California Assembly Hearing Explores “Unseen Latinas In Hollywood”

An informational hearing on “Unseen Latinas in Hollywood” was held Friday in Sacramento to explore the barriers Latinas face in the film and TV industry.

“Despite Latinas making up 20% of the population in California, we continue to be excluded, erased and misrepresented in movies and on TV,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), chairwoman of the Select Committee on Latina Inequities, who hosted the hearing.

“When we are shown, it’s often as a supporting character, not the lead; a best friend; possibly a prostitute, a drug addict or somebody in a gang,” she said. “When Latinas are missing from shows and movies, or only depicted in a certain way, our contributions to American culture can be overlooked and unseen. When Latinas are missing behind the scenes as writers, directors, showrunners and crew members, this impacts which stories are told and the shape of how they are told.”

Ana-Christina Ramon, director of Research and Civic Engagement for the Division of Social Sciences at UCLA, and co-author of the school’s 2021 Hollywood Diversity Report, which was released Thursday, said that “Decisions about what types of films to make, how large a budget to assign to them, how they will be marketed and who will be at the directorial helm are made by Hollywood executives. In 2020, we found that these decisions continue to be dominated by White men.”

“There is almost no Latinx representation, regardless of gender, within the executive suites in Hollywood,” she said. “Among film executives, of the 11 major and mid-major studios, there is no Latinx representation at all. Among TV executives, at the 74 studios and networks that we examined, there are no Latinx CEOs, and only two Latinx executives among senior management, which accounts for less than 1% of the total positions at that level. One is a Latino CFO and the other is a Latina president of content and chief creative officer for seven TV networks within the larger corporation. Among unit heads, there are less than 2% Latinx executives overall. Among those 11 Latinx executives, there are only five Latinas at the unit head level.”

The UCLA study found that among the 185 theatrical and streaming films that were released in 2020, only about 5% had Latinx leads – a little less than half of whom were Latinas – and that only about 6% of the main cast members were Latinx actors – and a little less than have of whom were Latinas, accounting for about 2% of the leads and about 3% of the total actors.

“Among the top streaming and theatrical films,” Ramon said, “the numbers are worse for Latinx filmmakers and content creators. There were only about 3% Latinx directors and only about 3% Latinx writers, and they were all Latino men. In the 2018-19 TV season, Latinx leads represented about 6%-7% of leads in broadcast, cable and digital platforms. Altogether, there were only 15 Latina leads in among English-language programs across all platforms in our study, which comprised about 3% of the leads” and only 78 Latinas who were part of the main casts.

“The numbers are dispiriting, but there’s no lack of talent among Latinas; just a lack of opportunities and a lack of access, which will require concerted action to change.”

Judalina Neira, a writer and producer on The Flash, and co-organizer of La Lista, a networking group for working Latina TV writers, said that there is a way forward for Latinas in Hollywood.

“When we started La Lista five years ago,” she said, “there were 38 of us. Five years ago, there were less than 40 credited TV writers working across our entire industry. Every one of us could fit into one backyard. Fortunately, since then, we have seen some progress, and the number of working Latina writers has quadrupled. Today, La Lista has about 167 members, and while that is not nearly enough, it’s a start.

“As an organizer for our small, but mighty, Latina TV writer community, I am very often asked, ‘How can we create more representation for Latinas in TV writers’ rooms?’”

One way, she said, is through programs to train aspiring Latina writers. “And to that, I say ‘Yes. Absolutely. Every bit helps.’ Those types of pipeline programs for entry-level underrepresented writers exist now. And I know this because that’s how I got my start. I literally would not be a TV writer today if it wasn’t for the National Hispanic Media Coalition’s series script writers’ fellowship. Every year they foster a new class of Latinx TV writers, and if you have money to give, give it to them so that they can train even more.

“In part, because of programs like the NHMC’s and similar pipeline programs at NBC, ABC, CBS and elsewhere, we are seeing this huge increase in Latinas who are getting their foot in the door – 30% of La Lista’s members are staff writers – that means that one third of our group are writers who have at least one year of experience under their belts. But the problem is that these writers are not breaking through the ranks, and most of all, they’re not being put in charge.

“Last year, there were 493 scripted television shows – seven were created or co-created by a Latina. Latinas are 9% of the U.S. population, but we are barely 1% of television showrunners. And this matter so much because in TV, the showrunner is the equivalent of a CEO; showrunners weigh in on the hiring of actors, crew and they hire every other writer in that writers’ room. The single best way to increase Latina representation in the writers’ room and on screen, and even on the crew, is to put Latinas in a position where they can hire other Latinas. Put us in charge.

“This is something that only the studios and the networks have the power to do, but there is a wide range of ways that the can accelerate doing it. They can put more Latinas under overall deals or first-look deals, getting first access to a Latina writer’s original ideas. They can offer more blind script commitments specifically to Latinas, basically promising to buy a to-be-agreed-upon story; they can simply commit to tripling the number of Latina-created stories they buy, and commit to putting those stories on the air.

“I know that a lot of the stats that we’re going to be sharing today can be incredibly disheartening, so I just want to say that from first-hand experience through La Lista, we can effect change in just five years. I want to thank you all for starting this conversation; I’m optimistic for what we can do for the next five years.”

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