By the year 2050, the nation’s racial and ethnic mix will look quite different than it does now. The Latinx population is expected to triple, and eventually become the second largest ethnic group making up roughly 47% of the total U.S. population.
Not only is the anticipated population growth staggering, Hispanics are the nation’s most avid moviegoers. Unfortunately, even though they are dipping into their pockets to support the industry more than anyone else, they won’t see too many faces that look like theirs on the big screen until there is a massive shift from what’s currently happening. Multiple recent studies on diversity and inclusion in film have found the filmmaking industry as a whole fails miserably in representing the demographic makeup of society. Moral of the story: What you see definitely isn’t what you get!
The facts and figures don’t lie, and they tell us the TRUE story on marginalization of the Latinx community behind and in front of the camera. Let’s look at the trends based on the top-grossing 100 films over the past 12 years.
What percentage of films featured Latino leads or co-leads?
The answer – 3%. In addition, of the non-starring roles, only 4.5% of all speaking characters were Latino. Put this up against population numbers that show almost 80% of U.S. states and territories have a population of Latinos greater than the percentage seen in Hollywood films and you have a major disconnect.
What percentage of Latinos either directed or produced these films?
The answer, 4% and 3%, respectively. Plus, only one director out of 1,335 examined was a Latina. In addition, just 3% of the casting directors across the same sample of films was Latino. These numbers matter because the mere presence of Latinos on the production team of these movies can change the landscape drastically.
For films with a Latino director, the percentage of Latino characters on screen increased from 4% to 13%. Similar increases were observed when a Latino producer or casting director were involved with the number of Latino actors more than doubling from 4% to 9% in each scenario.
So, when Latinos show up on screen, they are presented in dignified, flattering roles, right?
Not even close. More often than not, storylines portraying Latino actors prevented any outward display of Latin heritage or pride. About 25% of films showed Latino characters as lawbreakers or offenders of violent and non-violent crimes, nearly 20% were shown as poor or living in poverty, while just 4% were shown in high-level jobs.
Are they invisible?
A perfectly valid question for Latinx moviegoers who are becoming increasingly frustrated with an industry that has yet to understand the power of their dollar or embrace the multi-dimensional nature of the Latino identity.
So what do we do about it?
Change like this requires a top-down approach with individuals in authority and decision-making positions leading the way to create space and opportunity for Latino creatives. Ideas range from grassroots efforts, such as community outreach, to offering increased Federal funding for Arts programs. Everyone, from talent agencies to lawmakers, can play an important role in promoting and incentivizing an environment that is inclusive for all.