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They’re the most disproportionately underrepresented demographic in Hollywood, an industry that makes its headquarters in a county where they comprise the plurality of the population. And even as other systemically marginalized groups make prominent and visible strides in pop culture, Latinos have remained caught in a cycle of development hell, with projects created by and centering them canceled (or permanently shelved) even as they continue to prop up a significant share of the box office as audience members.
“There was an overabundance and then a complete 180 has now happened. The graveyard of Latino shows in the last five years, it has been a decimation,” writer Gloria Calderón Kellett tells The Hollywood Reporter. “In a row One Day at a Time, Vida, Diary of a Future President, Gentefied, all of these shows came out, all of them 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. They didn’t support the shows with marketing. They didn’t put money behind those shows, and those shows are now all gone.”
In part to rectify the systemic issues that have led to this downturn as well as address other concerns in the entertainment industry and beyond, Calderón Kellett is linking up with a number of other Latino luminaries in Hollywood to form the first-ever Visionary Alliance for the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Alliance members will lend their professional expertise to longstanding NHMC entertainment initiatives such as its Series Scriptwriters Program and Latinx Stream Showcase and also get involved in the nonprofit’s social justice and policy advocacy work.
“NHMC is about representation from the White House to Hollywood,” the coalition’s president and CEO Brenda Victoria Castillo tells THR. “The policies and decisions that are made in D.C. affect Hollywood. The way Hollywood decides they’re going to portray Latinos is the way we’re perceived and the way the public treats us, and it’s a vicious cycle.”
The inaugural Alliance members also include Ismael Cruz Córdova (The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power), Wilson Cruz, Rosario Dawson, Diane Guerrero (Encanto, Doom Patrol), Harvey Guillén (What We Do in the Shadows), Eva Longoria, Gabriel Luna (The Last of Us), Justina Machado, Encanto producer Yvett Merino, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Danny Pino (Mayans M.C., Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Aubrey Plaza, Gina Torres, Wilmer Valderrama and Lisa Vidal (Being Mary Jane).
Castillo, Calderón Kellett and Torres spoke with THR in a free-wheeling yet pointed conversation about the state of Latino unity in the industry today, how (and why) entertainment companies are falling short when it comes to progress for Latino inclusion and the dangers of too much “chatter” about diversity without the results to back it up.
What needs will the Alliance address that weren’t being met before?
BRENDA VICTORIA CASTILLO I just came from meetings with two major global entertainment companies. When I go into these meetings, sometimes they bring up internships. Not that I have anything against internships, but I’m there to talk about the board of directors and why they do not have [Latino] representation. Most of the entertainment companies are in California and we’re 40 percent of the population. I’m there to talk about C-suite positions that greenlight projects. I’m sitting in front of CEOs at these global companies, and I said, “You have 20 members that report to you, and not one is Latine. So why don’t you lead by example, and then everything else will come into play.”
GLORIA CALDERÓN KELLETT That’s right, because once we’re in positions of power, we naturally already do the work of diversity and inclusion, especially women. What I have seen in my career is the biggest shift of Latinidad getting behind the camera and having real diversity behind the scenes has been the women. Once we are in a position of power, we hire inclusively, and not just Latinos — other people of color, other marginalized communities, because we have been in the trenches together. It’s crazy that Latinidad is already the majority minority and we will soon be a fourth of the country, and consistently we are not in the rooms we are supposed to be in.
GINA TORRES The beauty of us being in those positions of power is that we can prove that we’re not unicorns. They hide behind, “The talent pool for these positions is so small, and we just can’t find somebody who has the experience.” It’s all a lie. There are tons of talented Latine showrunners, writers, actors. I’m tired of the myth of a small talent pool when we’ve all been doing this for decades. We know what we’re doing, we are more than adept at tackling any of those positions. Frankly, it’s fear. It’s fear of losing their jobs as they know it instead of focusing on how lucrative expansion can be.
CALDERÓN KELLETT What I hear so often — and these are people who adore me — is, “It must be so nice to be a Latina in this moment.” It’s like, yeah, isn’t it nice to be me? Name two other Latina showrunners. Name one other person that has my career, one that has the same deal I have at Amazon. The conversation around DEI is so loud, and also we are dealing with the fragility of being on the other side of this BLM movement. There was such a beautiful moment where people were like, “This is terrible and we have to care.” And I feel like people read one book and went, “Ooh, racism,” and then went back to life as it was. There was an overabundance and then a complete 180 has now happened. The graveyard of Latino shows in the last five years, it has been a decimation. For a long time they told us, “We want to [have Latino shows] so bad, it’s just the talent pool isn’t there.” They said it for years, so then in a row One Day at a Time, Vida, Diary of a Future President, Gentefied, all of these shows came out, all of them 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. They didn’t support the shows with marketing. They didn’t put money behind those shows, and those shows are now all gone. It wasn’t because they weren’t excellent, it was because they didn’t receive the same marketing and attention as the other shows, and as a result – well, they don’t tell us how many people watched, we just know it’s not enough. I was in a meeting where I started laughing out loud: They pulled up a chart and it was [an X-Y axis] with the little ticks — no numbers — and then there’s one line [up top] and another line that’s, like, down here. No numbers anywhere. They’re like, See this line? That’s your show. And that’s where we want it to be.
TORRES But are you willing to spend money to make that happen? Or are you just praying? Are you godless people praying for a miracle? (Laughs.)
CASTILLO That’s why it’s so important for us to be in those EVP and SVP positions all over the industry, so we’re head of marketing — and not just multicultural marketing.
I do see that the few executives of color that exist at the studios tend to work in the multicultural or diversity departments. When it comes to Latino executives in Hollywood, where are we and what is being done or should be done to develop that pipeline of buyers and decision makers of what to put money towards?
CASTILLO When those companies presented their DEI reports to me, I said, “This is not a strategy, this is not a plan. It’s a vision or a nice thing to say. What I don’t see is a one-year, two-year, five-year plan. I don’t see measurements, benchmarks or how you’re going to measure. You keep using the word ‘accountability.’ What does accountability mean to you? Are these EVPs going to be accountable for their departments hiring Latinos? Let’s say they don’t. How is it going to affect them? Is it going to affect their bonus, is it gonna affect their performance review?” They didn’t know what to say.
CALDERÓN KELLETT Whatever’s been happening hasn’t been working. The conversation’s loud. The conversation is so loud that white men are worried, and I’ve had to remind them, “The great news is there’s reports that come out every year out of Annenberg and UCLA that are supporting that you guys all still have your jobs. It’s supporting that the town is still very white. So the feeling you’re having is different than the reality.” It’s easier for agents and managers to say, “They’re going diverse,” but if the amount of people that told me they were going diverse were actually going diverse, things would have looked very different the last five years; they have not. Never in my life have I been told, “You lost a job to a white writer.” You lost a job. The idea that it’s even your job is insane. We assume that we deserve anything. Actors, writers lose jobs for various reasons. That anybody’s ethnicity is coming up in those conversations is absolutely inappropriate and it is a cancer that is starting to eat up the town, and it’s making people not want to support [efforts to diversify] and as a result are standing back. I worry about the [Latino] executives in these spaces, because they also have to survive and thrive in an environment that is not there to support them. What I’ve seen a lot of times is those executives are sometimes the ones that are hardest on you because they’re trying to show their bosses that they can be really hard on the Latino project. It’s not a fair position. You need a lot of people in there to really make change, to really make people feel comfortable. One in the room doesn’t do it.
TORRES What happens is your creativity gets stunted because you still have to pander to the old narrative: “I want to get this greenlit so I have to make this change that is no longer authentic to my story.” We don’t have the privilege to be as fearless in our storytelling as we would want to be and should 100 percent be, because there’s no backup.
CALDERÓN KELLETT Things like this organization are great for many reasons, and what Brenda’s been doing for most of her career has been incredible also because it gives language to our community for how to talk to people about this. When I’ve heard a million times, “We tried that once,” I — the Gloria that gives zero fucks — now say, “Well, you tried that 100 times with white shows, and that doesn’t make you stop making white shows.” You can’t say, “We had that one white sitcom with the fat dad and the beautiful wife, so we tried that.” No, you made 20 of those. And yet, when it’s us? “Well, we tried that, but Latinos do not come out.” Listen to yourself, you sound ridiculous. And once we give [our people] the tools to say, “You sound ridiculous,” the excuses will go away because we’re educating our community about how to speak to people in any field.
What is the state of coalition building in the Latino community, and how do you hope it will amplify the work all of you have been doing as individuals?
CASTILLO Our organization does work with other organizations. These two meetings I was at, I was side by side with the L.A. Urban League and the NAACP. There’s power in numbers. When the L.A. City Council members were speaking ill about Black, Indigenous, Oaxacan, LGBTQ+ people, NHMC was the first or second organization that ever came out publicly and made a statement and asked for all three of their resignations. It was just so disturbing to me that these three were representatives of Los Angeles, and I even threw a fundraiser for one of those people. I did get some negative feedback from other Latino organizations, but NAACP called me within an hour and told me, “I know NHMC doesn’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk.” Because it’s also making our own community accountable, because colorism exists in all our communities.
TORRES We’re really leaning into the fact that we are our best allies. We are our best advocates. So often when you enter this business, because of the paradigm that was set however many decades ago that you only get one representative, it creates this crabs-in-a-barrel dynamic. It keeps us from supporting each other the way that we want to, because we’re just hungry and we want to work, and so those other three people in the room that want that job are my enemy. That is just not the case anymore. I’m looking forward to really setting an example and continuing to voice the fact that we’re all in this together and are more powerful together. It’s up to us to lift each other up. We’re not competition; we are allies to each other.
How much interaction does NHMC have with other Latino media organizations, such as NALIP, LALIFF and Latinx House?
CALDERÓN KELLETT For the boots-on-the-ground people like me, I do all of them. I’m going to Austin to talk about Spotlight Dorado, I’ll speak on NALIP panels. Anybody who’s down for the cause, I’m down. I will show up, happily. There’s specific things that everyone does a little bit differently. Some people are more focused on L.A., some are focused on different cities. I’m arm in arm with all of it and that’s including panels about women organizations. I’m an admin for the Women’s History Museum and the Latino History Museum, which are fighting for space on the Washington Mall. I’m both, so let’s both get a great space for our brick and mortar museums in 40 years! (Laughs.) I’m in it for all of it.
CASTILLO We work really closely with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation in D.C., the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, LALIFF, NALIP, but also with Native American Media Alliance. In fact, we worked together with NAMA and Inevitable Foundation [and three other groups] in regards to a project with Netflix where they gave development deals to different writers from the organizations. So we do believe in supporting each other in our different projects. Through our social media and e-blasts, we support when they have a project, and when we have a project, they’re supporting on social media. It’s good relationships.
How vital has been the collaboration of political leaders like Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) to your work?
CASTILLO Rep. Castro is a true leader and he’s taken on a lot of the fight in Hollywood himself. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has been a big supporter. For example, the Federal Communications Commission is something that gnaws at me. We have not had a representative for over 20 years on the FCC. We submitted along with CHC and other organizations five or six more than qualified individuals to the Biden administration last year, and he hasn’t nominated a Latino. I’m just so disappointed. We continue to work and we’re putting on the pressure. Another thing, the Spanish Language Disinformation Coalition; organizations that are not just Latino like the ADL are members of that. And the [media] mergers. These mergers continue and we’re not represented at the very top and then you see these shows being canceled. We believe you’ve got to go to the root of the problem, and the root is the Department of Justice. The DOJ continues to approve these mergers. So we submitted comments along with Castro’s office to not only the DOJ but the Federal Trade Commission. When the DOJ continues to approve mergers where that company already shows a history of discrimination when it comes to Latinos and other marginalized groups, then they themselves are part of the problem and are supporting discrimination in this country.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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