes. That was a little difficult for me, because you have to try and put a beginning, middle and end to a 15 episode. That’s tough.

The budget is not the same. I had to go out and beg, borrow and steal actors. I wanted to create a show that was every bit as good and had everything a network show had. I’m very pleased with the product.

The difference between “Los Americans” and “Resurrection Blvd.” is this is upscale latinos versus working class latinos.

Q: What were the challenges with promoting the series online?

“Los Americans” cast. (Photo/ D. Leoni)

I was really surprised and pleased with all the reaction online. If you look at the comments on the site people are just crazy for it. The reaction to it really pleased me. I try to make it as relatable as I could. That’s why I call it “Los Americans.” I wanted it to be the average typical American family. We are Americans. We have been here for a long time. Not every Latino family is an immigrant family. Certainly my family is not. I’m from Arizona and my family was in Arizona before it was Arizona.

We are trying to bring drama to the web so we are competing with 30 second videos of a cat playing a piano. That’s what the audience on the web is use to. For them to go online and see a real dramatic piece, I think it will take a while before the audience starts to get it.

Q: What’s the message of the series?

There is an aspect to “Los Americans” that I don’t think we’ve seen before in a Latino show. There’s the self loathing of our main character Lee (played by Esai Morales) who’s real name is Leandro, but he doesn’t want to be called that. He wants to be called Lee, he wants to be an assimilated American. He tells his mother we are not Mexican we are Americans, we were born here in the United States. And there are a lot of Latinos who feel that way. That is one of the themes of “Los Americans.” He wants English to be spoken in the house, because his father wanted him to be that way. The truth is my dad was like that. My last name is Leoni. I’m half Swiss Italian. He didn’t want us to speak with an accent. He didn’t want us to be identified as Mexicans, that in his time was a bad word. It’s a difficult thing and a sad thing that people are willing to surrender their language and culture. That’s the main theme. How much do we assimilate as Latinos before we begin to lose who we are?

A scene from “Los Americans”. (Photo/ D. Leoni)

Q: Where will the web series go from here?

We are trying to move to PBS. It is not the easiest thing to do. We are trying to get to broadcast television so more and more people can see us.

Q: Is there another web series in the works?

I would love to go and sell them on the mainstream market first. There was a company that approached me about creating a web series with 15-minute episodes. So I hope there are many, many more. Everyone understands that this is the future. That eventually our computers will be come our televisions and our televisions our computers.

Esai Morales and Lupe Ontiveros in “Los Americans”. (Photo/ D. Leoni)

Q: What would like to tell your fans?

Help us promote the series. We want everybody talking about it. The fact that I was able to bring Esai Morales and Lupe Ontiveros who is now on “Rob” and Tony Plana is there. I’m hoping we can get the most support from the Latino community. Sometimes as Latinos we don’t pay as good of attention as we should. We are quick to complain about things we don’t have and we don’t like, but things that are good and we like, we get this- well it’s just there.

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