The summer movie season is coming to a close and there have been diverse stories sprinkled amongst the films featured in theaters, but one group remains underrepresented: Latinos. In a study from Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative in partnership with National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) and Wise Entertainment, Hollywood has failed the Latinx community when it comes to their portrayal in popular movies.
The comprehensive and in-depth study examined the prevalence of Latino characters on-screen across 1,200 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2018. In addition, it shed light on the presence — or lack of — Latinos working as directors, producers, and casting directors. On top of that, a qualitative analysis explored stereotyping of Latino actors and characters across 200 top films from 2017 and 2018.
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According to the study, the top films are dragging their feet when it comes to representing Latino characters. Only 4.5% of all 47,268 speaking or named characters across the last 12 years were Latino, as were a mere 3% of lead or co-lead actors. As the years went on, little to no change was seen. This is not reflective of the representation of the Latinx community in the real world as 77% of U.S. states and territories have a population of Latinos greater than the percentage seen in Hollywood films.
“No matter which part of the film ecosystem we examined, Latinos were vastly underrepresented,” said Dr. Smith. “This community represents nearly half of Angelenos, 39% of Californians, and 18% of the U.S. population. At a time where Latinos in our country are facing intense concerns over their safety, we urgently need to see the Latino community authentically and accurately represented throughout entertainment.”
When it comes to behind the camera, 4% of directors of these 1,200 films were Latino. The majority (71%) were international directors, while 29% were from the U.S. Only one director out of 1,335 examined was a Latina. Among producers, 3% were Latino, with the scales tipping toward men. Just 19 Latinas worked as producers across the 1,200 top movies of the last 12 years.
In addition to the lack of presence of the Latinx community in the directors’ chair and in producing roles, casting directors are also rare. However, when there were members of the Latinx community in top positions, their influence was seen in their work as the presence of Latinx characters increased significantly.
“The Latino community has not been prioritized, and it is imperative that we shed light on the glaring reality of Latino representation in film,” said Benjamin Lopez, Executive Director of NALIP. “NALIP has positioned itself to be the elegant solution to this complex problem through our commitment to building the pipeline of Latino talent and sustainable development in the industry. Dr. Smith’s research must guide decision-makers to the conclusion that there is immense value in collaborating with and investing in the Latino community.”
When the Latinx community was represented in film, they were often portrayed through a stereotypical lens. Roughly a quarter of both top-billed and all Latino speaking characters across 200 movies were depicted as criminals, and 17% of all Latino speaking characters were portrayed as poor or with a lower income. One key finding is that 36% of all Latino speaking characters and 60% of top-billed characters lacked signifiers regarding their ethnic identity or a connection to the Latinx community.
Nearly one-half of the Latinx leads or co-leads were women, but five of the 17 leading ladies were played by Cameron Diaz. Once again, there was no signifier of the culture. The lack of leading characters whose Latino identity is part of the narrative fabric of top films means that audiences rarely see the cultural diversity of Latinos represented in storytelling.
“The erasure of the Latino community in film creates a void that has been allowed to be filled by hateful and violent rhetoric,” said Mauricio Mota, Co-President of Wise Entertainment and producer of the Emmy-nominated series East Los High. “It is imperative that the talented storytellers from our community are given opportunities to tell the diverse and vibrant narratives of the Latino audience.”
According to an MPAA report from 2017, the Latinx community go to the movies in far greater numbers than their percentage of their population. They reported the highest annual attendance per capita, going to the movies on an average of 4.5 times a year, buying 23% of the tickets sold in 2017. That said, Hollywood should be clamoring to capitalize on Latinx attendance, but the study shows differently.
The study also sees an erasure of Latinx characters in popular movies. Across the 100 top-grossing films of 2018, 47 were completely missing a speaking or named Latinx character and 70 were missing Latinas. This compounds over time such that 568 movies out of 1,200 did not feature even one Latino character and 828 were devoid of Latinas. From an intersectional standpoint, 95 movies out of the 100 top films of 2018 did not feature a Latino character with a disability and 98 were missing Latinos from the LGBTQ community.
The study doesn’t just point out Hollywood’s shortcomings when it comes to Latinx representation, it offers solutions. It suggests making changes in casting, building a pipeline for Latinx filmmakers and urges companies to hire Latinx talent for advertising and other forms of storytelling.
Read the full study here.
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