New Annenberg study finds low Latinx representation in media

  “How to be a Latin Lover,” a 2017 film featuring Salma Hayak (left) and Eugenio Derbez (right), was one recent film that featured several Latinx characters in its cast. 
(Photo courtesy from Lionsgate)

A new study from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that Latinos are heavily misrepresented in mainstream media, despite growing narratives advocating for increased diversity and inclusion in the film industry. 

The report, titled “Latinos in Film: Erasure On Screen and Behind the Camera Across 1,200 Popular Movies,” revealed no changes in the depiction of Latinos on screen over 11 years. From 2007 to 2018, only 3% of 1,200 examined films featured a lead Latino character. Only 4.5% of speaking characters were Latino, despite the fact that the United States is home to a population that is 18% Latino, according to the study.

The report was conducted by Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professor Stacy Smith in partnership with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers and Wise Entertainment, and it focuses on the presence of Latinos in front of and behind the camera. 

“This glaring lack of representation does nothing to counter hate-filled messages toward Latinos,” Smith and actress Eva Longoria wrote in a letter published in TIME. “Instead, it tacitly reinforces the dangerous and anti-American views espoused by political figures and some news outlets.”

The report also found that the majority of the Latino characters represented on-screen succumbed to “harmful” Latino stereotypes. In fact, more than 60% of Latino characters were depicted as criminals, gang members and drug dealers. 

More than a quarter of top Latino actors were presented as law breakers and criminals. Only 4% of the jobs held by Latino characters were high-level occupations, while 54% of the characters held a job that did not require a college degree.

The study revealed high levels of erasure within film. More than 60% of Latinos were depicted without ties to their community.

“The results also show that the depiction of Latino characters in these films — as criminals, in poverty or without any links to a rich Latino heritage or community — dramatically extends the scope of the problem,” Smith and Longoria wrote. “We know from research that dehumanization on screen can increase the risk of aggression, in this case, toward Latinos in the U.S. and abroad.”

Across the films analyzed in the study, only 10 included Latino characters over 45 years old. The two roles played by Latinas were both done by actress Jennifer Lopez.

“The Latino community has not been prioritized, and it is imperative that we shed light on the glaring reality of Latino representation in film,” NALIP Executive Director Benjamin Lopez told Annenberg News. “NALIP has positioned itself to be the elegant solution to this complex problem through our commitment to building the pipeline of Latino talent and sustainable development in the industry. Professor Smith’s research must guide decision-makers to the conclusion that there is immense value in collaborating with and investing in the Latino community.”

The report proposed multiple solutions to combat the lack of Latino representation in film. It recommended increasing the number of Latinos behind the scenes, including directors and filmmakers, to expand connections with the Latino community and ensure representation in both small and large roles. According to the report, only 4% of the 1,335 directors were Latino.