Writer Rick Najera Says Hollywood 'Lacks Commitment' to Diversity
If anyone knows how to do diversity in Hollywood, it's Rick Najera. The director, writer, actor and comedian not only represents the Latino community through his own successes, but he also makes an effort to make sure Latinos are always included.
A Successful Latino in Hollywood
While Najera may not be a name most people know, a quick look at his social media accounts will prove that he is a pioneer when it comes to improving the roles of Latinos in Hollywood.
The award-winning writer has an impressive resume. His writing credits include hit shows like "In Living Color" and "MADtv." Najera has won several awards, including an ALMA Award for the 2008 Holiday film "Nothing Like The Holidays," and he created the "CBS Diversity Comedy Sketch Showcase," which has aired for the past 11 years.
A photo posted by Rick Najera (@ricknajera) on Feb 7, 2016 at 9:09am PST
The writer has also published four books. His latest, "Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood," gives a broader picture of the Latino experience in Hollywood through tales from the writer's own life. Even more impressive, Najera is one of only three Latinos to write and star in his own Broadway production. His comedic play, "Latinologues," highlights Latino stereotypes.
Making Sure Latinos Are Part of the Conversation
Given his contributions to film and television, Najera released a statement after the Oscar nominations were announced expressing his frustration with the lack of minority representation among nominees. "When people are not shown in the American picture, then it is immoral and wrong! The airwaves belong to all, but to keep the status quo a Hollywood that refuses to show the real picture, affects all of us," he said. While Najera supports the message behind movements like the #Oscarssowhite hashtag, he noted that the campaign is flawed because it leaves Latinos out of the conversation. So how does Najera suggest Hollywood improve on the issue? He explained that a good start would be simply committing and seeing efforts through. "Its not so much leadership; it's more commitment. I think people don't understand that. The issue of diversity in Hollywood can be changed easily but there isn't much commitment to that," he explained.
Fixing the Diversity Problem
While many believe more Latino stars are needed to expand diverse racial representation on television and film, Najera believes the problem is on the production side. He explained that writers are the key. "It is so normal to have a room full of writers that are white," he said. "If you look at the Latino shows that aren't doing that well, they have very few Latino writers. They put these shows on the air and they fail and then go, 'We tried and it didn't work.' But they didn't try Latino writers." Najera's proposal is a simple one: With more Latinos in the writing room, more good roles can be created that embody and represent the Latino community well, creating a ripple effect. If Najera's word is not enough, just look at the television show he currently writes for. Hulu's "East Los High," renewed for a fourth season, has seen a lot of success with a cast made up of Latino actors and an equally diverse production team, which Najera called a "rainbow coalition."
A photo posted by East Los High (@eastloshigh) on Oct 6, 2015 at 12:24pm PDT
"Diversity works. ... We know that it does," he said. "A lot of networks act like they are trying, but that doesn't work and isn't enough if you are a member of the diverse community. When you tell a story about a group that isn't true, it affects everyone."
The Facts And Figures
Despite efforts by talents like Najera, stereotypical stories and limited roles continue to make Hollywood a tough business for Latino entertainers.
A new study released on Monday Feb. 22, conducted by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, called "Inclusion of Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity," found that women, minority groups and the LGBT community are highly underrepresented.
The study based its findings on analysis of 414 films and shows, from companies such as Disney, Hulu, NBC Universal, Netflix and Time Warner, among others. It revealed that Latinos only made up 5.8 percent of roles onscreen, with Latinas making up only 37.9 percent of that group.
The issue isn't simply whether Latinas are being represented or not. It's also how they are portrayed. The USC study also found that 39.5 percent of Latinas were given a sexualized wardrobe, and 35.5 percent, the largest proportion of any female ethnic group, were naked onscreen.
"I would challenge any network out there to say, 'Can we do better?' And yes they can and they have to," Najera added. "If throughout eight hours [of television programs] you don't see a woman who is a professional or Latino male who is a professional, then what do you think of Latinos?"
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