How This Film Producer Inspired the Creator of ‘Hamilton’

One of few Latinos in Hollywood, Elizabeth Avellan produced “SpyKids,” which inspired a young Lin-Manuel Miranda, who later wrote and starred in the Broadway smash hit “Hamilton.”

By Joy DiazOctober 4, 2016 12:30 pm

If you look around you, and if you listen to the many accents of Texans, you’ll notice you are surrounded by immigrants – some who came long ago, some newly arrived. You may be an immigrant yourself.

The value of immigrant contributions to Texas is beyond measure.

A central Texas group called American Gateways decided this year to recognize people who have inspired, empowered and set an example for other immigrants. The organization has named three people for the first award of its kind in Texas.

One of the honorees is film producer Elizabeth Avellan, from Venezuela. She’s also the business partner and former spouse of Texas film director Robert Rodriguez.

This is Avellan’s story, in her own words:

I guess I am an immigrant. I have been here 42 years and I’ve been able to come in, work really hard and create what I’ve created. I’ve done over a billion dollars worth of box office in this country, with our company making all of these films. I’m very appreciative of it. And I feel that I am a good example of what can happen to a little girl who came – not knowing the language – coming in and giving her all to create what I’ve created.

I come from a family of seven children and I am the second-oldest. But I was always the leader of my siblings and the one who always achieved highly in school. I got into Rice University at 16 years old and I was able to be an example to them. I didn’t really understand what my talents were or how they came together, and it was in a movie called “Broadcast News” that Holly Hunter plays a news producer. I saw this film in the theater and I thought, that is what my talents are for. I didn’t know what it was necessarily called before but now I had a name – a producer.

I’ve had great mentors in Hollywood, both women and men – but wonderful women like Lynda Obst and Debra Hill have guided me through the shark-infested waters of Hollywood. So, as a woman, there always been this thing that we are the minority in that field and you just can’t let that stop you. You have to still swim, and swim harder than anybody, so the shark don’t get ya.

But let me tell you a story about how and what we accomplished through “SpyKids” – what I accomplished as a producer can change the lives of people and can help them be inspired.

Carlos Gomez, who was in “Desperado” with us and a wonderful actor, was in “In the Heights,” the Broadway play. I happened to be in New York so he invited me and my children to come watch the musical. Carlos asked me to meet Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was the writer … played the lead and narrator. As soon as he saw me he started crying, and I started crying. He told me that he was a teacher when he was 22 or 23 years old and that he had never seen before any positive portrayals of Latinos empowering children to what they could be.

He saw “SpyKids,” when “SpyKids” first came out and he took his whole class to see “SpyKids” because he wanted these kids to feel empowered through the portrayal of Latinos.

He told me that, because of “SpyKids,” he was inspired to pick up his play that he had been working on and thinking about – “In the Heights” – and making that happen. Imagine this young man, who now has done “Hamilton” and winning more awards than anyone has ever won.