While the past few years have been dominated by the narrative that diversity and inclusion in TV and film is moving in a positive direction, new research from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has found that for Latinos, under -representation and stereotypical representations remain firmly in place.
Additionally, on the rare occasions when Latinx characters are portrayed in major Hollywood movies, it’s even rarer that their cultural and ethnic heritage is explored on screen.
The study found that among 1,200 popular films released between 2007 and 2018 (a sample of the top 100 films per year), only 4.5% of more than 47,000 speaking or named roles went to Latinx actors. Only 3% were responsible or co-responsible.
The results are particularly striking considering that 77% of US states and territories have a Latinx population greater than the percentage seen in major Hollywood movies.
“No matter which part of the movie ecosystem we looked at, Latinos were vastly underrepresented,” said Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and co-author of the report. “At a time when Latinos in our country face intense concerns about their safety, we urgently need to see the Latino community represented authentically and accurately in entertainment.”
Behind the camera, the stats were just as bad. Of the 1,200 films reviewed, only 4% were directed by Latinx directors. Of these, 71% were from outside the United States and 29% of them were American. Only one director out of the 1,335 studied was Latina. (Latinx is a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina.)
Of the producers, only 3% were Latinx, with the majority being male – only 19 of them were Latina. Latinx casting directors were also rare. The few films that have Latinx directors, producers, and casting directors also have a greater representation of Latinx characters on screen.
“The Latino community has not been prioritized and it is imperative that we shine a light on the stark reality of Latino representation in film,” said Benjamin Lopez, executive director of the National Assn. Independent Latino Producers. “Dr. Smith’s research should guide policy makers to the conclusion that there is immense value in collaborating with and investing in the Latin American community.
Stereotypical depictions of the Latinx community also abound. Of 200 films reviewed, approximately 25% of Latinx-speaking characters were portrayed as criminals and 17% were portrayed as poor or low-income. Thirty-six percent of all Latinx-speaking characters and 60% of top Latinx actors were portrayed separately from a larger Latinx community, resulting in a lack of cultural artifacts, traditions, and traditions. other signifiers that could emphasize the ethnicity of the characters.
“The erasure of the Latino community in cinema creates a void that has been filled with hateful and violent rhetoric,” said Mauricio Mota, co-president of Wise Entertainment, an independent studio that offers Latinx stories. “It is imperative that talented storytellers in our community have the opportunity to tell the diverse and dynamic stories of Latino audiences.”
Although about half of Latinx leads or co-leads are women, five of the 17 lead actress roles in the films studied were played by Cameron Diaz. None of the movies she starred in hinted at her Latinx heritage.
Of the 100 highest-grossing films of 2018, 47 completely lacked a speaking or named character of Latino descent, and 70 completely lacked Latinas. In fact, 568 of the 1,200 movies studied didn’t even feature a single Latinx character, and 828 lacked Latinas altogether. Additionally, 95 of the Top 100 Movies of 2019 did not feature a disabled Latinx character and 98 were missing Latinx characters from the LGBTQ community.
USC Annenberg plans to release its more comprehensive annual report examining diversity and inequality in Hollywood’s on-screen representations soon.