When the Annenberg Foundation studied 900 popular films to examine the “portrayals of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, and disability from 2007-2016” there was one statistic Latinos will not tire of bringing up: 3.1%. That was the percentage of characters that were Hispanic/Latino in those 900 films. It’s an appalling statistic on its own, but one which merely cemented what many in the Latinx community have known for a while: Hollywood is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to accurately representing the American population on screen. “Films approximating U.S. Census percentages of different racial/ethnic groups are infrequent,” that same study noted. “In 2016, only 1 movie featured proportional representation of Latinos on screen.” The numbers were for many a last straw. And this morning at a press conference in Los Angeles, the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) signaled the kind of action the industry at large can expect in the coming months. They called for a boycott of Paramount Pictures, citing the studio’s galling track record in recent years that failed to include Latinx talent both in front and behind the camera.
The boycott comes after discussions with Paramount executives to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) — a non-binding agreement between two or more parties outlining the terms and details of an understanding, including each parties’ requirements and responsibilities — that would help hold the studio accountable as they move forward to their commitment to correct this recurring oversight fell through. NHMC’s President & CEO Alex Nogales shared that after what they thought was a fruitful first meeting, all attempts to draft the MOU were futile. Among other things, Paramount executives called NHMC’s approach “too aggressive.” The planned boycott is designed to bring those executives back to the table.
As Nogales told Remezcla ahead of the press conference, studies like those conducted by the Annenberg Foundation, UCLA’s Bunche Center, and even their own, led by NHMC Entertainment Advocacy Fellow Alejandra Salazar, were the final straw — the reason why NHMC and the National Latino Media Council (NLMC) are now pushing for direct action. “We’ve known that film was the worst culprit when it comes to hiring Latinos,” he shared, but they’d never known quite how bad things were. “It’s one thing to perceive it, to talk about it. But without the proof — the actual numbers, it’s very difficult to really ascertain how bad the situation is.”
Salazar’s research went back ten years to track any kind of pattern. “The evidence was startling and it was very damning,” Nogales told Remezcla. “We’ve never gone beyond that 3.1 participation in those 10 years.” That’s why they’ve begun taking concrete action by demanding change from the studios, starting with its worst offender, Paramount, currently enjoying having the No. 1 movie in the country, Mission: Impossible – Fallout. NHMC and NLMC have put together a petition addressed to Paramount’s CEO urging them to remedy the studio’s current Latinx under-representation. They will hand-deliver it on August 25, when they will host a demonstration outside the studios’ offices.
The studio, which produced eight of the Top 100 grossing movies last year, scored some of the worst numbers when it comes to employing “Hispanic talent.” (Because of the way studies handle demographics catch-call terms like “Hispanic” are employed, though as NHMC makes clear in their own findings, they’ve gone ahead and broken it down further, isolating US Latinos, Latin Americans, and Spanish-born filmmakers into separate categories.)
Among those eight 2017 films only one of them included a US Latina actress, Peruvian-American Isabela Moner who starred in Transformers: The Last Knight. The numbers only get incrementally better if you widen the scope and include Latin American and Spanish artists: Daddy’s Home 2 included Brazilian actress Alessandra Ambrosio, while Spanish director F. Javier Gutiérrez helmed Rings. That 3 out of 8 ratio is indicative of a larger issue. As Nogales put it: “We are racially, ethnically being kept out by the white majority.” For Thomas Saenz, chair of NLMC and President & General Counsel of Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF), the numbers are so bad they “demonstrate civil rights violations.” That fueled the need to move from talk to action.
Having worked closely with TV networks to sign MOUs that committed them to including more Latinos on television, Saenz comes prepared to bring the conversation to Hollywood movie studios. “What I have learned is that we need the media companies to work on the specific problem of Latino underrepresentation rather than burying that issue in that overall concern about diversity,” he told Remezcla. “If you simply say that diversity is a priority, folks who are doing the work inside the studios are going to focus on who they know. And unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the Latino community.”
In strong language that bespeaks the urgency of their call to action, Saenz made clear at the press conference that this is not merely a numbers game. “That kind of underrepresentation,” he said, “made it possible for a long-shot vanity candidate for president in 2015 to launch his campaign with a public slur against Mexican immigrants. It allowed that candidate, a year later in 2016, to racially profile and racistly denounce a sitting federal judge. It allowed that candidate in the White House to continue an ongoing campaign of demonization of Mexican and other Latino immigrants, of ongoing racists epithets, of ongoing racist actions.”
Saenz was unequivocal in his stance: “Paramount Pictures and the rest of the industry are complicit in the civil rights violations being committed by the Trump administration.” Addressing a community that buys 24 percent of the movie tickets every year — a community that can make or break a film — he implored they stop accepting the status quo as acceptable and join in their call to prioritize better Latino representation.
As Gloria Molina, former Los Angeles county supervisor who was also at this morning’s conference put it at the February 5 protest of the Academy Luncheon that’s part of a year of protests led by NHMC and NLMC, “I’m demanding that this industry must change. It has got to start including the Latino community. We’ve been asking nicely. We’ve been part of the process for a while. Now we’re making demands.”
A demonstration in front of Paramount Pictures (on the corner of Melrose Ave and Windsor Blvd in Los Angeles) is scheduled for Saturday, August 25, 2018 at 11 a.m.