Research finds Latinos are disproportionately underrepresented in film and TV. (all images courtesy Latino Donor Collaborative)

A new report released by the nonprofit advocacy group Latino Donor Collaborative (LDC) finds that Latinos are systematically underrepresented in film and television roles ranging from acting, writing, directing, and producing. 

Although Latinos represent 18.7% of the United States’s population as of the 2020 census, only 3.1% of lead roles in television shows feature Latinos, according to LDC’s latest analysis. Only 1.5% of showrunners and less than 1.3% of directors are Latino, a fact that plays a significant role in the lack of on-screen representation of Latino actors. Although shows on streaming channels tend to do better — about 9.3% of characters on these shows are Latino roles — cable and English language broadcast representation lags severely behind, at around 2.3% and 5.4% respectively.

Although Latinos make up almost 19% of the total US population, with that share steadily rising, representation in television and film has lagged behind.

Film suffers from a similar predicament, with only 5% of leads and 2.6% of directors being Latino.

The LDC’s report highlights that even when Latinos are represented, they are portrayed in harmful ways. “A Latino story is rarely told, and the very few times it is, they are mostly portrayed as drug dealers, criminals, or tied to other negative stereotypes,” the report reads. For instance, of those select shows that featured a Latino actor in the lead role, the authors determined that over half of them depicted Latinos in a negative light — casting them in “inaccurate” roles that “conveyed a message that U.S. Latinos tend to be gang members, become drug dealers, or ultimately steal opportunities from U.S. born Anglo-Americans.”

Latino Donor Collaborative is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that seeks to improve perceptions of Latinos in American culture through “confronting stereotypes with data,” co-founded by former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros and businessman Sol Trujillo. The organization has previously issued surveys of Latinos in the tech industry and studies on the economic contributions Latinos make in the United States, among others.

The representation of Latinos in films often comes hand-in-hand with the propagation of harmful stereotypes.

The report notes that traditional entertainment will lose out to platforms like YouTube and TikTok if younger viewers do not resonate with what they see in movies and TV.

The report’s findings confirm those that have been reached by university research groups at the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Southern California, and Columbia University, and associations such as the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, the Directors Guild of America, and the Writers Guild of America. A survey of these studies conducted by the Los Angeles Times last year found that little headway in on-screen representation had been made over the past decade for Latinos despite being one of the most rapidly expanding communities in the US.

Latinos are avid moviegoers, but poorly represented on the screen.

In recent years, actors and directors have also come under fire for inadequately representing particular Latino communities. Earlier this year, Spanish actor Javier Bardem caused controversy for playing the role of a Cuban man in Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos. Last year, musical drama In the Heights, directed by Jon M. Chu and written in part by Lin-Manuel Miranda, faced criticism for casting predominantly light-skinned actors despite telling a story about Washington Heights, a largely Afro-Dominican neighborhood. 

“To be able to evolve with the audience, and succeed in this disruptive market, accurate representation is a priority,” the LDC report stresses.

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.