Hollywood sees the box office success and critical acclaim surrounding Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and pats itself on the back. And after the #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoMale controversies of the past two years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences basks in praise for its inclusion of black and female filmmakers in this year’s Oscars nominations. But just because the glass is half full, doesn’t mean the fight is over. There’s still one group that time and time again continues to be grossly underrepresented in film — Latinos and Hispanics.
There’s no denying Black Panther has done marvels for the representation of blacks in film. Chadwick Boseman’s cool, calm and collected performance as King T’Challa was nothing short of majestic, and there’s no shortage of fierce warrior women to look up to in Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Letitia Wright (Shuri) and Angela Bassett (Ramonda). Not to mention possibly the best Marvel villain in Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. After seeing Coogler’s work with Fruitvale Station and Creed, I was more than excited to see what the director would add to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I wasn’t disappointed. I’m ecstatic that kids can watch a movie where the characters look like them. Well, most of them.
A report released in 2017 by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism stated that between 2007-2016, only 3.1 percent of speaking or named characters were Hispanic/Latino. And of the top 100 films of 2016, 72 were completely void of any Hispanic/Latina females.
Unfortunately, that’s not even the worst of it. The Motion Picture Association of America released its most recent study in 2016 on theatrical market statistics. The report revealed that Hispanics make up 23 percent of frequent moviegoers, despite being 18 percent of the population. This makes them the largest minority group attending movies compared to African Americans’ 15 percent (12 percent of the population) and Asians/Others’ 11 percent (8 percent of the population). Hispanics are one of the most overrepresented groups at the box office, and one of the most underrepresented groups on screen.
Indisputably, diversity in the film industry has improved over the last decade or so. But we don’t need to fight for diversity, we need to fight for balance. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States, making up 17.8 percent of the population according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So why is it that when I look at films, more often than not I don’t see myself represented in any of them? In the top 100 films of 2016, only one film had a proportionate representation of Latinos.
Instead of just throwing in a person of color here or there, Hollywood should be working to proportionately represent minority groups on screen to reflect the U.S. population. There’s a largely untapped market here that for some reason Hollywood chooses to ignore.
No one likes to feel invisible. But that is exactly the impression Hollywood has made on one of its largest audiences. I’ve gone my entire life rarely seeing a version of myself accurately represented on screen. And when I did, it was either in a supporting role or as a disgustingly inaccurate stereotype. As a Latina whose greatest passion is film — this underrepresentation is devastating. Hispanics and Latinos come in an infinite number of skin tones and are from vastly different political, religious or ethnic backgrounds. And considering how many of us not only live in the United States, but especially live in Los Angeles, there’s really no reason to omit us.
That being said, Hispanics have found a bit of success in other areas. Alfonso Cuarón was the first Latino to win best director in 2014 for Gravity, along with four other nominations. Alejandro G. Iñárritu has won four Oscars including best director and best picture in 2015 for Birdman and best director again a year later for The Revenant. This year director Guillermo del Toro’s Shape of Water has scored 13 Oscars nominations and is a frontrunner to take home a number of wins. Not to mention the film most likely to win best animated feature is Coco, a film highlighting Mexican culture featuring a mostly hispanic cast. But considering how many of us there are in the United States, this representation isn’t nearly enough.
We are not these stereotypes. We are not just immigrants. We are not criminals. I’m proud to be Venezuelan. My culture and background are beautiful. My people are beautiful. It’s beyond time to see that reflected in the film industry.