Even before I glanced at the list of performers with nods this year, I knew who I wouldn’t find among the names: a Latina actress. Why? Because a Latina has never won an Oscar for Best Actress ― not once in nearly 90 years of Oscar history!
In that time, we’ve invented the color television, handheld phones, radar, lasers, the personal computer, the internet. We created VHS tapes, replaced them with DVDs, then Blu-Ray (sort of), then Netflix. We put a man on the moon and thawed the Cold War. And still, the world has yet to see a Latina actress take home an Academy Award for Best Actress.
In fact, the last time a Latina was nominated for Best Actress was Catalina Sandino Moreno for “Maria Full of Grace” in 2004. That means it’s been 13 years since a Latina actress has even been nominated in the category.
And Latinxs have fared only slightly better in other categories. Rita Moreno, in 1962, and Mercedes Ruehl, in 1992, have been the only Latina actresses to take home an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actress category. The sole Latino to take home an Oscar for Best Actor was José Ferrer in 1950. While Anthony Quinn, in 1952 and 1946, and Benicio del Toro, in 2000, are the only Latino actors to win for a supporting role.
There are many reasons for why the Oscars are so white (here are five big ones). But perhaps the simplest explanation for why Latinos aren’t being nominated is that they’re not being cast as leads in films that are Oscar contenders.
“The problem is there are [few] roles that are available to Latino actors, and they are generally not central to the narrative,” Felix Sanchez, co-founder and chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, told The Huffington Post in 2015. “They are a pivot point for the main storyline... So we’re left to create our own independent films, which do not really get the audience. And often the money is not there to really produce a film that will win awards.”
But even when Latinx actors like Benicio del Toro (”Sicario”), Oscar Isaac (”Ex Machina”) and Tessa Thompson (”Creed”) did some Oscar-worthy work last year, they ended up ignored.
The lack of Latino representation is infuriating considering that Latinos are 17.6 percent of the U.S. population (at least according to 2015 numbers) and are some of Hollywood’s most important moviegoers, having bought 25 percent of tickets sold in 2013.
Practically the only saving grace of the 2016 film season was “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which prominently cast Mexican actor Diego Luna, thick accent and all. It was very unlikely that this major blockbuster would garner any acting nominations, but it did highlight how rare and necessary it is to see a Latino actor as a hero.
So while there may not be an #OscarsSoWhite protest this year, thanks to some notable and well-deserved nods for black actors and filmmakers, the industry must do more to recognize and nurture Latinx (and Asian!) talent.
Diversity has always been more than a black and white issue. Hollywood should never forget that.