A new study says Latinos were better represented in front of and behind the cameras in the 1950s than they are today. The same report asserts that stereotyping of Latinos in English-language movies and TV shows is worse than it was 20 years ago.
The 44-page report from Columbia University, called “The Latino Media Gap: A Report on the State of Latinos in U.S. Media” (read it here), was a collaboration of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race’s Media and Idea Lab at Columbia University, the Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers. It found that while the more than 50 million Latinos in the U.S. make up 17% of the population, there were no leading roles for Latino actors among the top 10 movies and scripted network TV shows in all of 2013. By contrast, Latinos on average made up only 2.8% of the U.S. population in the 1950s but accounted for 3.9% of lead actor roles and 1.5% of all leading roles.
“With few exceptions,” the report found, “Latino participation in mainstream English-language media is stunningly low. A review of the top movies and television programs reveals that there is a narrower range of stories and roles, and fewer Latino lead actors in the entertainment industry today than there were 70 years ago. Likewise, whereas the Latino population grew more than 43% from 2000 to 2010, the rate of media participation behind and in front of the camera, and across all genres and formats, stayed stagnant or grew only slightly, at times proportionally declining.”
And despite decades of promises from the networks to increase minority representation behind the cameras, the report found that “the main strategy employed by most media companies over the last decades – the creation of diversity executive positions and departments – has been relatively ineffective in increasing diversity in both creative and leadership pools.”
The report found that from 2010-2013, Latinos comprised none of the top 10 TV show creators, 1.1% of producers, 2% of writers, and 4.1% of directors. Among top 10 movies, Latinos accounted for 2.3% of directors, 2.2% of producers, and 6% of writers. Even more dramatic, no Latinos currently serve as studio heads, network presidents, CEOs, or owners. The report also found that there was only one Latina among the top 53 executives at the studios and in all of English-language broadcasting.
The report does not include the representation of Latinos working in front of and behind the cameras at Spanish-language broadcasters such as Univision and Telemundo, where the number of non-Hispanic writers, directors, producers, actors and executives is as low as the number of their Latino counterparts working in English-language media – a new twist on the old phrase “separate but equal.” Univision isn’t even mentioned in the report, and Telemundo is only cited in a footnote.
“On television and movies, Latinos continue to be represented primarily as criminals, law enforcers, and cheap labor,” according to the report. “From 2012 to 2013, 17.7% of Latino film characters and 24.2% of TV characters were linked to crime, a considerable increase from 1994, when it was only 6% on television … Equally important, 69% of iconic media maids in film and television since 1996 are Latina.”
Latino men, meanwhile, “have disappeared as leading actors,” the report claims, though the percentage of Latinas and Afro-Latino actors is rising.
The report further found that “news is worse than fiction.” “Stories about Latinos constitute less than 1% of news media coverage,” according to the report, “and the majority of these stories feature Latinos as lawbreakers. Moreover, Latino participation in front and behind the camera is extraordinarily low: as of 2013, there were no Latino anchors or executive producers in any of the nation’s top news programs.”
The report concluded: “Latinos are a powerful force in American society. Topping 53 million, Latinos constitute one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States, comprising 17% of the population and over 20% of the key 18-34 marketing demographic. Relative to the general population, Latinos also attend more movies and listen to radio more frequently than do any other U.S. racial or ethnic group. In addition, their purchasing power is steadily increasing. By 2015, Hispanic buying power is expected to reach $1.6 trillion. To put this figure in perspective, if U.S. Latinos were to found a nation, that economy would be the 14th largest in the world. Moreover, they are watchful of their image: When programs or films are perceived to have anti-Latino content, advocacy groups and consumers target studios and networks with increasingly effective campaigns. Simultaneously, programs and movies featuring compelling Latino talent and storylines are rewarded with high ratings and revenue.”