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"Selena' is a big step for Latinos in film

The movie biography Selena opens nationwide today, with all of the dramatic cliches that have always burdened life stories told on screen.

Critics may not appreciate those cliches, but Selena co-star Edward James Olmos disagrees. He insists that showing a Mexican-American pop singer going through those movie motions is a sign of Hollywood moving in a direction more favorable to stories of Latino and Hispanic cultures.

"A cliche must come from some reality, like a stereotype comes from some reality," Olmos explained in a brief telephone call Monday from Miami. "There's something along the line that has triggered that cliched or stereotypical feeling.

"The problem is that (Hispanic/Latino filmmakers) don't get enough of an opportunity (in films) to get invested into making a cliche. That's just the unbelievable drought that we have.

"If one cliche is there in Selena, great. Hurray. We got one."

Olmos is a strong advocate of Hispanic/Latino filmmaking, with a resume that includes roles in such films as Mi Familia, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez and Zoot Suit and he directed the harrowing crime drama American Me. Olmos has been a trailblazer in this entertainment genre since his Emmy award-winning role on Miami Vice and an Oscar nomination for Stand and Deliver.

He believes that Selena can be a watershed in the growth of Hispanic and Latino filmmaking and the popularity of its artists.

"Success always breeds those kinds of growth explosions," Olmos said. "The interesting question is how much we exploit ourselves in the process.

"Will we allow the industry to exploit us in manners that they've wanted to, but haven't been able to because they haven't found a market? Will we as artists keep the integrity as high as we have? That remains to be seen."

Olmos adds another memorable portrayal to his gallery with Abraham Quintanilla, father of the slain Tejano musician Selena. In fact, writer/director Gregory Nava's film pays so much attention to Olmos and his role that Abraham often seems like a better title for the movie.

"He was the motivating factor behind the construction of the group in the first place," Olmos noted. "He managed it, did the sound, the lights, even drove the bus, even after they became very rich and very famous.

"People criticize him for driving his family too hard or being an obsessive type of father who drove his family crazy. Well, yeah, he did. When you continue to drive the bus after all the money in the world, that says something about the position you're in. That's what made him feel great."

Abraham Quintanilla's reportedly iron-fisted control of his daughter's career is soft-pedaled in Selena. However, a hint of a reason for his dominance is offered. Early in the film, Abraham's own failed career as a performer is detailed. Later, when someone asks him if Selena is ready to record a English-speaking crossover album he replies: "She's ready. We've been ready for a long time."

"That was very, very informative about the character," Olmos said. "I think it had everything to do with the way he handled the band."

LAST CALL FOR OSCAR PARTIES _ Good seats remain for three Academy Awards parties to be held Monday night when the prizes are presented in Los Angeles. Here's a last-minute reminder about three local events where you can watch the show:

The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission hosts its third Academy Awards Gala at the Coliseum at 535 Fourth Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Yours truly will be the emcee for the 6:30 p.m. event, which includes food, a cash bar and a silent auction of Hollywood memorabilia.

The list of items to be auctioned includes a poster for Portrait of a Lady signed by Nicole Kidman, a Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs lithograph, autographed photos of Robert De Niro, Tony Curtis and Rosie O'Donnell and a T-shirt from A League of Their Own signed by director Penny Marshall.

Tickets are $35 per person, with proceeds benefiting the film commission's scholarship fund and marketing efforts. Call 464-7240 for information.

An Academy Awards party to benefit the Human Rights Task Force will be held at Solar, a nightclub at 911 Franklin St. in downtown Tampa.

The evening includes munchies, a cash bar and prizes for the guests who select the most Oscar winners on a ballot provided at the door.

Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door. Call 226-9227 for information.

WFTS-TV Ch. 28 and WYUU-FM 92.5 are co-hosting an Oscars party at Frankie's Patio Bar & Grill, 1920 E Seventh Ave. in Ybor City. The evening's special guest will be actor Kathy Kinney, who plays a fashion-challenged rival on ABC's sitcom The Drew Carey Show.

Tickets are $25 per person, including refreshments and snacks. Proceeds benefit the Children's Home. Tickets are available at the door. Call 248-3337 for information.