Latinos and the Elusive Golden Man

With the upcoming Academy Awards this weekend, it is hard not to talk about the slew of media attention this year’s nomination list received reveal received last month. The lack of diversity in the 2016 Oscar nods was and still is a hot topic across both traditional and social media. However, the lack of diversity this year’s nomination shouldn’t come as a surprise to Latinos. While we flock to the box office in record numbers and serve as a core base of Hollywood’s business, rarely are Latinos casted in films on or off the screen.

I must add that I don’t want the lack of diversity nominees on screen to overshadow the grandiose achievement of Mexican born Alejandro González Iñárritu who this year is up for 12 awards including Best Director and Best film. Historically, for Latino actors, the struggles have definitely been tough.

With actors such as Ben Affleck and Al Pacino playing Latino characters, the amount of roles that Latinos get casted for are quite small in comparison to population statistics. In the 87 Academy Awards, only a small amount of Latinos have won the award. Anthony Quinn, Rita Moreno, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o and Benecio del Toro to name a few.

It’s hard to believe that Hollywood finds itself again in the same racial and ethnic predicament that it faced in 1999 when the “Fall TV Lacks Diversity” report blasted the networks for their “virtual whitewash in programming”. The report referred to the 26 new shows that debuted without a minority in a lead role.

Seventeen years later, we find ourselves in the same diversity challenge Hollywood. I believe that there are three simple reasons that Hollywood continues to lock out Latinos and other minorities.

The first issue is that Hollywood still sees diversity in an antiquated black/white paradigm. This paradigm needs to be adjusted to include others like Latinos, Native Americans, etc. who are also marginalized in the film and television business despite the shift in the demographic of today’s American Society.

According to the latest U.S. Census, African Americans make up 13% of the national population while Latinos make up 17% and Asians represent 5%. All three make up 35% of the country’s population yet they are missing from the picture in Hollywood-literally.

A 2014 statistical report by the Motion Pictures Association of America found that, “Hispanics are more likely than any other ethnic group to purchase movie tickets (23%) relative to their share of the population and share of moviegoers (17%).” It further states “African Americans and Hispanics reported the highest annual attendance per capital for the first time since 2014, attending on average 5.2 times per year.” The sad thing is that we are investing our time and money and we cannot relate culturally to any of the actors we are paying to watch.

The second issue is that it is not really the Oscars itself but the process in which the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences determines membership. The academy guarantees you a lifetime membership so how is the temperature, the perspective, the trend supposed to change and/or progress to match today’s demographic and diversity issues if the same old people are voting each year? When the nominations were announced this year, why didn’t AMPAS President Cherry Boone Isaacs take action and update the membership rules? If I have to renew my AAA membership each year, wouldn’t it be fair to say that these people need to do the same?

The third and final issue is of course the studios and the agents. A 2015 Columbia University study, called The Latino Media Gap found that “from 2000 to 2013, among the 10 films with the highest gross per year, Latino lead role appearances decreased from 2.8% in the 2000’s to 1.4% in the 2010’s. At the same time, the percentage of Latino actors playing lead roles fell under 2%. What is ridiculous is that the study found that between 2008-2014 only one Latino played the lead role in a film. That was Benicio del Toro in “The Wolfman.” Where are our Latino led movies?

It is refreshing to hear actors speak about what is missing in Hollywood with respect to more color in the arts. George Clooney said recently in an interview, “we’re moving in the wrong direction” when it comes to diversity in Hollywood. Yet he forgets that he was the executive producer for the film “Argo”, a film based on the true life of CIA operative Tony Mendez- a Latino. Yet, no Latino was even considered for this role. Ben Affleck chose to cast himself as the Latino and went on to win Oscars for best picture and adapted screenplay.

In today’s society we have people like Donald Trump telling us that he will build walls to keep us out, when in fact one of the largest industries in this country has been successful at keeping us out for decades. It is time for Latinos to begin supporting our young actors, writers, directors and people within the industry. Yes that movie about Cesar Chavez doesn’t have the action of the Fast Furious series, but it is time that we begin to support our own. The numbers speak for themselves, and we hold the power! And eventually, Hollywood will have to listen.

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