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Maids, Gangsters, and the Fiery Latina: Hollywood's Latino Diversity Problem

Posted on 04/28/2016 @ 12:45 AM

Photo Credit: Devious Maids Wikia

By: Mark Salay, LULAC National Communications Intern

Hollywood’s diversity problem has been subject to plenty of criticism since the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but for the entertainment industry to make major headway it needs to take further steps than simply recognize the problem.

A letter sent out on April 18 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’ Board of Governors outlined new voter eligibility requirements to its members, and although the change does seek to bring new perspectives to a selection committee that is mostly made up of older white men, the issue is not about who gets an award and who doesn’t, but on changing an industry that still doesn’t reflect the country’s demographics.

The truth is that the dominant share of gatekeepers in Hollywood–executives, agents, and money backers–also look a lot like the voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. With producers, financiers, writers, and directors having power over the type of content created, the absence of minorities in these positions only perpetuates exclusion on the screen.

According to a study by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, minorities in television are underrepresented starting at the earliest stages of project development. Out of the 1,046 TV pilots in development for the 2015-2016 season, only 22 percent had at least one person of color on the development team. Of these pilots, only a select few get picked up. Hypothetically speaking, even if every single pilot featuring at least one person of color gets a greenlight, minorities would still be underrepresented at the development stage by a two to one margin.

When people of color are given the chance to write, the story comes out much differently. At Monday’s Pulitzer Prize announcements, Puerto Rican Lin-Manuel Miranda walked away with the prize for best drama for his Broadway hit, Hamilton, a telling of Alexander Hamilton’s life starring actors of color.

The musical has proven popular with audiences–its website lists the chances of you getting a ticket as “extremely limited”–showing execs that diverse casts win awards and sell out theaters. In fact, increasing diversity in TV and film also shows to draw more people in. Films with balanced casting see the highest return on investment and for television, minority household viewership peaks when minorities makeup more than half the cast, according to the Bunche study.

Although we are starting to see television embrace diversity with casting minorities in lead roles and developing complex themes that break stereotypical depictions with shows such as Jane the Virgin, Black-ish, and Fresh Off the Boat, these offerings have been the exception, not the norm.

Another study by the Media, Diversity & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that across all media platforms, only 28.3 percent of speaking roles go to minorities, and of that, only 5.8 percent go to Latinos. Furthermore, the study also found that when speaking parts were given to Latinas, they were in more sexualized roles than all other races and ethnicities.

With Latinos making up 17 percent of the population, such disparity in speaking roles grossly underrepresents Latinos and dilutes complex identities into nothing more than fiery Latinas with hot accents and gangbangers. I ask, why must Latinos still go on auditions and get told by white casting directors they need to act and speak “more Mexican” to get the part?

This speaks to the larger racial issues this industry has historically ignored and is especially problematic considering that many non-minorities may base their own opinions and perceptions of minority groups off of media portrayals. Typecasting Latinos and other underrepresented groups has the consequence of keeping people from seeing the important role minorities play in shaping the American experience.

Latinos buy 25 percent of movie tickets each week, the most out of any demographic, yet, they still see themselves portrayed one-dimensionally through the eyes of others whenever they purchase a ticket or watch television. Hollywood runs much like an exclusive fraternity, however, that doesn’t justify those select few from controlling and telling the narrative of what the Latino experience is. Audiences deserve better, Latinos deserve better.

Mark Salay is the Communications Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in communication with minors in history and professional writing, and will be graduating in the Spring of 2016.

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