Esai Morales, a New York-born actor of Puerto Rican descent, urged Latinos to get acquainted with and support Hispanic cinema in the United States and start exploring options beyond the Hollywood blockbuster.

The 48-year-old Morales, best-known for his role in the 1987 movie "La Bamba" and TV series such as "NYPD Blue," spoke to Efe before the Friday debut of his latest film, "Gun Hill Road," about a broken Hispanic family whose members strive to be accepted for who they are and break with stereotypes and societal conventions.

The film premieres in New York City before opening in other cities over the coming weeks. The limited distribution speaks to the lack of support for these types of movies compared with big studio productions such as "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," which will debut Friday in thousands of theaters nationwide.

"We make up 60 percent of the people going to the cinema," the actor told Efe, without citing a source for that figure. But he said Hispanic filmmakers still struggle to find funding for their projects because Latinos themselves don't support their movies at the box office.

In that regard, he noted that "it's a vicious cycle: people don't go see us and then they don't give us a budget. We're always pleading for it and that's infuriating," Morales said, adding that Hispanic audiences have a "colonized complex" that makes them favor Hollywood fare.

Besides promoting "Gun Hill Road," Morales urged Latino movie-goers to flock to see recent releases such as "A Better Life," in which Demian Bichir turns in an "Oscar-worthy" performance as a Hispanic gardner in East L.A. struggling to keep his son out of gangs.

"There's another exciting show, one that's from the heart, that doesn't need huge budgets to entertain," Morales said.

In "Gun Hill Road," Morales plays an ex-con and father who, upon his release from prison, returns to his family in the New York City borough of the Bronx and faces the biggest challenge of his life: to accept his loves ones for who they are, even if doing so means setting aside his long-held beliefs.

"It deals with the universal theme of acceptance," said Morales, who praised the work of actress Judy Reyes, first-time director Rashaad Ernesto Green and newcomer Harmony Santana, a transsexual actress who carries much of the film's dramatic weight.

"This film wouldn't have worked without Harmony because she bares her soul and it wouldn't have been the same if it'd been an actress pretending to be transsexual," Morales said.

"It's a labor of love. It's about Latinos for Latinos and the rest of the world," said the actor, who currently is reading a screenplay for a western titled "Pistolero" and directed by Dennis Leoni, creator of the Web series "Los Americans" in which Morales has a starring role.

In addition, two made-for-TV movies featuring Morales, a science-fiction thriller "Seattle Superstorm" and the kidnapping drama "We Have Your Husband," are scheduled to air soon.