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In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo, people were eager to applaud the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, informally known as the Academy, for their progress in diversity after releasing nominations that featured many black and female nominees. However, many felt that this progress was not enough and that the Academy was still failing to include other underrepresented groups, namely Latinos, hereby referred to as the gender-neutral Latinx.
As a response to this, #LatinosLeftOut came into existence among opponents of their claims of supposed progress. Although this has not expanded into a nationally organized movement like some other hashtags, #LatinosLeftOut brings attention to a group of people that are massively underrepresented in the American film industry. While Hollywood producers, critics, and other professionals have attempted to increase diversity in major American films, the overwhelming focus on the black demographic creates a shortage of recognition for the equally important Latinx population. As a group that is very important to the success of the film industry, Latinx actors, filmmakers, producers, and industry professionals should be given more opportunities to receive recognition on a major, international level. Although they are not well-represented in the entertainment industry, the Latinx community is actually very important to its success.
One study found that “Latinos make up 17. 8 percent of the U. S. population and bought 21 percent of movie tickets sold in 2016, ” meaning that they are actually overrepresented among moviegoers (Moreno). As a demographic that heavily supports the entertainment industry, it seems logical and fair to create films that they could identify with on a cultural level. Gina Rodriguez, the Latina star of the television program Jane the Virgin, asserts that movie studios should produce more Latinx-led films because it would be “not only a service, it would be… integrity”. This idea places the burden on white executives, not the lack of Latinx filmmakers, who make decisions about which movies receive funding and which ones are tossed aside. While both contribute to the underrepresentation of Latinx in major American films, white executives already have the ability to change this narrative, whereas Latinx filmmakers under their control do not. With the power to control not only which movies get made but also who makes them, white Hollywood executives have one of the biggest responsibilities to advance diversity in the entertainment industry by giving opportunities to deserving minorities who aspire to work in this field.
In a society where the majority rules, the Latinx group should certainly be ruling the big screen, as they occupy the majority of moviegoers; however, this is far from the reality. Even when Latinx directors manage to break into the entertainment industry, the barriers to entry created for Latinx actors are just as difficult. While nearly 18% of the U. S. population is of Hispanic descent, only 3% of speaking roles in the top 100 films of 2016 were occupied by Latinx actors. This immense disparity between population size and actual representation in major films is incomparable with any other ethnic group. Although other groups like African-Americans and Asian-Americans are featured less often in films than their white counterparts, they appear in 13% and 5% of speaking roles, respectively, which are numbers relatively proportional to the overall U. S. population. The blatant neglect of Latinx culture in major films reveals the continuing need for improvement of diversity in the American film industry. Even though progress has been made, this is still an area that needs to see major improvement before the Academy can be praised as truly diverse.
The shortage of Latinx actors in speaking roles also translates to an absence of acknowledgement from the Academy. For both wins and nominations, Latinx actors that receive these honors are extremely rare. Almost Oscar-winning actors that are Latinx have received the honor for a supporting role, but even these are sparse. The last Hispanic to win this award “was Penelope Cruz in 2009 for her supporting role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. Even worse, there has been only one Best Lead Actor win by a Latinx man, José Ferrer in 1951, and there has never been a Latinx Best Lead Actress. For such a large minority group, the overwhelming absence of award-winning Latinx actors is an appalling phenomenon, especially for an industry that is based largely in Los Angeles, where nearly half of the population is of Hispanic descent. With such a large Latinx population, there should certainly be no shortage of actors read to fill award-winning roles. However, this population is often ignored by white Hollywood executives in favor of the “romantic idea of finding talent internationally”. This continuing pattern of importing talent, while still promoting diversity, does not help the Latinx community in America because the experiences of foreign actors differ in many ways from that of Latinx-Americans. Additionally, their foreign identities can often be exploited to promulgate unfair stereotypes that have pervaded American film for decades.
From the age of silent films, Latinx people have been portrayed through damaging stereotypes like the “greaser, ” which described “Mexican bandits and other lazy, untrustworthy Mexican characters, ” and the “Latin Lover, ” which portrayed Mexicans as “innately passionate and sexual” beings. While these portrayals were protested, white executives simply created neutral Latinx that did not belong to any one nation but were still offensive in nature. Stereotypes like these are no longer a large part of American cinema, but the long-lasting history of such portrayals has created a focus on more culturally-accurate stories that portray the more negative individuals of the Latinx community, namely drug lords and other criminals. This perpetuation of stereotypes creates an inaccurate perception of Hispanic culture. In order to change this, the entertainment and film industry must become more accessible to Latinx filmmakers and actors who can create more accurate portrayals of the Hispanic experience in America.
Latinx movies do not need to be overtly about Latinx culture and traditions, as this can be overwhelming and alienating to non-Latinx viewers. Simply hiring more Latinx actors for speaking roles will tell the story of Latinx individuals simply by following their lives and how they struggle. Speaking roles allow characters to convey their inner thoughts to the audience, which can translate Latinx stories to the audience on its own. In other words, it is not necessary to make movies about the Latinx identities that most people would typically think of, such as poor Mexican villages or Latinx activists in America; simply switching out Latinx actors for white ones in a love story, for example, would advance diversity and Latinx awareness because Latinx people inherently have a different experience in America than their white counterparts.
One of the biggest reasons that Latinx actors fail to receive major recognition in the entertainment industry is that they are never given the chance to succeed. However, there are already a few people in Hollywood that are hoping to change this reality. Christy Haubegger is an agent at the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and the founder of Latina Magazine who dedicates some of her free time to meet with young people of color and give them a chance to break into this largely exclusive industry. By helping minority youth achieve their dreams of working in Hollywood, Haubegger attempts to open up an industry that she feels is “a largely closed system which is difficult to penetrate” without pre-existing connections. Although busy Hollywood executives cannot all be expected to dedicate their time like Haubegger, her dedication to minority youth provides some insight into how the issue of underrepresentation can be remedied. Even if executives cannot donate their time, they can certainly make entry to the entertainment industry more accessible. Like some film productions have open auditions, perhaps production companies and talent agencies can make their hiring processes for executives less exclusive by creating some type of open application. This would obviously not be a cure-all for nepotism in Hollywood, but it could provide opportunities for some minorities that would not exist otherwise.
Some have argued that the #LatinosLeftOut message is invalid because Latinos actually are represented fairly in the American entertainment industry. These individuals believe that the Oscars are in fact doing justice for diversity, citing the successes of Shape of Water, by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, and Chile’s groundbreaking A Fantastic Woman, a story about a transgender woman. While these films were great examples of Latinx projects that earned recognition, they were the only two examples of nominated projects by Latinx filmmakers. With dozens of more films nominated, the minimal recognition of Latinx projects by the Academy reveals how little progress they have actually made towards diversifying the entertainment industry as a whole. Additionally, the main characters in del Toro’s film are not actually Latinx. This is also true of other Oscar-winning films like Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman and The Revenant (Carroll). While Latinx filmmakers should not be limited to sharing stories about their own culture, the overwhelming enthusiasm for a film about white characters demonstrates the lack of diversity that characterizes critically-acclaimed films in America.
This lack of diversity in these films also exists behind the scenes, as these directors failed to hire American Latinx people “in high positions as producers and so forth”. By neglecting to include Latinx actors and crew members in the production of major American films, the presence of a Latinx director does little, if anything, to further the amount of diversity in Hollywood. Instead, these instances of successful Latinx filmmakers become more like anomalies. Moreover, the nomination of a Latinx movie in the foreign film category hardly constitutes progress in Latinx representation; there will inevitably be Latinx actors in that film. Even though it is commendable to nominate a film from a Hispanic country, this is not relevant to the inclusion of Hispanic-American professionals who struggle to receive recognition in America. Although the duty of furthering diversity in film does not rely solely on the Academy, they are a major institution that many look up to as those who determine which films are worthy of national recognition. As such, they bear some responsibility for changing the culture to include the Latinx community in the elite of the entertainment industry. Often times, however, they choose to do the opposite and continue to impede the advancement of diversity.
Whitewashing can occur in various forms, but the basic idea is that a white actor or character is taking the place of a character that is traditionally a person of color (Andrist). The whitewashing of Latinx roles is a phenomenon that has plagued Hollywood for decades in films like Argo, The Magnificent Seven, and A Beautiful Mind. A recent example of this can be observed through Catherine Zeta-Jones’ role as Griselda Blanco in the biographical television movie Cocaine Godmother. This casting sparked outrage because the protagonist, a Colombian drug lord, was played by a white woman. This show of white privilege reveals one of the reasons that Latinx actors are so underrepresented in the entertainment industry. Even when roles are written about Latinx individuals, they are given to white actors who can supposedly play them better. Zeta-Jones has defended her controversial role with numerous explanations, including that she was chosen for her talent after screen-testing with six Hispanic women. She also compares her cross-cultural portrayal to the “against type[casting]” that other actors perform in other films. However, this reveals her deep misunderstanding of the issue because what she really compares is something to the effect of a known comedian playing a serious character, or a similar instance of dissonant casting that does not deal with such deep-rooted characteristics of one’s identity. This ignorance contributes to the issue of underrepresentation because white actors are not even aware that their actions are harmful to the Latinx community and the overall advancement of diversity in the entertainment industry. In addition, the casting of a white woman brings up another issue surrounding the intersectionality of Latinx underrepresentation. While some have criticized #LatinosLeftOut as unnecessary, others have criticized it as exclusionary. As with many other movements, the issue tends to center around the white or light-skinned members of the group without giving people of color the equal voice that they deserve. In a survey of more than 1500 U. S. Hispanics, 24% reported that they considered themselves to be “Afro-Latino”. Despite nearly a quarter of Hispanics identifying as having Caribbean or African roots, most Americans perceive Hispanics to be lighter-skinned like many Latinx celebrities, such as Jennifer Lopez and Sofia Vergara. Since Latinx portrayals of Hispanics are typically performed by light-skinned, the Afro-Latinx community is often overlooked by the greater American population, and the idea that Afro-Latinx people can be both black and Hispanic is a completely foreign concept. Like the greater issue of underrepresented Latinx people in film, the main problem faced by the Afro-Latinx community is exclusion. By making the film industry more accessible to them, Afro-Latinos can become more widely understood and accepted by other Americans. With greater visibility, not only can Afro-Hispanics gain greater recognition, but the Latinx community as a whole can be respected as an extremely diverse group of people in itself.
With such rapid change inspired by #OscarsSoWhite in 2016, one can only hope that such changes will continue to occur in Hollywood as the years progress. Although diversifying Hollywood is a large feat that requires concentrated effort, the small changes that continue to occur in the entertainment industry can one day lead to a completely new experience where Latinx audiences feel represented and respected by the stories that are told onscreen. The stories that unfold should reflect their genuine experiences and destroy the negative stereotypes that have tainted the perception of Hispanics for decades. By producing more Latinx films, speaking roles, leading roles, and general visibility, the world can come to appreciate the true culture and experiences of Latinos, which are as unique and diverse as any other group of Americans. In the future, Latinx people of all colors should be able to see someone onscreen that not only looks like them but talks and acts like them, as well.
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