1. Latino characters were the most underrepresented group in film.
Among the racial and ethnic groups studied in the the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative’s report, released August 2014, Latinos made up only 4.9% of movie characters across 100 of 2013’s top-grossing films. The images above, for example, show three leads from the top three grossing movies from last year.
How does that compare with reality?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates, there are roughly 52 million Latinos in the U.S. as of July 1, 2011, or just over 16% of the current U.S. population. That number is on track to reach 132.8 million — or about 30% of the U.S. population — by July 1, 2050.
2. And while we’re tackling casting issues, the idea of whitewashing came into focus this past year.
It’s worth nothing that two of the three top-grossing movies from 2013 inspired debate about representation with the casting of their most prominent characters.
The Hunger Games’ heroine Katniss, for instance, is described as having black hair, olive skin, and gray eyes and is molded and fueled by the oppression she faces within the books’ segregated dystopian setting. That she is played by a light-skinned, naturally blonde Jennifer Lawrence inspired much debate about Hollywood casting in general and the impact of whitewashing Katniss in particular.
Meanwhile, the story that inspired Disney’s animated film Frozen has origins among Scandinavia’s indigenous Sámi population. While the Sámi can indeed be fair-skinned, the depiction of the film’s characters inspired discussion about diversity in film and its depiction of Sámi culture and clothing, perhaps most prominently by the Tumblr This Could Have Been Frozen, which discussed depictions of diversity on screen and encouraged readers to submit their own versions of Frozen-inspired character art.
Which all means…what exactly? Well, for one, there are people who consume and enjoy the stories being portrayed on film, and who are vocally stating their desire to see these stories represented accurately and with attention to detail. It also points to the reality that stories about Latinos and/or other underrepresented groups are out there — they just aren’t being portrayed as such on the big screen.
3. As such, Latinos are “almost invisible” on the big screen.
One of the study’s authors, Marc Choueiti, placed the study’s results in context. “Hispanics and Latinos are one of the fastest-growing groups in the U.S.,” he told USC News. “If popular films were the only way to gauge diversity, viewers would be completely unaware of this. Individuals from this group are almost invisible on screen.”
4. And Latinas that are depicted in top-grossing movies are mostly naked.
While the study does note that “Hispanic females (37.3%) were more likely to be featured in popular films than were white females (29.6%) or Asian females (32%),” Latinas are also more likely than females among any of the other groups studied (37.5%, to be precise) to be shown partially dressed or nude on the big screen.
5. Latinos are also highly likely to be sexualized.
The sexualization and fetishization of Latinos doesn’t stop with women. Latino men were the most likely among the studied groups (16.5%) to be depicted wearing “tight, alluring or revealing clothing.”
6. Despite this, Latinos form a sizable chunk of moviegoing audiences.
The study notes that Latinos make up 25% of movie ticket sales and “command roughly $1 trillion in spending power.” That number comes from a 2009 University of Georgia study entitled The Multicultural Economy.
7. And if we take a peek behind the scenes…
The USC study includes valuable, if frustrating, statistics concerning black directors, but no information is given about Latinos behind the screen.
The Directors Guild of America’s Latino Committee page notes that “we are often overlooked when it comes to hiring for industry-related job.”
A look at Box Office Mojo’s list of the 100 top-grossing films of 2013 reveals exactly zero films by American Latino directors but does include the Spanish-language comedy Instructions Not Included (No se Aceptan Devoluciones) by Mexican director/actor Eugenio Derbez, as well as Mama, Argentine director Andrés Muschietti’s English-language remake of his 2008 short film Mamá.
Edited to add: …And Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, which I am kicking myself for neglecting to have added earlier!
8. In fact, another study indicates Latinos were more represented in American media in the 1950s than today.
An in-depth study from Columbia University in conjunction with the Hispanic Foundation for the Arts and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, The Latino Media Gap: A Report on the State of Latinos in U.S. Media, indicates that Latinos found much more representation in movies and on TV in the ’50s. Deadline lays out the numbers, noting that “Latinos on average made up only 2.8% of the U.S. population in the 1950s but accounted for 3.9% of lead actor roles and 1.5% of all leading roles.”
9. And we’re also more stereotyped than 20 years ago.
Not only is there a dwindling quantity of Latino depictions on screen, but the Columbia University study found a drop in the quality of those depictions as well.
In a section entitled “Stereotypes restrict opportunities and perceptions,” the study notes that, from 2012 to 2013, “17.7% of Latino film characters and 24.2% of TV characters were linked to crime,” a number which has quadrupled since 1994. Additionally, 44.7% of what the study refers to as “Latino-coded television characters” are either “uncredited or unnamed.”
Oh, and “69% of iconic media maids in film and television since 1996 are Latina.”
10. But even the way we talk about Latino representation can be flawed.
For example, the study organizes its findings according to groups labeled “White,” “Hispanic,” “Black,” “Asian,” and “Other,” which reinforces the idea that these groups, and the myriad identities within, cannot and do not intersect.
That Latinos are viewed as and talked about as a monolithic, and not an intersectional, ethnic identity renders, say, Black and Asian Latino stories even more invisible.
There’s hope, though.
That’s not to say these studies haven’t revealed some encouraging stats as well.
For example, the “The Latino Media Gap” shows that while overall, Latino roles on TV and film have dwindled over the years, opportunities for Latina actresses have increased. In addition, from 2010 to 2013, “Afro-Latino performers represented 18.2% of Latino film actors and 16.7% of Latino TV actors,” although mostly in supporting roles.
And we’re making stuff online.
While things look grim on TV and in movies, Latinos are increasingly turning to the internet to create content. The Columbia University study shows that on YouTube, for instance, 18% of the 50 most-subscribed-to single-focus channels are “produced by and/or feature Latino content creators.”