FOR UMBERTO GONZALEZ, timing is the difference between scoring a Hollywood scoop, as he so often does, and being scooped. The difference between breaking the news and having it slowly break you.
For the past 13 years, Gonzalez (known to many by his Twitter handle: El Mayimbe) plied his trade and sharp timing at the entertainment website Latino Review, where he made a name for himself by staying on the cusp of major happenings in superhero cinema.
Yet it’s not only the breaking items that spur him on; it’s also the bigger picture. Last fall, for example, Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment announced within weeks of each other their ambitious comic book-movie slates spanning several years. Now typically, Gonzalez would have been upset that so many potential scoops had been revealed in one fell swoop. But he was cool-headed about it because in seeing the headlines, he was also reading the tealeaves.
Over the next five years, 29 comic-book movies will be produced by major Hollywood studios. An additional 12 potential films based on comic books are on the horizon, too. Gonzalez knew that the announcements signaled a new stage in the cinematic ramp-up. He calls it Hollywood’s Heroic Age.
With so many heroes about to hit the big screen, Gonzalez was confident that there was no better time to branch out on his own. So he announced he was leaving Latino Review, after the outlet was acquired by Robert Nardelli.
And on June 1, Gonzalez debuted his website, Heroic Hollywood, which is dedicated to superhero cinema. The site plans to thrive on the types of comic-book-movie scoops that his followers have long come to expect. And he publishes some true “talker” pieces, such as his recent post that said the real reason Marvel Studios won’t have a presence at Comic Con next month is because DC/Warner Bros. will put on a show so grand, there’s no point in trying to compete with it.
Heroic Hollywood has a growing staff of contributors to cover comic book-inspired entertainment in myriad ways.
And as both editor-in-chief of Heroic Hollywood and a webmaster himself, Gonzalez is very involved in the number-crunching of the site’s traffic. After Heroic Hollywood’s first week, he said, he was surprised that the site was already hitting six-figures in page views. “I’m a brand-new outlet … ,” he said. “I do the Google page-rank system and earn my stripes as a webmaster.”
The early numbers assuage Gonzalez, who admits to being nervous about creating his own site. Yet he’d seen enough colleagues go out on their own that he thought, “Why not me?”
“It’s always a risk — you just don’t know … ,” Gonzalez said about the uncertainty, despite his having tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram. “You just never know. There’s a lot of established websites in this [superhero] space already, as it is. My thing was, ‘How am I going to step out from the crowd?’ — and the only way I know is through scooping.”
On that front, it helps immensely that Gonzalez has a physical presence in Los Angeles. “A lot of superhero outlets, a lot of these fanboy outlets, they’re all headquartered in flyover states like Utah, Houston, Texas and Tennessee. And [not many] have foot soldiers in Los Angeles,” Gonzalez said. “They all aggregate news from everyone else, but none of them break scoops.
“That’s how I’ve been competing, because I’ve been a journalist for 13 years,” he continued. “I’ve developed sources here in Hollywood, and it was imperative for me to be back [in Hollywood] by the time I launched the site so I can sit with sources face to face.”
Sitdowns with sources have especially become a necessity, he said, in the wake of last year’s Sony email hacking case. He can’t rely on digital communication to the same extent he once did to gather true news.
“The Sony hack changed everything for a little while,” Gonzalez said. “I have to go out now and meet people and do coffee, do breakfast, do lunches, for information that I used to be able to get in an email or a text message. For a little while, until the Sony thing dies down, people are just paranoid with sending emails or text messages, so it’s a lot more face time.”
Yet landing scoops, Gonzalez said, has made him more recognizable — a fact that he believes can work against him when trying to break news.
“When I was hunting for Thanos” casting — a Marvel Studios role that went to actor Josh Brolin — “I got the ‘I know who you are.’ … If you can deal with the constant rejection, you’ll be fine. But it has been happening a lot more of late,” said Gonzalez, noting that the shift has made him more grateful for the sources he does have.
There are Gonzalez’s sources, and then there are his readers. Social media is not only a traffic driver, he said, but also a way to connect with readers, and keep his digital finger on the pulse of what kinds of stories they want. A recent post on a potential Power Rangers movie, for example, was the result of a Periscope Q-and-A with fans. Gonzalez wasn’t planning to post anything on the movie, because he wasn’t that interested in it, but his readership was — the function, he said, of many millennials growing up on Power Rangers.
“That’s why I do Periscope sessions,” Gonzalez said. “I do ‘Ask El Mayimbe’ on Thursday nights to engage my community, but also get leads on what I should be hunting. Power Rangers was one. I wasn’t in the generation that grew up with Power Rangers — my sister did. [She’s] a millennial, and it’s huge with them, and they asked me to cover Power Rangers.
“So that’s something that benefits my readers and myself. There’s only so much you can break on ‘Batman v. Superman,’ Marvel and DC. There’s got to be other stuff to break.”
Gonzalez said that as a fanboy himself, he still pinches himself that he gets to cover the superhero industry. As a kid, he was no stranger to Spider-Man costumes, and he became hooked on comic books in the early ’80s, with titles like G.I. Joe.
Power of the Green
The passion and loyalty of the fanboy community is a huge element, of course, within Hollywood’s superhero makeover. But there’s a more central reason that Hollywood is making so many superhero films, said Gonzalez, who boils it down to three words: Follow the money.
“These movies are [now] clearing easily a billion dollars at the box office. Those numbers cannot be ignored,” Gonzalez said. “Marvel is now at $8-billion since they obtained their line of financing from Merrill Lynch. They’re $8-billion in with just a handful of movies, and that is incredible growth.”
What that speaks to, Gonzalez said, is how well superhero stories travel; he cites “the power that these movies have, and the reach they have cinematically across the world.”
“Heroic stories have been timeless since the time of the Greeks. Basically, it’s just Greek modern myths reformatted with capes and powers,” he said. “It [is] a combination of the passionate fanbase, the combination of studios always looking for brands, and the box office performance.”
Amid this commercial climate, Gonzalez said that Heroic Hollywood has already attracted inquiries from investors. “There’s been some interest from venture capital companies. We’re waiting for the numbers for the first month to come in before I approach VC’s,” Gonzalez said of any potential investors which could lead to expansion on his site. “I want to have a weekly YouTube show. Develop an app. Produce a short film or two, and release it on the site. Scoops. A little bit of everything.”
With all the financial success of comic book movies, Gonzalez spoke, too, to the backlash. “I think it’s unfortunate. It’s a tad sad,” he said. “I started seeing the attack on superhero culture, and fanboy culture in general, and it was relentless. It’s ruthless, even. It’s basically a lot of highbrow critics and a lot of highbrow hipsters thinking they’re above it all, and better than it all — when again, these are movies that touch a global audience that are producing billions of dollars.
“Superhero movies are universal and they’re here to stay. Sure, there might be a hit or miss here and there, subject to execution, but I personally don’t believe in the superhero fatigue.”
Just as he sees some critics as not understanding superhero movies, Gonzalez said there are similar misunderstandings when it comes to marketing to young American Latinos. Gonzalez, a Dominican American from New York who has a large Latino following, said studios should understand that just because you translate something to Spanish doesn’t mean you’re going to reach young Latinos.
“A lot of my Latino readership wouldn’t care about a Spanish-language film. They want to know: Who is playing Thanos? Who is playing Spider-Man?” Gonzalez said. Studios “get these multicultural departments to do advertisements for a movie, and they’ll do it in Spanish knowing full well that these [American Latino] kids [today] are predominantly English speakers.”
“If you want to reach us, don’t market on Univision or Telemundo — market across the board on ‘Empire’ or something,” he said. “Latinos gravitate towards popular culture. We always have.”
Gonzalez has also enjoyed watching the diversity efforts at major comic-book companies, and sees the impact they have on movies.
“When’s the last time you’ve seen a Puerto Rican (Benicio del Toro) and a Dominican (Zoe Saldana) together in a big movie like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’v It’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “It’s a beam of pride for me to see Latino actors doing well.”
And on the personal level, Gonzalez’s contentment is enhanced by recent experience. He is a cancer survivor; he had surgery to remove a mass removed in 2013, and was told that had he not taken early preventative action, he might not have made it to age 40. At that point, he began considering where he next wanted to go with his life.
“Lying in the hospital bed, one of the things on the list was to take my career as a journalist to the next level,” Gonzalez said. “I’m happy where I’m at with my life. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”