Latinos Are Still Waiting For Their Own Movie Moment As Hollywood Tries Casting More Diverse Films
Films “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” both shattered myths about minority casts by breaking box office records. These successes have led to many people celebrating Hollywood’s perceived move to a more inclusive and diverse casting practice. The films broke stereotypes in Hollywood that diversity doesn’t sell and both already have sequels in the work. Yet, through all this barrier-breaking, one underrepresented group has been left out in the dark again: Latinos. Statistics show Latinos are the largest minority group in the country and account for the largest percent of moviegoers amongst minorities at 24 percent. When it comes to the big screen, Hispanic or Latino characters made up only 6.2 percent of speaking characters in the top 100 movies in 2017. But for Latinos that work in the film industry, this is just business as usual.
Hollywood is catching on to the idea that diversity will turn into dollars at the box office but will Latinos be included?
Thomas Saenz, chair of the National Latino Media Council, has been fighting for Latino representation for more than 30 years, yet during that span he hasn’t seen enough change. His organization is part of a joint boycott with the National Hispanic Media Coalition that has chosen to spotlight Paramount as statistics show that the studio has the worst record when it comes to including Latinos in films. Saenz and Alex Nogales, president of the NHMC, led a protest of over 60 people in front of Paramount Studios on Aug. 25 in what is the start of a series of protests against the company.
“When studios focus on diversity that can mean any minority group. Latinos in particular have been represented in minuscule numbers that don’t properly show what this country is made up of,” Saenz says. “In the last 10-15 years, African-American representation has gone up same for Asian-American. But I can’t say the same for Latinos. That has to change.”
Paramount has yet to respond to the protest but when the boycott was announced back in August they felt the rights groups were being overly aggressive in their demands. Saenz responded to that by saying “it requires aggressive action on an issue that infringes on civil rights.”
Hollywood has a proven record of creating very few live-action movies focusing on Latino life and culture.
— NHMC (@NHMC) August 25, 2018
Marissa Herrera, CEO/Creator of De Mi Alma Productions and NHMC Action Network Member, has worked in the entertainment industry for two decades. She has seen firsthand how hard it is for Latinos to get major film roles.
“I’ve had a TV-pilot ready for six months but no company is willing to take a chance on it yet,” Herrera said. “We need dialogue and allies that can bring us a seat at the table.”
Herrera was part of the studio protest where she voiced her displeasure for the lack of Latino representation. She spoke about the struggle of being both a woman and a Latina in the film industry, which puts her at a worse disadvantage. In 2016, only 13 movie roles out of the top 100 grossing films went to Latinas and only 6 percent of TV roles on scripted television went to Latinos as a whole.
“They took a chance on those productions (“Black Panther,” “Crazy Rich Asians”) and we have yet to see that on our end,” Herrera said. “Those two films were given the opportunity and budget. We are the largest growing population yet still not fairly represented in film, all I ask is why are we not?”
The late ’80s and ’90s saw a slew of big production films with that centered or starred Latinos. What has changed since then?
“Stand and Deliver” (1988) and “Selena” (1997) were created during this brief time. Some call it the golden age of Latino-American film because studios began taking chances on films that depicted Latino history. By the end of the ’90s there was reluctance from studios to create political stories that dealt with issues such as immigration and discrimination. Herrera feels that it’s not necessarily movie studios going backwards today but them lumping “diversity” all into one category.
“A lot of the films in the ’90s were great but it was half in half. A lot of those roles were stereotyped. For example, since its an immigration story, it makes it a Latino story,” Herrera said. “I do think we are trying to find a sweet spot where we are portrayed not by what society wants us to be but who we are as a whole.”
What will it take for Hollywood to finally make some changes and show Latinos at the forefront of films?
For Saenz, he sees a few ways for Hollywood to start making some changes to the way they cast and choose which films they want to invest in. He says Latinos need their big moment now more than ever due to the hostile political climate that President Trump has fueled.
“I didn’t think that Donald Trump would get away his demonization of the Latino community but it’s hard to separate what happens in movies and what results in elections and policies going forward,” Saenz says.
Yet, Saenz sees changes coming and believes boycotts like this bring social awareness to a problem many people, including Latinos, don’t realize. The statistics for Latinos in popular films are a disheartening truth but that hasn’t wavered people like Saenz and Herrera who see a light coming soon.
“Money talks. Its important to not support these companies that are refusing to give opportunities, Herrera said. “We all just want to have a seat at the table and begin making real progress. This is our moment as Latinos to seize because if we don’t do it then who will.”
The NHMC and NLMC delivered a petition at during their last demonstration against Paramount Pictures on September 12.