The Latinx Community Protests Hollywood
For most of Hollywood, the day before the Academy Awards is a celebration of the imminent glitz and glamour of the ceremony to come. But for the National Hispanic Media Coalition and its partners in the industry, Saturday, March 3 will be a day of protest meant to challenge Hollywood for all the barriers it has created for the Latinx community.
On famed Sunset Boulevard, attendees of the protest are expected to call out the entertainment industry for its lack of Latinx representation, both in front of and behind the camera. According to recent studies, Hispanics account for 24 percent of all box office ticket sales (and 18 percent of the population), but comprise just 5.8 percent of major characters in films.
This #OscarsSoWhite protest takes its cues from the campaign that started three years ago spearheaded by activist April Reign, who pointed out on Twitter the lack of nominees of color and created a social media awakening. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite sparked a fresh conversation about the ceremony, the Academy, and more broadly, opportunities in the film industry. The movement is credited with beginning a dialogue that culminated in the Academy expanding its membership. Last year, a record 774 people, 30 percent of whom are people of color, were invited to join the Academy (which has a total membership of about 6,687).
For Alex Nogales, the president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the protest is a natural evolution after years of fighting for more Latinx representation. “The numbers speak for themselves,” he notes. He hopes that this protest prompts more studios to take a sincere look at their roster of films. If things continue the way they are, Nogales foresees massive boycotts from the Latinx community. “We are demanding that they change the whole equation.”
The lack of Latino inclusion in the entertainment industry was at the forefront of conversations at the 21st Impact Awards presented by the National Hispanic Media Coalition to honorees for their “outstanding achievements and contributions to the positive portrayals of Latinos in media.”
Accepting an award for her performance in Ingrid Goes West, Aubrey Plaza took to the stage on February 24 with a pointed message: “I’m going to accept the leading best actress award on behalf of the Oscars ceremony because I heard a fun fact tonight that I never knew before, which is that no Latina actress has ever won best actress at the Oscars.”
Indeed, no Hispanic actress has ever won Best Actress. And this year’s acting nominees include no Latinos, a fact that was hammered by Jane The Virgin and Annihilation star Gina Rodriguez.
For Felix Sanchez, the president of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, this year is just another year of Hollywood marginalizing Latino characters for “throwaway lines.” Sanchez points to a scene in the Oscar-nominated film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which includes a reference to payments by a “fat Mexican boy.”
While the Academy Awards are perhaps the most visible representation of the dearth of Latinos in the industry, the problems of representation are far more endemic. Nogales is quick to note that the upcoming protest is really targeting the gatekeepers of the entertainment industry: the studios.
A comprehensive study published by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism confirmed that people of color are being systemically left out of important positions in the industry, from executive suites to writers’ rooms. One of their main conclusions is that “the film industry still functions as a straight, White, boy’s club.”
The same study also spotlighted the difficulties for women in particular. Hispanic actresses appeared in film and television roles in sexualized attire 39.5 percent of the time (more than any other racial or ethnic group). Even the casual film or television viewer can view the stereotypes many Latina actresses are forced to portray, often relegated to sex objects, service workers, or even a combination of the two.
Nogales remembers the career of his friend, the late Lupe Ontiveros. “She was a talented actress, but there was no role for her besides a maid or a poor victim.” In her decades-spanning career, Ontiveros portrayed a maid more than 150 times.
The original #OscarsSoWhite campaign created a movement that has seen some recent gains for people of color in the industry. Black Panther is currently the number one movie in the world and on track for a billion-dollar financial haul. Even this year’s Oscars features three nominees for Best Director who are not white men: Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, and Guillermo del Toro (who is from Mexico).
Some more positive developments appear to be looming. Netflix announced that Rodriguez will be producing and starring in an original romantic comedy. This comes after it was revealed she was also developing two projects centered around Latina leads. “I, of course, would love to see Latino communities uplifted and celebrated in a positive light,” she told Self, “because our administration loves to show us in such a negative light.”
For many in the Latinx community, the upcoming protest is a sign that change in the entertainment industry is no longer a request, but a demand. “They take this audience for granted,” says Nogales. If studios were to see a precipitous drop of Latinos at the box office, perhaps that audience will no longer be so overlooked and ignored.
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