For nearly 10 years, residents in a Central Valley farming community have had to drive nearly 40 miles to see the latest film, a rare trip for some in a place where a third of the population lives in poverty.
That all changed in May when Moctesuma Esparza, a Latino movie producer, opened his latest Maya Cinemas theater in Delano in his ongoing effort to open theaters in poor, rural areas in the U.S. that lack entertainment options. The $20 million project gives Delano's 53,000 residents access to recent movie releases in a high-end experience with luxury seating. In 1965, Delano helped spark Cesar Chavez's farm worker union movement.
Esparza, who produced the 1997 movie "Selena" and has opened up four identical theaters in poor areas in California, said poverty shouldn't sentence residents to "movie deserts" where inexpensive leisure is limited. He has vowed to do his part to change the landscape in rural America.
For years, rural communities in Appalachia, the American Southwest and the Mississippi Delta have seen small theaters close due to the high cost of technology updates and to economic downturns that discourage investors from taking over struggling movie houses.
Data from the National Association of Theater Owners, the trade organization that represents exhibitors, also found that the overall number of U.S. cinema sites fell 25 percent from 1995 to 2018. However, the number of screens spiked 45 percent, largely as a result of an increase in megaplex movie theaters opening in urban areas.