Carrying signs that read “Enough is Enough;” and chanting “Oscars so white” and “Latinos excluded, time to be included,” a demonstration outside of the Oscar nominees luncheon at the Beverly Hilton called attention to the lack of Latinos employed by Hollywood’s film industry.
The protest, organized by the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), isn’t anything new for this organization or for the Latino community. Over the years there have been meetings with Hollywood executives, conferences discussing this issue and similar protests calling for change. Change however, has been very slow to come.
What was different about this protest this time around was a stronger public message.
“We are serving notice to the motion picture industry that we aren’t asking for equity, we are demanding it,” said Alex Nogales, NHMC President.
A recent study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that of the 100 top-grossing films of 2016, 54 depicted no Hispanic/Latino characters, and of those characters whose ethnicity could be determined, only 3.1 percent were Hispanic/Latino.
The statistics aren’t in sync with the nation’s population. The US Census Bureau reports Hispanics/Latinos constituted 17.6 percent of the nation’s total population in 2015 – making people of Hispanic/Latino origin the nation’s largest ethnic or racial group.
Nogales, said their protest this week w
asn’t directly against the Oscars but was held at the location where Hollywood decision makers were gathered.
“The reason we’re here is because the heads of all the studios are inside, and they’re not utilizing Latino talent — neither in front of nor behind the cameras,” he said.
“Enough is enough. Only 3.1 percent of the speaking roles in Hollywood movies go to Latinos, and we make up 18 percent of the population.”
None of this year’s acting nominees is Latino. But Mexican-born Guillermo del Toro is nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for The Shape of Water, which leads the field with 13 nominations, including Best Picture.
Members of the Latino community, including the NHMC, have complained for years about Hollywood’s “institutional racism,” and the negative roles doled out to Latino actors.
But with few exceptions, despite decades of complaints and formal studies, the depictions of Latinos on screen continues to be limited to stereotypical and negative roles.
Highly trained and talented actors have voiced their frustration over their slim options. As they’ve described, the roles most available have called for heavy accents, thugs and housekeepers. Concerned about perpetuating negative images, many Latino actors have opted to pass on these so-called “opportunities.” Over the years, “typecasting” has prevented them from being seriously considered for “mainstream” roles.
Former LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina also participated in the protest and noted the disparity.
“Demographics show that Latinos make up 56 million plus in this country, yet films fail to represent the true composition of the US. When you do have roles for Latinas? Their characters tends to be over-sexualized. Our children need better images of themselves and invisibility doesn’t do justice to our artists or our community,” Molina said.
Another more recent observation is that Hollywood has been more willing to open its door for Latinos who aren’t born in the United States. While US-born Latinos have celebrated and supported the success of people that include Mexican-born actor Salma Hayek and del Toro, they have taken issue with the view that Hollywood has done it’s job and “checked off the box” for Latino representation.
“On- and off-screen and in the narratives Hollywood’s movies, Latinos remain the most underrepresented minority in the industry. Enough is enough. It’s time to end the whitewashing and put Latinos in front of and behind the camera,” Nogales said.
The NHMC is planning another protest March 3, the day before the Oscars.