Chris Rock once said, and I’m paraphrasing, that given the number of Latinos who live in LA, Hollywood must try NOT to hire Latinos. Last week the University of Southern California in partnership with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) released the results of the most comprehensive analysis of Latinos in the film industry. The study examined the 1,200 highest grossing films between 2007 and 2018 to determine the prevalence of Latinos both on screen and behind the camera. The numbers were shocking even to people like me who tend to track this sort of thing. The report findings demonstrate that top films lag far behind the population when it comes to representing Latino characters. Only 4.5% of all 47,268 speaking or named characters across the last 12 years were Latino, as were a mere 3% of lead or co-lead actors. There was no meaningful positive trend over the time period examined.
The report also showed that no matter which part of the film ecosystem was examined, Latinos were vastly underrepresented. To give some additional context, Latinos make up nearly half of Angelenos, 39% of Californians, and 18% of the U.S. population.
Behind the camera, 4% of directors of these 1,200 films were Latino. The majority (71%) were international directors, while 29% were from the U.S. Only one director out of 1,335 examined was a Latina. Among producers, 3% were Latino, with the balance tilted toward men. Just 19 Latinas worked as producers across the 1,200 top movies of the last 12 years. As casting directors, Latinos are also rare. Yet the influence of Latinos in these positions is crucial to addressing gaps in representation. The study showed when a Latino was present in each of these roles, the presence of Latino characters increased significantly.
USC Professor Stacy Smith authored the report and stated “At a time where Latinos in our country are facing intense concerns over their safety, we urgently need to see the Latino community authentically and accurately represented throughout entertainment.” The study also determined Latino characters in film were typically negative and/or stereotypical.
I have always believed studies like these are helpful, but in the end don’t really generate much change. The studios will start hiring more Latinos when they start losing revenue and market share to competitors who strategically pursue the Latino market aggressively. The film industry is a business and while the powers-that-be may care somewhat about reputational issues, in the end they only react to issues that affect profit. You can read the full report for reference.