Anyone who watches mainstream media can tell Latino representation is severely lacking. It’s much easier to find a movie with an all-white cast than to find one with a minor Latino character much less a Latino lead. For anyone who isn’t Latino, this may not mean much. However, we Latinos notice and find it difficult to connect with media we don’t see ourselves in. But just how drastic is this underrepresentation, really?
Well, a 2021 report from the Latino Donor Collaborative breaks down the percentage of Latinos in lead roles compared to white actors and other groups. The research shows that only 5% of lead actors in films and 2.9% in all returning TV and streaming in 2020 were Latino. This is an incredibly low rate for a group that makes up about 19% of the U.S. population. It makes Latinos the only group among Black Americans, Asian Americans, and whites to fall short in proportion to the population. In fact, the report demonstrates that a person is more than twice as likely to be an identical twin than for a show to have a Latino lead. By comparison, white people had 81.2% of all on-screen representation in 2020 despite making up about 58% of the population.
This same study suggests more Latino representation – on screen and behind the scenes in higher positions – would benefit society in several ways.
The Social Implications
Better representation helps young Latinos see themselves portrayed positively and realistically. Stories written and told by Latinos can break down stereotypes of criminals, poverty, laziness, and a lack of intelligence. This kind of representation is important for young Latinos because they can take pride in their identity and culture. Seeing themselves on screen shows kids and young adults that they belong. More representation would also expose other groups and especially white people to Latino cultures and assist in their education.
Rather than grouping Latinos into the “same kind,” others could learn we are far more complex than current media suggests. In fact, more Latino actors, directors, and producers make for more compelling stories that differ from the white-centric plots we see time and again. Latinos come from various backgrounds that rarely if ever, make the screen in a way that is respectful and accurate. Even a more specific demographic – U.S. Latinos – have unique American experiences that have yet to be told. And finally, adjusting Latino representation would accurately reflect the composition of society.
Though it may not be obvious, Latinos drive a large portion of economic and audience growth today. In 2019, the U.S. Latino population contributed over $2.7 trillion in GDP which is up from $1.7 trillion in 2010. On its own, the Latino economy would be the 7th largest in the world. Additionally, as the youngest demographic group in the U.S., Latinos are responsible for 68.2% of labor force growth since 2008. All of this shows Latinos would not deter viewership, box office sales, or streaming purchases.
In fact, they would likely increase them and boost the entertainment business. According to the Motion Picture Association, Hispanic and Latino viewers were actually overrepresented in 2021 relative to their population of around 19% in the U.S. For the top five grossing films of the year, the Hispanic and Latino population made up between 20-37% of viewers for each film.
On the other hand, media with Latino representation demonstrates that Latino stories appeal to a global audience as well. One example is Coco which reached $807.8 million at the worldwide box office. As Latinos become more visible on different platforms, let’s hope we see ourselves in more prominent roles. Society as a whole would benefit from giving us a voice, learning about our cultures, and dismantling preconceived ideas.
If you’re interested in reading more on Latino representation or Hispanic Heritage Month, keep reading here on Bookstr!