Hispanic Images In The Media: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Bratt

As Benjamin Bratt gets physically older are his character choices on TV regressing?

By most standards, Bratt has had a fantastic career; he's a serious, thoughtful actor whose fine work has earned him ALMA Awards, a SGA Award, and an Emmy nomination. So, how did this actor, whose credits include playing Che Guevera and Detective Ray Curtis (Law and Order) come to his current role of Javier Delgado (Sofia Vergara's ex husband) on Modern Family? And more importantly, does it signify a step backward for Hispanics on TV?

Modern Family is a great show for lots of reasons. It skillfully captures contemporary non-traditional family structures and then layers on traditional family dysfunctions. It deserves its popularity and critical acclaim but for one thing... why are all first generation Hispanics on the show (basically Vergara and Bratt) hypersexual, overly superstitious, heavily-accented Hispanic stereotypes? The writers seem to have one model and one model only, Ricky Ricardo.

Some of it hits home with Hispanics in a positive way. They recognize the superstitions and have first hand experience with mispronunciations. It can be really funny. But to see Ben Bratt, who in the 1990s was repeatedly Emmy nominated for his portrayal of a determined and moral detective, adopt the Ricky Ricardo accent and portray his character as someone who can "see the soul of the horse in his eyes," feels, well, regressive. It would be quite in character if he were to put his hand on his head and say "LUUUUCIEEEEEE!!!!" The show's homosexual characters are similarly stereotyped (along with the many other characters), but the writers seem to give them more depth of character. From a sociological point of view:

"Television programming is primarily produced by commercial industries with capitalist interests. The symbolic products of these systems generally represent the ideas and values of mainstream corporate society or the views of dominant groups in U.S. culture" (Fiske 1987, Lembo 1992).

Does this mean that dominant groups in the United States see first-generation Hispanics as hypersexual, overly-superstitious rubes with heavy accents? Sure, its parody. It's well done.

It's fun to watch. But watching a well-known Hispanic actor, whose previous portrayals have added depth to the Hispanic image in American popular culture, play this role begs a question -- is this progress?