A new study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative paints a dismal picture for Latino representation on screen and behind the camera.
Researchers analyzed the top 100 grossing films of each year from 2007-2018 and found that nearly half of the 1,200 movies in the sample failed to include even one speaking character identified as Latino. Overall, only 4.5% of speaking characters in the most popular movies from this 12-year period included Latino characters, with only 3% ― or just 15 movies ― featuring Latinos in a leading or co-leading role. The study showed that there had been no meaningful change in representation in more than a decade.
Female characters fared worse than their male counterparts for representation. Of the films that lacked any Latino characters, 70% of the films failed to include a female speaking character, while about 57% lacked a male speaking character. For the purposes of this study, researchers used the term Latino to describe content creators and characters from a variety of Spanish-speaking and Latin backgrounds.
“The erasure and stereotyping of Latinos in film contributes to a vision of our country that is far removed from reality,” study author and media diversity expert Stacy L. Smith told HuffPost. “We are calling on Hollywood to ensure that 20% of the on-screen and behind-the-camera ecosystem includes the Latinx community. Proportional representation should be the starting point for this historically underserved group.”
Perhaps even more disappointing than the blatant exclusion is the stereotyping Latino characters face. When Latino characters did appear on-screen, they were frequently portrayed as criminals. Researchers looked at a smaller subset of 200 top films from 2017-2018 and found that 28 percent of top-billed Latino talent was shown breaking the law in violent and non-violent crimes.
“Evidence suggests that exposure to media and narratives featuring crime can increase fear, particularly in heavy viewers,” study authors wrote. “Linking Latino characters to portrayals of crime and criminality may elevate perceptions that members of this community are threatening or likely to engage in illegal behavior.”
While the data shows there’s drastic room for improvement across the board, the study also identifies a factor that can help remedy the situation. Films were more inclusive when the director was also Latino, which underscores the importance of diversity behind the camera. Unfortunately, only 4% of the top-grossing films in the study featured Latino directors.