Latino Diversity and Visibility Still Lacking in Both English- and Spanish-Language Media
Sofia Vergara, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Pitbull and Demi Lovato are some of the most recognized names (and brands) in Hollywood, each earning accolades and praise for their contributions to their respective fields. Vergara was named the highest-paid woman in U.S. television two years running; Lopez has been declared one of the most influential women in media time-and-time again; and Pitbull, as his moniker "Mr. World Wide" suggests, is considered an international treasure.
However, their individual visibility does not indicate that Latinos are visible on the greater landscape of mainstream media, nor does it mean that Latinos of African descent are considered during English- or Spanish-language productions. The varied and distinct collection of Latino sub-groups and cultures fail to be properly represented on the screen, and the highest-earning Latinos in Hollywood tend to be noticeably lighter. While darker Latinos have increased in numbers onscreen, they are almost exclusively cast in supporting roles, and often they play exclusively black characters.
The Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race's Media and Idea Lab at Columbia University, the Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers collaborated to create a report that revealed Latinos made up only 2.8 percent of the U.S. population in the 1950s but accounted for 3.9 percent of lead actor roles and 1.5 percent of all leading roles. More than fifty years later, the Latino population has exploded, but Latinos had no lead roles among the top 10 movies and scripted series in 2013. Afro-Latinos managed to be even less represented in this domain, their skin and often hair texture differentiating them from other Latinos, confusing marketing efforts.
With a lack of Latino diversity in English-language media, and a lack of Afro-Latino visibility in Spanish-language media, it's evident that Latinos' presence in American media is and has always been weak. This is true despite numerous series showcasing Latinos in the lead (e.g., "Ugly Betty", "Desperate Housewives" and "Devious Maids"). However, many shows and films recycle the same high-paid or highly recognized names, failing to grant access to other Latino hopefuls.
White actors, meanwhile, continue to dominate the space; more opportunities are granted to high-earning white actors, ensuring that they'll have a place in top 10 films and television series during any given year or decade. White actors and actresses, unlike Latinos, aren't likely to be pitted against one another to be cast as the saucy seductress, the bad boy with the heart of gold, the wise maid or non-descript Latino character with a cloudy, indistinguishable accent.
Proyecto Más Color, an online petition and social media campaign specifically targeting Spanish-language media, was created to draw awareness to the lack of Afro-Latino and other minority depictions in Latin American media. The initiative was founded by Victoria and Sophia Arzu, two Afro-Hondurans who opted to advocate for diversifying Latin American culture in media. Latin media is just as guilty as American media for stifling diversity.
"There has been a lack of representation of the diversity of the Latino culture, especially regarding the representation of Afro-Latinos. The only explanation for this disparity is discrimination," Proyecto Más Color's founders said on the initiative's donation page. "The younger generation of Afro-Latinos needs role models to look up to. Afro-Latinos have been oppressed for too long. We have the right to be represented in Latino media."
Award-winning journalist and author Sandra Guzman wrote a feature on her blog in 2011 about racism in telenovelas. She recalled questioning why the Spanish-language soap opera stars looked more like her mother and sister with light-skin, freckles and blond by birth, instead of like her and her older sister, with wooly black hair and African and indigenous features derived from her black father. She then stated,""Fast-forward to 2011 and the situation is pretty much still the same."