Latinos missing from media workforce, despite potential for increased viewership and improved content

When there are Latinos in front and behind the camera, streaming services can create content that is more successful in amassing a larger Latino and overall audience share, according to Nielsen’s latest Hispanic Audience Report.

“To me, it’s almost like a blueprint that media companies and people who give the green light and acquire content can refer to when making decisions,” said Stacie de Armas, senior vice president of various news and information at Nielsen, at NBC. News Thursday.

But a Government Accountability Office report released on Wednesday seems to suggest that media companies may not be doing enough to nurture Latino talent who could potentially help them improve their content while growing their audience.

According to the report, Latinos are underrepresented in the media industry workforce in film, radio, television, newspapers and digital platforms.

In 2019, the most recent year for which American Community Survey data is available, approximately 12% of all workers in the media industry were Latino, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 2010, when Latino media workers made up 11% of the industry.

Latinos make up 19% of the nation’s population, nearly one in five Americans, and 18% of workers outside the media industry.

According to the latest available reports submitted by media companies to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2014 and 2018.

In positions that can influence content consumed by audiences, Latinos were much less represented: they represented only 7% of professional positions in the media industry such as actors, producers, directors, writers, journalists and editors.

They included the same number, 7%, of first- or middle-level managers and just 4% of all media senior and executive managers.

The Nielsen report, released last month, looked at the 530 most aired programs over the past year and found that 92% of them lacked Hispanic representation in key roles such as executive producer, writer, director, creator or showrunner.

Latinos seem to take notice, with 41% saying they think there isn’t enough content that represents them. When Latinos saw themselves represented in the content, they felt “it was inaccurate” in most cases, de Armas said.

Previous reports from the GAO, Nielsen, and the University of California, Los Angeles have addressed the underrepresentation of Latinos on screen and its connection to marginal representation behind the camera.

Barriers preventing Latinos from entering the industry include limited access to professional networks, difficulty meeting union membership requirements, and a lack of diversity among decision makers, as well as financial barriers, according to the GAO report. and educational.

Mergers and consolidations of media companies could potentially close more opportunities for Latinos looking to enter the media industry, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, one of several congressmen who asked the GAO to look into the matter. an event.

“You go from two open doors to one,” Castro said after pointing out that Latino-led stories like the TV show “Gordita Chronicles” and the movie “Batgirl,” starring Dominican American artist Leslie Grace, became collateral damage after being cancelled. following the recent merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery Inc.

“You go from having an opportunity at two companies to an opportunity at one company that now has a lot more influence and power over content creators and others,” Castro said.

Who is in front and behind the camera

Castro said the lack of diversity in the media workforce “has led to these lopsided and unequal portrayals that then create stigma for an entire community.”

In “Viva Hollywood: The Legacy of Latin and Hispanic Artists in American Cinema,” film historian Luis Reyes wrote that while the film industry created employment opportunities for many Latinos, “racism and ignorance kept them from reaching stellar heights in the industry.”

Rita Hayworth sits next to actor Glenn Ford on the set of Gilda
Hispanic actress Rita Hayworth, originally born Margarita Carmen Cansino, sits next to actor Glenn Ford in the set of the 1946 film ‘Gilda’.Courtesy of Running Press

The new book shows how Latinos have been involved in the motion picture industry since its inception and highlights the Latinos who helped create innovative special effects for the iconic 1933 film ‘King Kong’ and set design from “Citizen Kane” in 1941. .

Many Hispanic actors, like others in early Hollywood, changed their names to comply with the wishes of movie studios and gain access to more career opportunities, “not because they were ashamed of their legacy or something,” Reyes told NBC News. .

But Latino representation onscreen has often reflected American perceptions of Latino communities — for better and for worse.

In Hollywood’s early years, many actors were typecast as the bandido, the Latin lover, the sultry señorita and other stereotypical characters often found in literature, Reyes said: “Movies just give them a face.”

Rita Moreno in West Side Story
Rita Moreno in “West Side Story”.Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images

Versions of these stereotypes have continued to persist in Hollywood, whether through the hypersexualization of Latinas or the disproportionate portrayal of Latino men as criminals.

Problems with accurately portraying Latinos increased in the 1940s when the US government created a film division to persuade American filmmakers to make films with Latin American themes. But some filmmakers “didn’t really make films about Latin America. They made films about Americans, going as far as Latin America,” Reyes said. While the era offered employment opportunities for Latino talent, such as Carmen Miranda and Cesar Romero, it did little to promote authentic Hispanic portrayals on screen.

A significant number of Latin stars emerged between 1945 and 1965 – such as Ricardo Montalbán, Anthony Quinn, Rita Moreno and Raquel Welch – paving the way for more recent Latin stars such as Salma Hayek, Andy Garcia, Jennifer Lopez, Zoe Saldana and Benicio del Toro.

Gloria Estefan, Andy Garcia and Isabela Merced
Gloria Estefan, Andy Garcia and Isabela Merced in the 2022 remake of “Father of the Bride”.Warner Bros. / ©Warner Bros/courtesy Everett C

“Today we see the fruits of all the work that came before,” said Reyes, highlighting the work of current Latino actors such as Ana de Armas, Oscar Isaac, Pedro Pascal and Ariana DeBose as well as Latino filmmakers such as as Robert Rodriguez and Patricia Cardoso, among others.

But there is still work to be done, he added.

Nielsen’s report offers a window of opportunity, finding that 42% of America’s most binge-worthy streaming programs over the past year had Latino inclusion in front of or behind the camera, de Armas said.

The report also found that the longer this type of Latin American representation persists, the more likely the content produced is to have cultural relevance and resonate with Hispanic viewers.

“Do we have the golden touch?” said de Armas. “We do.”

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CORRECTION (October 7, 2022, 4:21 p.m.): A caption on an earlier version of this article misidentified a Latino actor. The photo shows Anthony Quinn, not Ricardo Montalbán.

Michael A. Bynum