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Latin representation in television and film has dropped to 2019 levels, according to a new diversity report from the Latino Donor Collaborative, a nonprofit that researches the Latin community in the U.S.
According to its 2022 report, the percentage of Latin stars, co-stars, showrunners and directors all decreased from 2021 to 2022. Last year saw 2.6 percent Latin leads on television, as opposed to 2.9 percent the year before; 2.6 percent co-leads in 2022 versus 3.7 percent in 2021; 1.4 percent of showrunners last year, contrary to 2.5 percent the year before; and 1.5 percent Latin directors as opposed to 2.5 percent in 2021.
Film projects also saw a drop in Latin representation, including stars, screenwriters and directors between 2021 and 2022, despite the population making up 19 percent of the country. Latin stars made up 5.1 percent of films in 2022, more than two percent less than the year before. However, when it came to co-stars, there was a brief increase, with 4.5 percent of co-lead ensembles being led by Latin people, contrary to 4.3 percent in 2021. Latin screenwriters and directors both made up 6.9 percent of those in the industry, and both dropped below 3 percent in 2022.
With the report, LDC president and CEO Ana Valdez tells The Hollywood Reporter that the organization only had one goal: “To create a fact-based portrayal and narrative of who we are, and a fact-based narrative of who we are would be at least 19 percent of the stories — good and bad, we don’t all have to be heroes.”
She points out that the gap between the number of Latin people in the United States and their economic contribution is “really devastating.” By having a scarce percentage of the community represented onscreen and behind the camera, Valdez says not only are they being let down but also shareholders.
“Hollywood could be delivering much more money if they were including this community,” she explains. “We’re also letting down advertisers and brands because those brands need the community to be engaged, and they need the entertainment to reach that cohort, and they’re not reaching it.”
She continues, “If Latinos in the United States were an economy, that would be the fifth largest economy in the world and then being almost invisible, it’s almost like gaslighting.” She adds, “Somebody’s telling me, a Latina, that I am basically invisible and irrelevant, although I do know that I’m actually contributing 82 percent with a new work workforce. The upward mobility is incredible.”
The LDC report also called attention to specific streaming and premium cable networks that had zero Latin leads across their several programs in 2022: HGTV, Discovery, TLC and HBO. Netflix had two Latin leads across its 124 series, while AppleTV+ only had one in its 44 shows.
In a few case studies provided in the report, season 23 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit was randomly selected to analyze the inaccurate characterization of U.S. Latin people in mainstream media. It pointed out three ways in which the community is inaccurately represented in the series: Latin folks make up 30 percent of the New York Police Department, but there’s only one Latin officer as a co-lead in the series; the co-lead has a backstory of growing up in a violent home and was forced to work for the Mexican cartel briefly as a child; and a lot of the Latin characters in the show were cast as either criminals or victims of violent crimes.
The report also looked at a case study for films, specifically futuristic ones. The organization looked at 10 future-themed movies that were released between 2014 and 2023, none of which included a Latin star, co-star, director or screenwriter. The organization studied Interstellar, Ready Player One, Infinite, Lightyear, The Tomorrow War, Dual, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, Monsters of California, After Yang and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
The Latin population is the largest minority in the U.S., per the report, and yet they’re the most underrepresented group in media. Latin stars make up only 9.29 percent of onscreen representation in streaming, 2.33 percent on cable and 5.42 percent on broadcast.
Valdez suggests a few ways to increase representation. “If you create a pipeline for Latinos, you will get amazing Latinos, but today we don’t have really a place where Latinos can fail,” she says. “Latinos can fail up. Latinos can have a learning curve.” Giving Latin people a place in which they can greenlight shows is another way to up representation because they’re more likely to tell authentic stories.
“American stories are Latino stories,” says Valdez. “We need an explanation on why you are making us invisible when we’re actually driving the growth, why you are making us negative when we’re actually bringing a lot of fantastic talent that gives you revenue that you’ve never dreamed of before. We need an explanation of why our stories don’t seem to be interesting for you. We need an explanation.”
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