Hollywood still portrays Latinos with the same tired stereotypes

In 2022, nearly 60% of Latino leads in Hollywood’s top films were portrayed as criminals. Forty percent were portrayed as angry and more than 30 percent were sexualized. And more than a quarter were presented solely as their film’s comic relief, often opposite a more three-dimensional white character. To make matters worse, many of these characters are often portrayed as foreigners, further alienating and marginalizing Latinos in the United States

The persistence of these harmful stereotypes and tired tropes is among the many glaring findings of a new study into the portrayal of Latinos in major Hollywood films. More specifically, the report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is actually about the continued invisibility of Latinos on the big screen. This is despite 20% of Americans identifying as Hispanic/Latino in the most recent US Census. In Los Angeles, where many of the decisions for these films are made, nearly 50% of the population identifies as Hispanic/Latino.

Every year since 2007, the group has collected data on the 100 highest-grossing Hollywood films and breaks down who is in front of and behind the camera. Its latest report, released Monday, is the third time the group has specifically examined Latino representation — and according to the data, virtually nothing has changed. In fact, some of it, such as the prevalence of stereotypical Latino main characters, has actually gotten worse in recent years, the group found.

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Latino actors and writers at a Latino-themed strike demonstration in July during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The report points out that too often, Latinos are either portrayed stereotypically in major films or are not shown on screen at all. The report, which uses the “Hispanic/Latino” census category for consistency, found that in 2022, just 5% of major characters in the 100 top-grossing Hollywood films were Hispanic/Latino, and 5.8% of all were speaking Characters were Hispanic/Latino. Latino. More than 40% of films in 2022 did not have a single Hispanic/Latino character.

According to the data, these numbers have barely changed since 2007. A major exception was 2021, the only year in which the percentage of Hispanic/Latino characters in top films exceeded 10%, thanks to the release of three major films with Hispanic/Latino leads: “West Side Story,” “In the Heights” and “In the Heights.” “Encanto.”

“There is a clear and persistent lack of stories focused on Hispanic/Latino actors Hispanic/Latino experience,” the report’s lead author, Ariana Case, said in a press release. “Despite the wealth of talent in this community, there is a clear reluctance from the entertainment industry to develop and distribute these stories.”

For Latinos with intersectional identities such as Afro-Latinos, LGBTQ Latinos and disabled Latinos, the numbers are even lower, showing a lack of variety and nuance when it comes to Latino stories from major Hollywood studios.

The continued lack of progress in representation means that very few Latino stars and filmmakers have the chance for a lasting career in Hollywood. For example, from 2007 to 2022, only 14 leads or co-leads in major films were played by Hispanic/Latino actors ages 45 and older, according to the group’s data. Only five of those characters were women – and three of them were played by an actress: Jennifer Lopez.

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Jennifer Lopez at the Los Angeles premiere of Netflix’s “The Mother” in May. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

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As this type of research consistently documents, the lack of representation on screen is paralleled by a lack of representation behind the camera. According to the study, in 2022, only 3.5% of the directors of the 100 highest-grossing films were Hispanic/Latino. These numbers are similarly low for other important decision-making roles in films, such as producers and casting directors.

Having Latinos in positions of power makes a significant difference. For example, researchers found that in films with Hispanic/Latino casting directors, Hispanics/Latinos filled 12.6% of speaking roles, compared to just 5.2% of roles in films with non-Hispanic/Latino casting directors.

Finally, the study also examined in more detail what type of institutional support recent films with Hispanic/Latino protagonists have received. In 2021 and 2022, films with Hispanic/Latino leads had lower median production and marketing budgets compared to films with non-Hispanic/Latino leads. While Hispanic/Latino artists work tirelessly to tell their stories, they often lack institutional support and important platforms for their work.

As in previous years, the report ends with a wide range of solutions. They range from studios and production companies considering more Latino filmmakers for top directing opportunities, to casting directors and talent agents championing Latino actors, to film festivals programming more Latino films and initiatives to support aspiring Latino actors. From filmmakers to philanthropists setting up funds specifically for Latino-led projects. At the very least, more people with a lot of power in Hollywood should put their names and money behind Latin American filmmakers’ projects. Regardless of the approach, researchers repeatedly emphasize that it is high time to find excuses for the inaction of industry leaders.

“For the third time, we are calling on the industry to create change and authentically and meaningfully represent the Hispanic/Latino community in popular storytelling,” they wrote in the report. “Resorting to excuses, relying on outdated stereotypes and refusing to try is simply no longer acceptable. There are talented Hispanic/Latino filmmakers ready to work and tell compelling stories about Hispanic/Latino filmmakers. It’s time for the gatekeepers to open the floodgates and bring them to our screens.”

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