Latinos continue to be significantly underrepresented in high-grossing movies, both in front of and behind the camera, a recent report of 1,600 films from the past 16 years found.
“When you consider how many characters they examined, and you consider that the U.S. population is at 19.1 percent Hispanic/Latino at this point, it’s pretty appalling to see how few Latinos are seen on screen,” Ariana Case, one of the report’s authors and program manager at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol.
The report, released Nov. 6 by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, examined the 100 top-grossing films of each year from 2007 to 2022. The report assessed more than 62,000 speaking characters; 13,000 directors, producers and casting directors; and how often Latinos filled behind-the-camera positions.
What they found was that of the total percentage of speaking characters across 1,600 films, only an average of 5.5 percent were Hispanic/Latino – the highest percentage is at 10.5 percent in 2021, while the lowest is 2.8 percent in 2009. (The term Hispanic/Latino was used in the report.) Additionally, only 4 percent had a Hispanic/Latino character in a lead or co-lead role. That number gets worse for leading roles held by Afro-Latino actors, totaling eight across the entire 16-year time span.
The problem becomes more significant when broken down by gender. Of the 1,600 films, 691 were missing male characters, but 1,028 movies left out female characters.
And the issue extends to behind-the-scenes staff. There were only 47 Hispanic/Latino directors, or 4.6 percent, across the 1,600 films – only five were women. When it comes to movie producers, 3 percent were men and less than 1 percent were women.
The problem of visibility is even more pronounced when it comes to the intersectionality of Hispanic/Latino characters. Between 2015 and 2022, only 22 movies had an LGBTQ+ character. In the same timeframe, only 39 movies had a character with a disability.
This is the third iteration of the report by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative – the previous two came out in 2019 and 2021, respectively. When asked if the Hispanic/Latino representation has been getting better or worse, Case said that there really hasn’t been any change.
“I would say that … a lot of these numbers really stay consistent [year after year]. Looking behind the scenes, 3.5 percent of directors last year were Hispanic/ Latino, and the first year that we examined, 2007, we found that 3.3 percent of directors were Hispanic and Latino. So over 16 years, 3.3 percent and 3.5 percent is no change whatsoever,” said Case.
But when Hispanic/Latino characters are shown in films, they often come with negative stereotypes. The report found that just last year, 58 percent of top-billed Hispanic/Latino characters participated in criminal activity, 46 percent committed a violent crime and 15 percent were members of organized crime. Additionally, 24 percent were shown as lower class or impoverished, and 40 percent were depicted as angry or temperamental.
“It wasn’t really a surprise when we saw that there’s still a significant amount of stereotyping in these films,” Case said. “For any top-billed actor who was Latino, we looked at the representation and portrayal of their character and for those characters, we actually found that the stereotyping went up for a lot of the measures we’ve looked at. … We also examined how often the characters were sexualized, and that went up. And as you can imagine, for women even more so.”
Case continued, pointing out that consistently portraying Latinos as violent criminals advances a narrative of that specific group, and it shows others that this is the only way to portray Latinos.
“You can imagine how harmful that is and how negative these kinds of stereotypes can affect the community itself, but then also how others perceive Latinos in our country,” Case said.
To Case, this kind of negative stereotyping and exclusion comes back around to the lack of representation behind the camera, saying that there aren’t enough Latinos telling their stories. To combat this, it would take a concerted effort from studios, casting directors and talent agencies collaborating to make the industry more inclusive.
However, the report’s findings seem to show that movie studios aren’t keen on casting Latino actors in lead roles. Universal Studios, for instance, cast Hispanics/Latinos in lead or co-lead roles in 15 out of its top 262 films – this was the highest number out of all the major distributors. Rounding out the bottom was Warner Brothers, having a Hispanic/Latino actor in a lead role in a measly three movies out of its top 253 films.
Furthermore, films with Hispanic/Latino leads were found to have less financial support. Latino-lead films had fewer production resources, fewer marking dollars spent and were shown in slightly fewer theaters. This is despite Hispanic/Latino-lead movies receiving higher median Metacritic scores, 71, than non-Latino lead films, 58.5, and there being “no difference in box office performance” between the two.
“It really seems like it should be a pretty obvious solution, that these are films that need more support,” Case said. “More marketing, more production budget, and without that, I just feel that nothing’s going to change.”
To hopefully bring about that change, the report lists possible solutions to increase Hispanic/Latino representation. These include supporting or creating initiatives that specifically target and nurture Hispanic/Latino filmmakers, financially supporting initiatives that reach those filmmakers and creative talent, casting a wider net to find emerging talent from these communities and committing to casting processes that ensure Hispanic/Latino talent is auditioning in strong numbers.
Case said, “If you were to have executives at each of the distributors or studios who are Hispanic/Latino themselves, not just one token individual at the company but at least multiple executives who are in charge of green-lighting projects … my hope would be that it could have a positive effect in the future.”