The presence of Mexican filmmakers, actors, cinematographers and others in the United States film industry has been making itself evident through a growing number of awards nominations.
Today, the Mexican invasion of American cinema has coalesced into a collaborative community of more than 1,000 people, and it’s known as Frijolywood.
The group began over 10 years ago as a support network.
“We owe Frijolywood to assistant director Elías Nahmias, whom we call Frijol Mayor. He saw the need to create a support network for Mexicans,” said Orlette Ruiz, one of the founders.
“Shortly after that, in 2007, several Mexicans were nominated for an Oscar, including [director Guillermo] del Toro . . . and [actress] Adriana Barraza, certainly an important moment for the community,” he recalled.
The club has never had an official headquarters, meeting instead in restaurants, bars or in the homes of its members.
Ruiz said one of the first meetings in 2007 was in the Lotería Grill, in Los Angeles. “Del Toro, Alejandro [González Iñárritu] . . . everybody came to celebrate and offer their support.”
“It was then that we decided that all of us Mexican expats had to come together, make an alliance and support each other. Today, the idea is more relevant than ever, given the political times we’re going through,” she continued.
Ten years down the road, 1,500 people are part of Frijolywood, with prominent and award-winning members such as actor Gael García Bernal, directors Alfonso Cuarón, del Toro and González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and actresses Karla Souza and Salma Hayek.
The network also includes art directors, sound engineers and other film industry professionals.
The Frijolywood gatherings are parties, but also collaboration opportunities, said director Fernando Lebrija. “We create working relationships . . . helping Mexicans here connect with the big studios and staying active and working.”
The networking enabled by the Frijolywood community has found a direct link, for example, with Sony Pictures, to which it can now pitch scripts on a bimonthly basis.
Rodrigo Prieto, a cinematographer nominated this year for an Academy Award for his work on Martin Scorsese’s film Silence, believes that today the network of Mexicans is more important than ever.
A strong, close community “allows us to create projects among us, to share ideas and decide what can be done. These are alliances between Mexicans, and if they attempt to divide us, we will stay strong and we will overcome,” he said.
Opportunities for the growing community continue to spring forward. Souza has been trying to draw together female Mexican directors working in Los Angeles, including Gabriela Tagliavini, Catalina Aguilar Mastretta, Olga Segura, Gina Rodríguez and Patricia Riggen.
“In Los Angeles we’ve found a sisterhood where we can all support and help each other produce stories. I was asked recently by the production of [TV series] How to Get Away with Murder whom I’d like to be directed by during the next season, and I proposed Aguilar.”
“That’s what Frijolywood is about . . . a community eager to help each other, now more than ever,” said Souza.