by Aby Rosano
While Latino representation in film and television has come a long way in recent years, there’s still lots of room for growth.
Representation in film and television has come a long way in the last few decades, beginning to show more authentic depictions of different cultural/ethnic groups as the industry becomes more diverse. Still, it’s important to consider why such representation is so important, as well as how it’s improved from past negative stereotypes.
But before we begin, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge the difference between Hispanic and Latino; “Hispanic” refers to someone with ancestry from a Spanish-speaking country (includes Spain, excludes Brazil), whereas “Latino” refers to a person with origin from anywhere in Latin America and the Caribbean (excludes Spain). They are ethnic and cultural groups, not races.
For a long time, the only kind of depiction of a Latino character usually came in the form of a domestic employee (a gardener or a maid), an illegal immigrant, or a criminal involved with drugs. This was partially a result of political climates; there wasn’t enough coverage of the kinds of lives that different Latino families lived, so exaggerations were usually made based on unrealistic stereotypes. Even now, those cliches are still prevalent; Latino characters often speak little-to-no English or speak with a heavy and comically exaggerated accent. Most Latina women are oversexualized and written off as hotheaded sexy “bombshells,” reinforcing the fetishization of Latina women.
The lack of Latino representation has also been extremely harmful through the oversimplification of the many cultural differences. There are 33 countries in Latin America, and all of them have differences in their cultures, traditions, and forms of Spanish spoken. Past depictions of Latino and Hispanic cultures have, for the most part, only included people from countries like Mexico or Puerto Rico. And yes, both of these countries have wonderful cultures, but there are more cultures that deserve to have representations in the media.
According to a Los Angeles Times article (linked here), despite the Latino population continuing to grow, as of 2017, Latino actors only held 6.2% of roles from the highest grossing films of that year–even though they made up 18.1% of the US population that year. Even as population increases, growth of diversity percentages aren’t keeping up the way they should. Still, we shouldn’t deny that changes have started to show (albeit very slowly). Within the last few years, we’ve started to see more authentic depictions of Latino characters, breaking stereotypes and reclaiming the different identities that Latino individuals may have.
There is still a long way to go before Latino and Hispanic representation breaks even. There are so many different cultures and identities still left to be seen on screen. As someone of Uruguayan heritage that rarely gets shown in the media, my hope is that we will start to see a wider range of inclusion, for people of all underrepresented races and ethnicities. Representation is about more than just undoing a history of racism and xenophobia. It’s about making sure people from all over feel seen and accepted in our day and age.
About Aby Rosano
Aby Rosano is a senior in the International Baccalaureate program at Richwoods High School. She is heavily involved in theater; at school, she is on the executive board for GSA and is part of the newspaper club. Outside of school, she loves reading, writing, and baking. She hopes to one day work in both the publishing and film industry to tell all sorts of stories.