Fernandez-Alvarado: Latinxs can fill the seats, why can’t they fill the screens?

(Creative Commons)

Many people saw Coco, but not everyone saw the film through a Mexican/Latinx lens. To see Coco through that lens would be to sigh a relief (in my case a cry) at finally seeing yourself represented in film. The Disney castle with the mariachi theme in the opening credits made me feel incredibly happy; but I also felt growingly frustrated. It felt great that for once, a movie was not depicting my people under a Hollywood stereotype; but my expectations shouldn’t be so low in the first place.

We need to ask ourselves why Latinx representation in film is so low. Because at this point there is no valid excuse for the lack of Latinx representation in Hollywood. Hispanics make up the largest demographic of moviegoers per capita in the United States. Latinxs made up 21 percent of all tickets sold in 2015 though they make up about 18 percent of the U.S. population. A 2015 study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism found that only 5.3 percent of characters in 800 movies examined were Latinx. It is not a question of whether or not Latinx audiences would show up for a movie like Coco, it is a question of why Hollywood is so stubborn with the idea of people of color as main characters and filmmakers.

Hispanics make up the largest population of moviegoers in the nation yet they are represented in a little less than 2 percent of films. They make up less than 3 percent of film directors, and 6 percent of screenwriters. Because we live in a world where white is seen as normal, Latinxs are lucky to get to see themselves as drug dealers, maids, or mistresses. Fewer than 38 percent of actresses are Latinxs and yet they are the most sexualized minority group in Hollywood. Latinxs get thrown a bone once in a while and are suppose to feed for the rest of the decade.

Even when films are made with Latinx protagonists, Hollywood has continuously casted white actors in place for Latin American actors. In a study done by USC they show that out of the 700 popular films of 2007-2014 over 73% of film actors are white leaving less than 26% for actors of color.  We don’t want to see a brown face Ben Affleck and  Catherine Zeta-Jones. It is hard enough to get Latinx characters written but to also face the difficulties of getting cast in these roles is just ridiculous. Mexicans deserve to play Mexicans.  

It is difficult to say that Latinxs earned the right to see themselves as three-dimensional characters because to say we “earned” it is to discredit us as part of society. Latinx folk make up a quarter of our population and that should be reflected in film. I can tell you that if you step into any crowded area in a city, there will not be large groups of white people like an episode of Friends, but rather a diverse atmosphere of characters and yes, culture. This is the world we live in and Latinxs need to be a part of the filmmaking process and in front of the cameras as active characters we can root for. We don’t want to create watered down versions of our world to better suit audiences and producers who think we won’t show up to our own movies. At this point, to exclude us from the media is making the statement that Latinxs, a population of 56 million, are not only unwanted in the US but simply do not exist.

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