Friday, March 22, 2019

“Selena” producer is building movie theaters in Latino communities

Latino moviegoers make up a disproportionate share of the U.S. box office, boosting the ticket sales for films such as Pixar’s “Coco” and Universal’s “The Fate of the Furious” yet there is a lack of movie screens in predominantly Latino neighborhoods.

That disparity is where cinema owner and “Selena” producer, Moctesuma Esparza, sees an opportunity. His theater chain Maya Cinemas has spent more than a decade courting underserved moviegoers by opening cineplexes in working-class neighborhoods of Fresno, Bakersfield and other cities.

Maya Cinemas continued its expansion on Thursday with the opening of its fifth theater — a $20-million multiplex in Delano, Calif. The city, with a population of about 52,700 and a rich history of farm labor activism, was attractive because it hasn’t had an operational theater in 10 years, Esparza said.

Delano residents have to drive for more than a half hour to go to the movies and now they will have a new nearby destination with 12 screens and 1,182 recliner seats. Esparza says he can succeed because his target audience has a voracious appetite for movies.

Latinos accounted for 24% of frequent moviegoers in 2017, though they represented 18% of the total population, according to a recent report by the Motion Picture Assn. of America. Though Maya offers cushy amenities such as reclining seats and large-format screens, the company eschews increasingly trendy luxury perks, such as in-seat dining and affordable prices; regular adult tickets at Delano’s new theater will cost $9 each.

“My business model is to put movie theaters where there aren’t any,” Esparza said in an interview at Maya’s Pasadena headquarters. “You can imagine coming home from work on a Friday night and having to drive 35 miles. That’s a hardship for families.”

LA TIMES