Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker TíoLouie of PRIME LATINO MEDIA Is Helping To Change Our World
If you’re going to be at the helm of your non-profit or for-profit company, expect four to five hours of sleep per night. When opening my non-profit and creating programs of eight weeks for Latino and Black teens that consisted of 50 kids, six days a week ~ it was working until 2AM and getting up at 6AM. Still do it now.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing TíoLouie.
For 11 years he has been the founder & Executive Producer of PRIME LATINO MEDIA, the largest, New York City-based network spanning the East Coast from Montréal to the Caribbean (Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico) of independent Latino multimedia-makers, actors and musicians in bilingual Latino and mainstream media, digital and entertainment. For 42 years he has been the President of Skyline Features, a bilingual (English and Spanish-language) multimedia and educational production company developing documentaries, television programming and advertising commercials featuring Latinos, Blacks, Women, Urban Youth, LGBTQ and Children with Disabilities. But for 30 years at the core of his work and what has defined him the most is his media advocacy for the BIPOC community committed to altering negative cultural, ethnic and racial stereotypes, further reinforced when in 1993, TíoLouie founded SKYLINE COMMUNITY; a non-profit organization training 1,500, low-income, Latino & Black youth to produce 70 documentary shorts over 10 years on social, public & mental health issues impacting their lives through a work-based learning program and turning them into media literate consumers and advocates.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
Initially, gained extensive experience in the medical field as a teenager and attended college as pre-Med to pursue a career as an OB/GYN and then entered nursing school to become a midwife, but finally decided not to pursue a medical career. Having studied German, took a job assisting a German journalist and as his photo editor obtaining photographs to accompany stories was my entrée into journalism and media. The following year, opened an international photographic agency distributing photos in 18 countries, ultimately making the transition from the still image to the moving image. In the early ‘90’s developed a television pilot celebrating Black culture and music before realizing what was I doing for my Latino community, also. Wanting to make a difference, but only knowing how to make videos, I went back to my South Bronx roots where my community was comprised exclusively of Latinos and Blacks in what is still the poorest congressional district in the USA. In wanting to give back to my original community and as a social reformer targeting youth, I launched a non-profit training economically disadvantaged Latino and Black youth to make documentary shorts to counter the negative stories depicting their community in mainstream media, highlight the positive role models who were rarely ever featured, all while also addressing issues in our community; but leaving it up to these young ambassadors to tell their stories from their own indelible POV.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
After I closed the international photographic agency, I was determined to pursue producing television and film. Having traveled around the world as an international journalist and speaking five languages, I was drawn to global music whether I understood the language or not. So, to learn the ropes about producing television, I launched public access television a weekly, live show as Executive Producer and host entitled, International Music Video devoted to foreign music and international travel linked with music. On one show while on stage, just to shake things up a little bit, I got into a bathtub in a bathrobe with a bottle of champagne that I proceeded to consume completely during a 30-minute program. Needless to say, I was drunk by the latter part of the show — not very becoming or charming for the host of the show and least of all, for someone who wanted to be taken seriously as a television producer. Learned my lesson. Since then, determined to always be in control, I have minimal alcoholic consumption at professional gatherings and most certainly none when I am hosting television or public events to be sharp as a whistle and on all burners, as we say. Thus, a reputation I hold in the media & entertainment industry and the trust I have gained by the Latino professional community as a serious businessperson committed to community taking the projects and careers of independent multimedia artists onto a higher plane.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
In 2005, I made a documentary entitled, Latina Confessions (What does it mean to be Latina in the USA?). It begs the quintessential question that many Latinos born in the USA wrestle with, “Where do I belong?” And often the answer that looms is, “I don’t belong here nor there.” I travelled with this 60-minute documentary funded from my own pocket to over 100 colleges throughout the USA from east to west coast, New England to the Midwest. I addressed Latino student unions, as well as LGBT with that film and other short documentaries I produced. I will never forget at Bowdoin College, a liberal arts college in Maine, when at the conclusion of a screening and time for Q&A an Afro-Latina thanked me for including Afro-Latinas in the documentary as interview subjects. I responded that as a gay Latino man, I often saw myself omitted in U.S. mainstream and Latino media and that worse than being misrepresented is the pain of not being included at the table, story, and images. Because of that, as a white Latino man, I always made a calculated decision that whether I was putting together a panel discussion, one photo, or telling a story in a short film or feature there was always a healthy representation that included beyond white Latinos or males, at least one woman, person of African and/or indigenous heritage, as well as LGBT. And if I can weave in Asian, Jewish or Muslim, I made a concerted effort to locate an appropriate and qualified party to represent the broad, diverse and treasured cornucopia within our community. That is the tone I always set.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
My life has always been drawn to alternative folk, the underdog and disenfranchised. Once they are established, popular or celebrities, they don’t need me, nor am I interested. I am drawn to the outcasts in society who have triumphed despite the tide against them. I am also drawn to people who have been labeled pariahs because of their sexual fluidity or are liberated sexually. I love best-kept-secrets and my job is to locate them and expose them for greater and broader visibility. I was drawn to an unsung hero, Bayard Rustin. A gay African-American man who in 1953 was busted for having sex with a man in his car. He went on to become the architect of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s non-violence stance in fighting for civil rights, plus was the producer of his successful1963 march of 200,000 on Washington, D.C. for Black rights and the working poor that produced his famous, “I have a dream” speech.” Yet a powerful congressman from NYC, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., in 1960 threatened to tell the press that King was involved in a homosexual affair with Rustin unless King called off plans to demonstrate at the upcoming Democratic National Convention — all untrue, but Dr. King refused to give that claim any merit. However, shortly after that and due to his being a potential liability, he cut Bayard Rustin from his inner circle for fear that it was hard enough fighting for Black rights, but fighting for gay rights, too would risk losing it all. And for females, I admire the Puerto Rican actress who got her first film role in 1953 and then she founded in 1967 one of the first bilingual theater companies in all the U.S., the off-Broadway institution, the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater on W. 47th Street. Besides being a tremendous actress in film and on stage, she was an incredible fundraiser for her theater and before she died in 1980 — atypical of some who create institutions — in order to carry out her legacy and believing in succession planning, she passed the theater to fellow-Puerto Rican native, Rosalba Colón in the Bronx who already had a theater, Pregones devoted to Latino arts in the South Bronx and created a larger theatrical network to benefit the community.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
After devoting a portion of my life to training Latino and Black youth to produce documentaries, now through PRIME LATINO MEDIA, I am working exclusively with mid-level independent multimedia-makers, actors and musicians who just need one more push up the ladder to gain success on a mainstream level. And the underlying mantra for our professional network is, “Latinos for Social Change.” The projects I am most drawn to and whose content-creators I pour my energy into supporting are producing subject-matter that range from music about the immigrant experience to a play about disappeared women in Mexico where an average of 10 disappear per day. Or a documentary feature about the history of LGBT ballroom documented by an Afro-Puerto Rican who wrestled for self-acceptance behind the lens because of a Christian evangelical mother to another film about three women whose lives were shaped by trauma, yet successful and are now tackling the next challenge by climbing some of the world’s highest mountains. Working with Puerto Rican filmmakers on the island in a 12-part series exploring violence against women, Seniors and on the streets — a micro of the macro plaguing the world to a Cuban filmmaker’s project about a Hungarian-Jewish poet who perished in the Holocaust. These projects by skilled, qualified and “proven” artists have a strong message that the world needs to reckon with when given greater visibility intended for the masses if we truly call ourselves social reformers and humanitarians.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
Since at least 2001, I was involved at the national and New York City level with the National Association of independent Latino Producers (NALIP). When I was the president of the NYC chapter, one of my Cuban members stated to me out at an event that though the organization was based in LA, he had no contact with them and that I was the face of the organization in New York City. Latinos are not a monolith. We are from 19 different countries. We are Caucasian, indigenous, of African heritage, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, et cetera. Though the West Coast and southwest are predominantly of Mexican heritage, NYC has historically since the 1930s been predominantly of Caribbean extraction, though the Mexican population is growing here, also. We are also bilingual including South America and Central America. That was how and when in 2012, I decided to launch PRIME LATINO MEDIA, reflective of our local and particular Latin American influence that reflect who we are, the stories we tell and express ourselves artistically. That’s why I felt it was time to launch this professional media and ethnic network collaborating with some of the nine, local Latino theaters in NYC and organizations like the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) who I have partnered with for the last decade and who this year at their gala on October 16th, 2023, honored me with the Excellence in Media Award. This is how we’re making a difference throughout the East Coast of the United States all the way down to the Caribbean that include, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. When there’s a need, you fill it and the community comes, especially when your intentions are earnest and champion for the greater good to ensure that we always have a place at the table ensuring a greater degree of inclusivity.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
My nickname of TíoLouie has been earned by playing the role of mentor in my life and through professional interactions for the last 30 years. There are many that I have mentored as teenagers and are still a constant in my life since they were teenagers and today are approaching their mid 40s. There’s Francis Solis, a proud Afro-Honduran (Garifuna) who I brought into my nonprofit in the ’90s and because I saw her as a rising star invited her to participate in several programs, followed her through a college career rooting her on and eventually graduating with a Master’s in Guidance Counseling ensuring that she successfully attained her goals and then working with Latino and Black youth in impoverished communities in NYC. There’s Yaltiza Miranda, a Puerto Rican from the South Bronx, who as a junior in high school I adopted her into my programs and she worked with me for a number of years, getting an associate degree and finishing her bachelor’s degree working now for the city of New York. There’s Elvin Legros of Salvadoran background who I took on board and saw his promise from the very beginning as a teenager, got him an internship and a mentor at Nickelodeon where he ended working for over 15 years. Then there’s Dominican-American, Fior Santana Vij who from the get-go I knew was a firecracker from day one and she never, ever disappointed me. She landed an internship and mentor at HBO Max where she worked for nearly 20 years in the international distribution department. These are a few of my lifelong mentees who as their TíoLouie am proud to call my nieces and nephews. And in my work with adults in mid-level careers as independent artists it ranges from José Roldán who I have championed with his one-man theatrical show about coming out to his Puerto Rican father in the South Bronx and now has two master’s degrees in writing to helping female filmmakers get funding ranging from $7,500 for a finished film about middle school Dominican kids in Washington Heights to $10K to tell a story about a unique Mexican “Quinceañera” in a border town of Texas. This is how we grow the next generation of independent artists, cultivate a forum for content creators, and inspire having a conscience for humanity that make the world a better place with Latino storytellers present, also.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
- Funding, funding, funding, especially for social justice, historical (so we never forget where and from whom we came from), investigational and narrative projects.
- Invest in our youth through after-school programs in their local community.
- Education reform is at the root of social reform.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- If you’re going to be at the helm of your non-profit or for-profit company, expect four to five hours of sleep per night. When opening my non-profit and creating programs of eight weeks for Latino and Black teens that consisted of 50 kids, six days a week ~ it was working until 2AM and getting up at 6AM. Still do it now.
- You don’t always need a degree to do the work you do and love, and college is not for everybody. Having attended prep school, it was an imperative academic roadmap drilled into your head that you go to college. I thought that was my only ticket to success. And when I gave up a full scholarship to four years of college and dropped out after three semesters, I questioned myself initially, but not in the long-run. By the time I was 22 when most of my friends had graduated from college, I had an international photographic agency and by then covered the Falkland Crisis as a journalist for a German magazine and TIME, to name a few news stories. Then later when training youth in documentary production, I worked extensively through the New York City and Newark public school system and oftentimes giving master classes to teachers with master’s degrees.
- Go for it ~ take a risk and don’t look back! In 1991 at the height of the recession under George H. W. Bush, I couldn’t get a job in production. So, I relied on my medical background in the arena of women’s reproductive health and took a job for two years in a hospital. As fulfilling as it was initially, then quickly realized this was not my calling and there was a reason why I didn’t complete my medical degree. So, one August I just quit with no financial padding and no strategic path laid out, but to make a difference in the world and that I wanted to leave a mark as part of my legacy. During that time, a friend invited me to LA. I visited several nonprofit organizations feeling I was leaning towards that arena. Then I was introduced to someone in NYC who I asked for venture capital to launch my business and the best he and his wife offered was to put me up in an office, provide me with a computer and photocopier, paying all the bills and thus I launched my non-profit organization after creating a grant and curriculum for training youth in video production and media literacy and the rest is history. Can this backfire? Absolutely. But you must try and go for your dreams. The objective is to take to your grave as few regrets as possible and feel that you gave it your best try.
- Children are not the problem. When wanting to save a generation in the early ’90s of Latino and Black youth from where I came originally, I thought they were the problem that needed to be fixed. In time, I learned they were not the problem. These were eager young people who connected with those that they felt championed for them, embraced challenges and exploring new horizons in different fields. Oftentimes, it was the adult administrators who were impediments in their local school, community, neighborhood or jurisdiction. And for those trying to empower and lift our young people, especially teenagers or younger, we forget to weave their families and local communities along for the ride as members of the village shaping these lives. In the process I learned that I couldn’t do it alone, that there would be detractors and obstacles, but that there were always allies to reach our young people who could then succeed at whatever task you gave them once you believed in them and showed them the way.
- Basic guiding principles: be kind, generous, treat people with respect and dignity, apologize and be grateful. Oftentimes we rely on degrees such as an MBA, master’s, college or associate degree, when sometimes it’s the basics that we learned or should have learned in kindergarten that will get us through life and truly make the world a better place and less chaotic. I have accomplished much in life because I have often — not always — practiced basic human and universal principles. When you are kind to people they respond and open. When you are generous, be it a bowl of soup to a hungry person or a hug to someone in need, they flower. One issue many share is the inability to say two simple words, “I’m sorry” — whether they are right or wrong, a great tool to diffuse a challenging situation or when you have plain “hurt” another human being — they are diamonds to someone’s ears. Also, when you treat someone irrespective of their station in life with disdain because of how high their position is or treat them with contempt or ignoring someone you deem below you because of finance, homelessness, capacity, ability or any of the “isms” ranging from a facial deformity to weight ~ if we suspended judgment for one moment, people respond to respect and dignity craved by all human beings. And what we often forget in life is to simply say “thank you” after a generous, kind and respectful act that goes a long way, can be emulated and reciprocated.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I am proudly a spiritual atheist who abides by the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I believe profoundly that we all want to be treated well in life by strangers, family or loved ones. And if for one second, we thought of this philosophy before treating someone poorly or in an inferior manner and put ourselves in their shoes, we would be living in a different and more peaceful world, work environment, community, neighborhood and home.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
For 30 years I have toyed with the idea of getting a MacArthur Genius Award (nomination by a committee only) that comes with a substantial financial grant. Not because I think I’m smarter than anyone else, but because it would open additional doors and give me the funding to promote and sponsor projects by indie artists in providing opportunities to realize their social-reforming projects, ideas and initiatives. Having had a non-profit organization for 10 years and having no interest in opening another one (why should I be solely relegated to a non-profit organization to do good and why not make money doing good that then spreads the wealth to others in the community, too?), would welcome being recognized by the Ford Foundation for the work I already do with a grant that has no strings attached. However, the ideal goal is to get an advertising sponsor — since we don’t charge our members a fee to belong to this community of independent content creators, yet continue to provide them with free events and gatherings cultivating this forum as an incubator for these influencers who have a direct pipeline into the Latino community of consumers and fellow-content creators to fund their current projects by providing greater visibility and those in development.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Never having had my own biological children but raised children as the eldest in a family who raised 20 foster children and others over the years, and the many I have mentored from my non-profit in the ‘90’s and now through PRIME LATINO MEDIA, I have many nieces and nephews who I consider my children. Loving the book, The Complete Life’s Little Instruction Book by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. is comprised of 1,560 pearls of wisdom that he wrote for his son and gifted him this book of one-liners as he took off for freshman year in college, my favorite line by which I try to live my life:
“Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.”
How can our readers follow you online?
FACEBOOK Group: Prime Latino Media
PRIME LATINO MEDIA Website:
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!
Contact: TíoLouie/Louis E. Perego Moreno,
Founder & Executive Producer
PRIME LATINO MEDIA
New York, NY
Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker TíoLouie of PRIME LATINO MEDIA Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.