Despite their population representation in the U.S. (to date: 18 percent of the country’s population, and twice that in Hollywood’s own home state, California) and their big interest in going to the movies (20 percent of current movie-goers), a new study finds that Latinx performers are woefully underrepresented on the big screen.
In association with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers and Wise Entertainment, USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has released a new study, titled “Latinos in Film: Erasure on Screen & Behind the Camera Across 1,200 Popular Movies,” which looks at the 1,200 top titles at the box office from 2007-18.
The thrust of it: of the 100 top-grossing movies from 2007 to 2018, only 3% of the films had Latinx actors in lead or co-lead roles. The study also found that there has been “no meaningful change in representation over the 12-year time period that the study examined, [which is] out of step with population statistics and is puzzling given that Latinx audiences see more movies than other ethnic groups.”
The study is the latest eye-opening look at representation in film from Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, best known for examining everything related to on-screen and behind-the-camera representation, with a special eye towards filmmakers of color and female filmmakers.
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Per its official perimeters, it “examined the prevalence of Latino characters on screen across 1,200 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2018, as well as the presence of Latinos working behind the camera as directors, producers, and casting directors. An additional qualitative analysis explored stereotyping of Latino actors and characters across 200 top films from 2017 and 2018.”
“No matter which part of the film ecosystem we examined, Latinos were vastly underrepresented,” said Dr. Smith in an official statement. “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 Latinx performers do appear on screen, the results are not flattering and often veer into negative and stereotypical depictions. The study found that “roughly a quarter of both top-billed and all Latino speaking characters across 200 movies were depicted as criminals, and 17 percent of all Latino speaking characters were portrayed as poor or with a lower income.”
Behind the camera, only 4 percent of the directors of the examined 1,200 films are Latinx. The study also found that the majority (71 percent) are international directors, while only 29 percent are the U.S. Only one director out of 1,335 examined was a Latina.
“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 in an official statement. “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.”
The report offers more than just negative stats and comes complete with “solutions for change across casting, building a pipeline for Latino filmmakers, and urges companies to hire Latino talent for advertising and other forms of storytelling. Drawing on the Initiative’s expertise and opportunities across industry sectors, the report provides guidance to practitioners, advocates, and creators regarding increasing Latino representation on screen and behind the camera.”
You can read the full study right here.