What's Hollywood got against Latinos?
Latinos remain over-represented among frequent moviegoers relative to their overall percentage in the US population. Their attendance has been trending upward for years: from 2015 to 2016 it grew from 7.9 million to 8.3 million (its all-time high was 11.6 million, in 2013). Similarly, during 2015-2016, attendance for African-American frequent moviegoers grew from 3.8 million to 5.6 million; for Asian-American frequent moviegoers, it rose from 3.2 million to 3.9 million.
Put another way, in 2016, Hispanics comprised 18% of the US population, but over-indexed at 23% of frequent moviegoers. African-Americans and Asians combined represent 20% of the population and accounted for 26% of frequent moviegoers. Taken as a whole, people of color now account for 48% of frequent moviegoers.
Yet nowhere in the MPAA’s 2016 Theatrical Market Statistics report was the issue of portrayal — the elephant in the report — discussed. But, in theory, if effectively mobilized, US ethnic and racial minorities could control the purse strings and have a decisive effect on whether the US film industry has a financially successful or a disastrous year.
Why is Latino portrayal important? Not only should the film industry be responsive to a key demographic that helps it achieve financial success but, more importantly, it should recognize that the way Latinos are shown figures heavily in how the nation and the world picture this important demographic group.
Why have Americans bought into the false depiction of people from the Middle East as terrorists and undocumented Latinos as rapists, but not assumed a similar blanket fear of white males, even when high-profile crimes are attributed to this group? The answer turns on what we know sub rosa about these groups. When the narrative about minority groups that we are fed in the popular (and political) culture is thin, there is all kinds of opportunity to layer it with disinformation, filling in the blanks, too often, with ugly, racist assumptions.
But when pop culture offers us rich content — say, about white males — then when a person in that group is implicated in a crime, this becomes only a small part of the truth we mentally assemble for that group.
US-born Latinos and Latino immigrants are caught in a media crossfire. The right assaults us with hysteria while the left erases or marginalizes us from the American film landscape.
It’s time for the MPAA and the AMPAS to show leadership and develop a plan to bring Latino diversity up to par, while also increasing the quality of African-American and Asian lead roles in US films. The alternative is a campaign by the 48% of frequent moviegoers — injured by poor image reflection in American films — to shun the box office until films #reflectLatinos and other minorities.