Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Two of today’s PBS panels at TCA focused on documentary projects about the Latino experience: The Graduates/Los Graduados (two parts, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4) and Latino Americans (Tuesdays Sept. 17-Oct 1). On both panels, Latino actors who are part of the projects said Hollywood needs to better engage the Latino community.
The Graduates focuses on the experience of Latino high school students struggling to make it to graduation day. Featured students Eduardo Corona and Chastity Salas sat on today’s panel with senior series producer Lois Vossen. The panel also included two young actors who are project participants: Wilmer Valderrama (That ‘70s Show) and Aimee Garcia (Dexter).
Said Valderrama: “When I first joined That ‘70s Show I was the only Latino on the Fox network. For many years, I wasn’t considered Latino, I was just a comic actor.” He believes that was not because of a deliberate attempt to keep Latinos off the air but the fact that network chiefs are still predominantly white, middle-aged and male.
He said networks and movie companies should work harder to woo the Latino audience because he believes that group is more like to watch TV at airtime and go out to movies when “everybody else is watching on DVD. We all go out together, and that’s why our numbers are so high.”
Valderrama joked that Hollywood discovers Latinos “once every 3 and a half years. I remember seeing Ricky Martin on the cover of Time [in 1999]. It has been very amusing to me. I think the industry really wants to embrace [Latinos} but they tiptoe and try not to alienate the existing audience.” He added: “There is a lot of stuff in development that has not yet hit the air.”
Said Garcia: “We’re mainstream. We go to see Twilight. We’re here.”
The two actors on the Latino Americans panel have a longer history in the business: Academy Award winner Rita Moreno and Benjamin Bratt, who narrates the series. Appearing with journalist Ray Suarez (author of the companion book) and producer Adriana Bosch, they too addressed the issue of appealing to a Latino audience — yet being inclusive.
Bratt acknowledged underrepresentation but said it’s all about presenting good material, regardless of race. Moreno challenged him: “I’m going to be adversarial: Why do [shows with minority leads] have to be so good and the rest of the crap succeeds and gets great ratings?”
Only half-joking, Suarez called the phenomenon “the privilege of mediocrity. Being inane is a privilege. It shows you’ve made it.”
Suarez drew laughs when he cited this evidence of bias against Latinos in America: People make a point of telling him how much they hate to “Press 2 for Spanish” on many dial-in systems. “Why do you hate that? ” he exclaimed. “If you don’t want Spanish, don’t press 2.”