Now that the metaphorical dust has settled on this year's Oscars and we begin to look forward to the next, I can't help but realize that something very crucial seems to have slipped underneath everyone's radar. With all the boycotting and protesting, the hooting and hollering, the mass populace has fixated its gaze on the horrendous under-representation of Black American members in Hollywood but somehow the other minorities seemed to have been pushed to the wayside. Obviously, not everyone has narrowed their vision to just the black actors or actresses. There are many people who have been outspoken on behalf of all peoples and demographics, but the majority of people seem to have failed to realize that there is another group that has been more cut out, more overshadowed, and less represented: the Latino population.
Before I dive head first into this chasm of controversy, political correctness, and possible offence, let me say a little bit about myself. I am a young adult, American male born to a white father and Guatemalan mother and spend too much of my time watching movies and catching up on shows. That's the simplest form I could describe myself in. I wouldn't call myself an activist or a progressivist. I wouldn't call myself a political pundit or analyst. I am a movie lover and a writer-- at least on this website. That's all you really need to know about me for the context of this article.
"Under-representation" is defined simply as an inadequate amount of representation of a group in comparison to the group itself. With that definition, the group in question must be large enough that their absence is observable. In some recent studies-- and these numbers do fluctuate so don't take everything as gospel-- the Latino/Hispanic percentage of the US population was roughly 18%; more than double the Asian population and 6% more than the Black. It is the second largest racial group behind White (62%). Seeing as the US is the largest distributor of the movies that we all watch, it would make sense that 18% of those movies either referenced, starred, or were focused towards the Latino community. This isn't the case. And we know this isn't the case judging by this last year. Let's break it down.
Highest Grossing Movies
In the top 10 highest grossing films of last year, only one starred a Latino actor as the top billed actor (with the exception of Vin Diesel who has never disclosed his ethnic background) and she was CGIed over as a blue, cat alien. However, at least Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Michelle Rodriguez (Furious Seven), and Michael Pena (The Martian) were featured in these 10 films, though not as lead characters. Doing the math, 18% is roughly 20% so theoretically, if we were to go based solely on population, 2 movies in the top ten should at least have a Latino actor leading. But we know that's not true. Let's look at the big picture then: "Top 10 Highest Grossing Movies of All Time"! Whoa ho, would you look at that? Isaac, Rodriguez (for Avatar and Furious Seven), and Zoe Saldana (Avatar) are now the only one's on there and with only a single leading role going to a Latino actor. This isn't overly concerning all by itself. I mean, for decades the Latino population was tiny and didn't really effect pop culture as it does today. But every single one of the Top 10 movies came out in my lifetime (not adjusted for inflation, that is). We're not talking about 60, 70 years ago. We're talking about less than two decades ago. That's just shocking.
Let's be honest, we all know the only awards that really matter to the mass audiences are The Oscars; its the sad truth. The other award shows might as be spirit awards at T-Ball tournaments. An Oscar is the most prestigious award any actor or movie maker could hope to obtain. Best Picture is the pinnacle of even that. In 2015, of the eight films nominated not a single one had a lead or even supporting Latino actor. The only one to even feature a Latino was The Martian with Michael Pena playing a miniscule role. We're all aware that for years in a row, all of the acting categories have gone to white actors. I think each one of those spots was well deserved by the actor in question so I don't want to argue on that. But, look at the nomination history as a whole.
The last Latino actor to be nominated for Best Actor was Demian Bichir (A Better Life) in 2011 then Javier Bardem (Biutiful) in 2010. Those are the only two since 2000. 16 years of nominations, 80 actors names put up, and you know how many are Latino? Two. Two actors. 2.5% of all the lead actors nominated since 2000 have been Latino; that is a 15.5% margin of under-representation. The margin itself is a larger percentage than the total population percentage of Black Americans. Of that same time span, 10 Black actors were nominated meaning that 12.5% of all nominations went to Black actors; with that math, they're actually .5% over-represented. Think about that for a moment.
Latinos are the most under-represented group by percentage.
It's not much better for the women too, unfortunately. Penelope Cruz (Volver) and Catalina Sandino (Maria Full of Grace), and Salma Hayek (Frida) are the only Latina ones, none of whom won. Latinos are criminally and absurdly under-represented in the Awards; in such a degree that it's crazy that no one seems to be talking about it.
At least Alejandro G. Inarritu is getting director awards.
You know, money and awards aren't everything. The really aren't. To maybe the studios or the producers, those two things are fairly important but to the rest of us very just boardroom statistics. I bet you the majority of people can't name who won Best Picture in 2006 or what the third highest grossing is. You know what most people can name? The members of the Avengers. Or better yet, the Fellowship of the Ring. Or even the Terminator, the Crew of the Enterprise, or the Hogwarts House Champions. You know who isn't part of any of those groups? Latino characters.
Let's focus on the predominant genre of the age-- which Spielberg apparently thinks will go "the way of the western"-- Superhero movies. From box office beasts like Avengers: Age of Ultron to financial follies like Fant4stic; from acclaimed art pieces like The Dark Knight to criticized car crashes like Ghost Rider, this genre has had it all. It's the current currency of the day and we are shaping up to enter the renaissance of the Superhero Age. Yet, the only Latino character to appear in a Marvel film was "Luis" in Antman who not only wasn't a superhero but wasn't even a driving factor in the plot. He was a comedic sideshow-- a great one, I'll give you that-- and nothing more.
Zoe Saldana appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy but was painted green which I don't think really counts. Benecio Del Toro's role as "The Collector" was so small, I nearly forgot he was in it. White superheros are obviously the dominated type but as we shift to more diversity in our superhero movies, no shift seems to made towards Latinos. With the casting of Chadwick Boseman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Ray Fisher, Don Cheadle, David Ramsey, Jesse L. Martin, Samuel L. Jackson, Idris Elba, and Mike Colter, we have gotten a plethora of varied, engaging, and layered black characters. As we push to put more of these characters front and center instead of relegated to the supporting cast, no one seems to realize that Latino actors are not even in the supporting cast. We've made great progress but only, it seems, in one direction.
How is it, with dozens of new superhero projects every year and the growing acceptance of all demographics of actors, that the Latino population only has Michael Pena as comedic relief, Zoe Saldana as a green alien, and soon-to-be Oscar Isaac as an Egyptian titan?
If you were to list the most influential and highest paid actors in Hollywood, do you know how many would be Latino? My guess? None. The highest paid actor last year was Robert Downey Jr. The actor in the highest grossing films of all time is Harrison Ford. Tom Cruise and Will Smith were both box office champions of their day. Jennifer Lawrence and Johnny Depp often top lists for highest paid actors for single films. With the exception of Jennifer Lopez, Latino actors just don't make these lists. On IMDB's starmeter (which I'm aware isn't the most reputable source) has never had a Latino actor as number one. Listicles of "Most Influential Actors" or "Most Beloved Actors" rarely have Latino actors even in the honorable mentions. Frankly put, 18% of the country doesn't have a role model of their own race present in movies. That means roughly 57,402,000 people. I don't know about you but I found that pretty appalling.
Now, I've used this argument many times and I'm gonna use it against myself right now. The overall population breakdown of a country doesn't affect the demographics shown in the movies; only the population of moviegoers. If 70% of the population hates movies, who cares what race they are because that doesn't affect the movie making process at all. Well, according to a study done by Nielsen on Newswire.com:
When looking at the moviegoing audience by race/ethnicity, Hispanics were the heaviest moviegoers, as they represented 18 percent of the moviegoing population, but accounted for 25 percent of all movies seen. Hispanics were also the only demographic group that went to more movies in 2012 than in the prior year--9.5 movies on average compared with 8.5 in 2011.
This study may be 4 years old but the movie going population has remained relatively consistent; in fact, the Latino moviegoing demographic has increased since then. 18% of the moviegoing audiences are Latino which is the same exact percentage of Latinos in the whole country! This isn't an audience problem or a lack of a market, it's a lack of product. I don't think it's because "Hollywood is so racist" or that they're somehow scheming against the Latino population. I don't think it's even conscious. Its just been so ingrained in our mass psyche that Latinos are some small group and don't affect the country as a whole. But times have changed. Demographics have shifted. It's time for this problem to be talked about, but what should we do?
It's easy to sit here and complain and whine and yell about my internet activism and self importance. Anyone could look up statistics and put them on the internet. I've pointed out a problem. A severe problem? I don't think so. In the grand scheme of things, the race of an actor shouldn't matter as much as the skill and gravitas they possess. As an audience we should be able to connect with the heart of a character not just the skin color of one. But when it comes down to little kids staring up at TV screens and not being able to see themselves in the people that they look up to, that's where the severity really comes into play.
We, as a moviegoing population and as an audience, should start to demand more representation of Latino characters. Not with boycotts or picketing. Not with petitions or with outcries. With our dollars and cents. Movie making is a business and if you want to affect that business you have to speak their language. When it comes down to it, every good-hearted, well meaning writer or director can't affect change in Hollywood without the people who have the money. Guess what. We're the people who give them the money. If we, the audience, put our money where our mouths are and pay for the movies we feel are making an attempt to diversify, we ultimately affect change. We vote with your money, as John Campea would say.
Let's make this clear though, I'm not talking about a call-to-arms or a impassioned movement. I'm talking about presenting a real problem to the minds of thoughtful movie lovers and turning otherwise casual fans into a cognicent, better rounded audience members. This may be a lot of hot air to some of you and totally blown out of proportion to others, but to me-- and to a number of people-- it means a lot. I hate to see these activist trains powering forward, braking at every stop but this one.
Thank you-- if you got this far-- for reading my overly worded, statistic ridden essay. I really didn't plan on it being this long. Sorry, but what can ya do?
'Til next time!
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