Hollywood closes the door to Latinos: Hispanics only star in 5% of film roles

In almost two decades, only 75 actors in lead or co-lead roles were Latino, despite the fact that the Hispanic population in Los Angeles is 49%

Pedro Pascal y Bella Ramsey en el último episodio de 'The Last of Us'.
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in the last episode of the first season of 'The Last of Us' (2023).Liane Hentscher (HBO)
Ana Vidal Egea

Despite being the largest minority group in the United States, 19% of the population, Latinos are underrepresented in both the media and film and television productions. According to a study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of California, the data has not improved in the last 16 years. In nearly two decades, only 75 actors in lead or co-lead roles were Latino, which means that the representation of actors of Latino origin in Hollywood is only 4.4%.

The data is particularly striking considering that the Hispanic population represents 49% of the total population of Los Angeles. The Academy publicly announced its intention to be more inclusive and plural, but has not specified what steps it will take to achieve this. Joaquín Castro, president of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told National Public Radio (NPR) that the lack of representation has important repercussions for equality. “Hollywood in particular is still the main image-defining and narrative-creating institution in American society. And Latinos are still largely invisible in this industry.”

For the Latino community, representation is key. America Ferrera — an American of Honduran origin — who received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Barbie, and also won the Golden Globe for her performance — is a staunch advocate of how inclusive storytelling changes history. At a women’s luncheon organized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the actress lamented that “according to the numbers, the dominant narrative our industry puts into the world is that Latinos either don’t exist or they are poor, immigrant criminals.”

America Ferrera
America Ferrera arrives at the premiere of 'Barbie' (2023) in London.Vianney Le Caer (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

This is reflected in the study, which pointing out that representations of Hispanics are full of negative stereotypes: 24.4% of top-billed Hispanic characters were depicted as immigrants or low-income and 57.8% were criminals.

Few actors of Latino origin are known for making it in Hollywood. It’s a list that includes only a handful of names: Rosie Pérez, Benicio del Toro, Jennifer López, Pedro Pascal, Salma Hayek, Gael García Bernal, Eva Longoria, Zoe Saldana, Sofía Vergara.

Benicio del Toro en un fotograma de la película 'Sicario' (dir. Villenueve, 2015).
Benicio del Toro in a still from 'Sicario' (directed by Denis Villenueve, 2015).Lionsgate

This lack of representation is not only a problem for actors, but also directors, producers, casting directors and screenwriters. What’s more, films led by Latino stars also receive less funding: $10 million in production costs, in contrast to the average $25 million for a movie without a Latino lead.

In 2016, America Ferrera co-founded a foundation called Harness, which promotes the inclusion of other voices in the dominant Hollywood narrative. The organization recently launched a project called DEAR Hollywood to promote equity and inclusion in Hollywood. The goal is to get industry leaders to commit to basic pillars, such as greenlighting Latino projects, not telling stories about the Latino community without Latino involvement, and representing all (and not just some) aspects of life and Latino culture. The project is also sponsored by Untitled Latinx Project, a community of Hispanic creatives which aim to increase visibility on television, radio, cable and other broadcast platforms.

Improving on-screen representation would help promote more equal and fair representation, but could also generate $12 to $18 trillion in new revenue for the film and television industry, according to research published in March by consulting firm McKinsey. The commercial success of the Disney animated films Coco and Encanto or the popular TV show Jane the Virgin highlight the importance of Latinos’ economic impact.

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