Hollywood Struggles to Represent Latinx People On Screen

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Aug 26, 2019

When Alfonso Cuarón won the Oscar for directing the subtitled “Roma” last year, he was only one of four Latinx filmmakers to have done so since he became the first in 2013 with “Gravity.” A new collaborative study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) and Wise Entertainment shows that not much has changed.

Hollywood is failing the Latinx community when it comes to its portrayal in popular movies. According to the study, “across the 100 top grossing movies from 2007-2018, only 3 percent of films featured leads or co-leads with [Latinx] actors.” And those leads are usually the same actors: Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Eugenio Derbez and Jessica Alba.

The study, which examined Latinx characters on-screen across 1,200 popular films between 2007 and 2018, also found a shortage of directors, producers and casting directors. With so few creatives of color calling the shots, only 4.5 percent of all speaking roles went to Latinx actors, while the group represents 18.1 percent of the population.

While the visibility for Latinx women appeared to increase between 2007 and 2018, the study still found that 828 of the movies reviewed erased them completely, compared to 688 for men. For Latinx folks in the LGBTQ+ community or living with a disability, the representation was even grimmer between 2014 and 2018—only five out of 500 and 13 out of 400 films included characters with these experiences, respectively.

“No matter which part of the film ecosystem we examined, Latinos were vastly underrepresented,” Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, said in a statement. “This community represents nearly half of Angelenos, 39 percent of Californians and 18 percent 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.”

Additionally, a qualitative analysis explored stereotyping of Latinx characters across 200 top films from 2017 to 2018 and learned that when they are represented, they are frequently stripped of their Latinx identity. For example, more than one-third of all Latinx speaking characters and 60 percent of popular actors were depicted without any cultural references; over half (61.9 percent) of all characters where shown engaging in criminal behavior.

“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.”

Read the full study results here.