Despite Real-Life Population Growth, Latinos Remain Silent or Invisible in Film

Despite Real-Life Population Growth, Latinos Remain Silent or Invisible in Film

Latinos are the second largest racial/ethnic group (behind non-Hispanic white people) in the United States, accounting for about half of the nation’s population growth over the past two decades. Nineteen percent of Americans (62.1 million) are Latino – not that you could tell by watching American movies.  

According to the latest study from USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, just 5.5% of speaking characters on the big screen are Hispanic or Latino – a proportion that has not significantly changed in the past 16 years, even as the U.S. Hispanic population grew 23% just in the past decade. Even fewer – 4.4% – were leads or co-leads (less than 1%, or 8 actors total, were Afro-Latino), and 2.6% were born in the United States. Only four U.S.-born Latinos starred in more than one movie since 2007 (none were men); the actor with the most lead roles was Cameron Diaz, a white Latina who retired about a decade ago.

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AI2’s study, sponsored by McDonald’s, is its third deep dive into Hispanic and Latino representation in the movies, examining the 100 highest-grossing movies every year from 2007 to 2022. Looking at distribution, the researchers found that there wasn’t a single year in which all six major studios, plus Lionsgate, released at least one Latino-led film, with Warner Bros. releasing just three total in 16 years. “This is soul crushing for this community, as Latinos represent 49% of Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world,” the researchers wrote.

Further exploring Hollywood’s business decisions when it comes to Latinos, the study compared the production and marketing spends as well as the distribution size of movies starring Latinos versus non-Latinos. Among the 126 movies with solo protagonists from the past two years, researchers found that the former received fewer financial support than the latter, particularly when it came to production budgets, where the median costs for Latino-led movies was $10 million, compared to $25 million given to movies not starring a Latino actor. They discovered no significant difference between the two groups of films in box office performance, but the Latino-led movies in the two-year sample had a higher median Metacritic score (71 vs. 58.5).

“These findings illuminate that Hispanic/Latino stories are supported with fewer resources. That means that not only films themselves are under-resourced, but the Hispanic/Latino actors starring in these movies probably receive lower compensation,” AI2 founder Stacy L. Smith said in a statement. “This reality adds insult to injury – not only are there few opportunities for Hispanic/Latino actors, the roles that exist are less lucrative.”

The comprehensive study also examined onscreen representation intersectionally and qualitatively, unsurprisingly finding very few Latino characters who were LGBTQ+ or had a disability, and a prevalence of characters that fit a stereotype or trope, with more than half of the Latino protagonists (57.8%) in last year’s movies depicted as criminals.

“In our previous reports, we have recorded the continual stereotyping of the Hispanic/Latino community on screen in film,” lead author Ariana Case said in a statement. “This report is no different and reflects a stubborn view of the Hispanic/Latino experience that is rooted in outdated and mistaken beliefs. As Hollywood peddles these stories, audiences – both those who are Hispanic/Latino and those who are not – have little recourse to push back and advocate for more authentic stories.”

Behind the camera, just 4.6% of directors over the 16-year sample were Hispanic or Latino – and just 30.5% of that slice was U.S. born and less than 1% was a woman (only five Latinas directed at least one of the 1,600 movies analyzed in the study).

As usual, AI2 concludes its report with recommended solutions for progress (although, in acknowledgement of its persistently dismal findings, the researchers wrote, “Of course, the companies won’t listen to these recommendations as past behavior is still the best predictor of future action”). Their proposed action items for each stakeholder include:

  • Studios and production companies: Have at least two if not three Hispanic or Latino executive on each distributor’s greenlight team.
  • Casting directors: Audition Hispanic or Latino actors even when a part does not specify them.
  • Agents: Create lists that include Hispanic or Latino talent and creatives.
  • Film festivals and nonprofit organizations: Specifically solicit submissions from Hispanic and Latino filmmakers.
  • Philanthropists: Specifically designate funding for Hispanic or Latino projects.
  • Corporations: Hire Hispanic or Latino talent for branding and advertising campaigns.
  • Legislators: Ensure Hispanic and Latino constituent creatives have access to production funds and tax credits for filming locally.