The portrayal of Latinx in Hollywood’s most popular films falls far short of the American population or that of Los Angeles, where many of these films and the decisions behind them are made, according to a new study.
The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California finds that in the rare instances where Latinx characters appear onscreen, the films in question perpetuate unrealistic and often harmful tropes, often portraying Latinxes as criminals, low-level workers and “the other,” or they disproportionately focus on immigration stories.
According to the study, which uses the US census category of Hispanic / Latino, nearly 20% of the US population, 39% of the California population, and 49% of the Los Angeles population identify as Hispanic / Latino. Yet only 3.5% of the 100 highest grossing films at the U.S. box office from 2007 to 2019 featured Hispanic / Latino lead or co-directors.
Of the 1,300 films in the study, which included more than 50,000 speaking characters, only 5% of all speaking characters were Hispanic / Latino. This percentage never exceeded 7.2% in 2017 and was as low as 2.8% in 2009.
“It relegates Hispanic / Latino actors to roles of sidekick, friend or even villain. Further, it does not reflect the multitude of stories about Hispanics / Latinos that exist to be told, “the researchers wrote, warning of” an epidemic of invisibility. “
Released Wednesday to coincide with the start of Latinx Heritage Month, which runs September 15 through October 15, the group’s new report mark the second time the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative specifically studied the lack of Latinx representation in major movies. (In addition to the broader “Hispanic / Latino” census category, the study also uses “latinx” to take a closer look at the representation of “US-born Latinos who are not of Spanish descent.”)
For years, the low numbers have been especially glaring due to how quickly these communities across the country have grown and how they account for a significant portion of box office revenue. Year after year, studies and data have shown that representation is not just a moral imperative but an economic necessity for Hollywood.
The Annenberg team partnered with two production companies focused on telling stories from underrepresented communities: Wise Entertainment and UnbelieEVAble Entertainment by actress Eva Longoria. Research has identified a link between Latinx representation in front of and behind the camera. From 2017 to 2019, almost half of the top-grossing films with Hispanic / Latino directors “had one or more Hispanic / Latino actors in a leading role, compared to 26.5% of films by non-Hispanic / Latino directors.” .
But Hispanic / Latino directors rarely have the opportunity to direct major films, as the study shows. In the 13 years of films included in the study, only 4.2% of directors were Hispanic / Latino, and the researchers documented “no change over time.” Of the 1,447 directors who made the films in the study, only three were Hispanic or Latin women. Only 3.3% of the casting directors behind the films in the study were Hispanic / Latino, as were only 3% of the producers.
During the 13-year period of the study, only two Latinx actors – Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez – starred or co-starred in more than one highest-grossing film. Even as recently as 2019, only 28 of the top 100 grossing films featured a Hispanic / Latino actor as the headliner, and in 82% of them they were the only Hispanic / Latino actor to do so. Only one movie had five huge Hispanic / Latino actors: “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” from 2019.
The study not only aimed to measure when Latinx characters appear on the screen, but How? ‘Or’ What they are represented. Many recent films continue to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and do not portray Latinx characters as themselves. For example, Latinx characters are often displayed in isolation – not interacting with any other Latinx characters – and references to their cultural identities are often erased or minimized.
The researchers also looked at issues such as how stories featuring Latinx characters are likely to disproportionately focus on immigrant experiences. Additionally, Latinx characters are often placed in low-level professions. For example, of the 56 Hispanic / Latino characters whose films identified their occupation, nearly half – 47.3% – “were shown in work that did not require specialized training (e.g. salesperson, laborer). factory, line cook, street vendor). ”
Insidious tropes about Latinxes continue to permeate Hollywood movies. Almost 40% of the most popular Hispanic / Latino characters were criminals. Over 37% of all Hispanic / Latino characters did not speak English and 30.5% spoke English with an accent. There was also a significant portion of characters “presented as angry or capricious” and female characters who were sexualized.
As is often the case, the study found that intersectional representation is even more lacking. Out of all 1,300 films, only six featured Afro-Latinx actors as protagonists or co-hosts, including three in 2019, the most recent year included in the study. (Researchers did not include 2020 films because the pandemic has shaken theatrical releases and made it harder to consistently measure annual progress.) In 2019, 59 of the top 100 grossing films had no women. Hispanic or Latin, 95 had none. Hispanic / Latino characters with disabilities and 98 had no Hispanic / Latino LGBTQ characters. The study did not explore the prevalence of white or adjacent white Latinx people in on-screen representations of Latinx people.
The researchers’ recommendations include more intentional hiring, casting and build sustainable paths for career advancement for Latinx artists in Hollywood, what many people in the industry have said is the bare minimum that executives and executives in Hollywood need to do.
The study also places some of the burden on people and institutions beyond the doors of Hollywood studios and businesses. For example, film festivals should make more specific efforts to showcase the work of Latinx filmmakers, and philanthropists should fund initiatives that support Latinx filmmakers.
At the government level, states and municipalities that offer tax incentives to encourage more filming in their jurisdictions could also include specific incentives for productions that meet the performance criteria. Additionally, lawmakers should provide stronger funding for arts education to support the next generation of Latinx filmmakers.
Read the full study here.
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