Grab your coquito and a comfy seat! To commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month I want to talk to you about being seen and heard as a Latina year round. The continuous conversation of the importance of equal and fair representation of the Latine community doesn’t stop when the month does. Today, Hispanics make up 19% of the US population, yet only represent 7% of film and television roles. This lack of representation is felt even more so by the 38% of Gen Z who are Hispanic, and consume more media than all other generations. Let’s examine what Latine representation has looked like during the last century and how we can progress for the future.
Glam, glitz, and chisme, every tia’s dream; however it all came with a price of your identity. Between the 30s and 50s, America’s infamous Hollywood was on the come up to become what it is today. The conversation of any type of representation was obsolete and many actors of color were advised to change their names that held their family history, rich culture, and personal identity. Famously from this era, Rita Hayworth adjusted her name from Margarita Carmen Cansino while Anthony Quinn adjusted his name from Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca. Ultimately, this was the catalyst of the whitewashed media we have seen for decades. How could we be proud of our names, our origin, if the people we looked up to didn't?
The Cholo Renaissance
During the 1980s “war on drugs”, the Latine community was portrayed harshly and unfairly by media, while simultaneously their culture was appropriated into mainstream culture and fashion. Through this, we saw the birth of the Latine stereotypes in media and Hollywood with characters being portrayed as the maid, cholo gangster, cartel leader, criminal, hypersexualized “spicy” Latina, immigrant, and blue-collar worker. Never the businessman, doctor, or artist. In mainstream media, 77% of white media portrayed their own biased version of how they saw the Latine community from the outside. This stripped away and flattened the complex and vibrant community and told Latine’s stories without their input or participation; thus, putting us in a box of what we could be before we even had a chance.
The world has changed a lot in the last two decades: the first Black president, revival of social justice movements, and public pressure on social media. These have unearthed and challenged conversations of diversity and representation in the media. The success of films like Crazy Rich Asians (2018), 8 seasons of Black-ish (2014 - 2022), or anything Lin-Manuel Miranda does, has shown that the American audience is invested in seeing a cast and characters that look and act like them and the people in their lives. Despite this, programs with a diverse cast have been more likely to be canceled or postponed. Among these are: One Day At A Time (Netflix, 2017), Vida (STARZ, 2018), Gentefied (Netflix, 2020), Party of Five (Freeform, 2020), Gordita Chronicles (HBOMax, 2022), BatGirl (HBOMax, 2022), all of these programs had leading roles or a full cast filled with Latine representation. The repetitive reasoning behind cancellation? “Not enough funding, not enough views.” The question remains, when will we be enough?
The common denominator of these three eras is behind the cameras, in the writers' rooms, and in the boardrooms. Within the leading media industries, entry level roles have more diversity than any other stature. The thing is the people in these entry level positions don’t get to call the shots; the executive positions do. People behind the power and the ones in the room where it happens, need to look like and reflect on the colorful diverse world that we walk in. Let’s not let history repeat itself. Be the change. To challenge you all reading this, I leave you with three reflective questions:
- Are you, your company or your brand taking steps that are actually making an impact with diversity and representation or are they just performative?
- Are you, your company or your brand holding space for entry level employees of color to be heard, trusted, and valued?
- What are you, your company or your brand doing to create a culture where employees of color can succeed in higher levels of leadership?