Latino Representation in Hollywood Is Shockingly Low, New Report Reveals
The long-running hit NBC show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit takes place in New York, in the very real world of the New York Police Department. While Dick Wolf’s drama is far from a documentary, you’d expect some aspects to be true to life. One area it seems to fail in is the portrayal of Latinos — and, alas, it’s not the only TV show to have this problem. The long-term program is simply indicative of the under-representation of this group in the industry.
Consider: The real strength of the NYPD is about 30% Latino Americans. Still SVU only has a Latino co-lead on the show. During this time, many Latino characters on the program have been criminals or victims of violent crime. The stories draw on stereotypes, like that of the Latino detective growing up as a gang member.
That’s all according to a report released today by the Latino Donor Collaborationa non-profit organization focused on reshaping the opinions of Latinos in America “to foster their proportional representation at all levels.”
The report notes: “The misrepresentation of American Latinos in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit starts in the writing room. There are no Latin American writers contributing to the show’s story-writing process. Having Latino writers, or even better, having a Latino showrunner would introduce story ideas that portray the diversity and richness of the Latin American population and challenge any emergence of negative stereotypes during the writing and creative process. of the show. (NBC had not responded to a request for comment at press time.)
SVU isn’t the only one lacking representation on and off camera; this is just one example. The report examines American Latinos in shows across all platforms, including broadcast, basic and premium cable, and streaming, and found that Latino actors make up just 3.1% of all tracks (27 of 883 shows reviewed) – striking when you consider that they make up 19% of the total US population (and a full quarter of Gen Zers). Additionally, 1.3% of all Latino prospects are portrayed in a negative light (think drug cartels on Netflix
The under-representation is even worse off-screen. Latino directors directed only 1.3% of the approximately 8,830 shows measured during the study.
Representation is particularly lacking on premium cable, which had no Latin tracks and only one episode directed by a Latin American. Basic cable wasn’t much better – 1.5% Latino prospects and 0.5% directors.
“Latinos are the only cohort that hasn’t benefited from this whole incredible diversity movement in media. And we’re extremely excited about the other bands who have benefited immensely. Unfortunately, Latinos haven’t moved,” notes Ana Valdez, president and CEO of the Latino Donor Collaborative. “You talk about an industry where we are completely invisible. And that really doesn’t make sense because we’re a huge economic powerhouse.
Indeed, as anyone who has looked at economic and demographic data over the past two decades knows. The total economic output of America’s Latino population is $2.8 trillion, the report notes, and their purchasing power from 2010 to 2019 soared 69%, compared to a 41% increase for non-Latinos. Scorning the demo makes no economic sense.
“It’s really inexplicable how the decision makers in Hollywood have ignored this community,” Valdez says. “It’s a real lack on the part of the decision-makers.”
She dismisses some of the oft-cited excuses in Hollywood for the lack of Latino-focused media, such as the language barrier. She notes that 81% of Latinos in the United States are proficient or fluent in English. Additionally, Latinos make up about 19% of all streaming service providers, so they are clearly invested in new forms of entertainment (although those forms are not invested in it: only 4.1% of shows streamed in streaming have Latin American actors in mind).
Valdez hopes seeing some of these stark statistics will serve as a wake-up call to the industry — or, she warns, it could start losing support among Latinos. In fact, it is already happening.
“Latinos are turning to platforms like TikTok, YouTube, where they actually see themselves, where they see people who look like them, where they’re included, where their stories are told,” she says.