From movie classics, such as Casablanca and Funny Girl, to modern television shows, such as Emily in Paris and Ted Lasso, society has welcomed countless stories and characters into their homes for decades through entertainment. Throughout history, stories told through film and television have captured unique perspectives about love, loss, family, courage, and more. These stories continue to be shared as more film and television shows create new content.

But there is still something missing. As new stories advance, the lack of Hispanic representation in film and television remains. According to the Latino Donor Collaborative, Latinos make up 18.7% of the American population—the largest minority in America to date—yet they are greatly unrepresented in the mainstream media.

In 2021, Latinos barely scratched the surface in the American entertainment industry. Where do Latinos stand in entertainment? Let’s break down the numbers*:

Latino Leads in Television Shows – 2.9%

Latino Leads in Film – 5%

Latino Ensembles in Shows – 3.7%

Latino Co-Leads and Ensembles in Shows – 3.4%

Latino Showrunners in Shows – 2.5%

Latino Writers in Film – 4.4%

Latino Directors in Television Shows – 2.5%

Latino Directors in Film – 6.7%

*All data provided is by the Latino Donor Collaborative.

As the Latino population grows, the entertainment industry needs to recognize America’s new diversity. In 2021, 21% of millennials and 25% of Gen Zers were Latino—this data shows the incredible buying power and influence the Latino community has across America. However, whether it’s in front or behind the camera, Latinos are still vastly underrepresented among talent. In 2019, Forbes stated that “Latino actors barely landed 4.5% of more than 47,000 speaking roles in the 100 top-grossing U.S. movies from each of the past 12 years and only 3% were leads or co-leads.” Change must happen.

In the 2008 “Exposure to Television Portrayals of Latinos: The Implications of Aversive Racism and Social Identity Theory” article, Dana E. Mastro, Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, and Maria A. Kopacz shared that the media portrayal of Latinos has been limited to stereotypical roles, such as “comics, criminals, law enforcers, and sex objects,” for years. Although the article was published over a decade ago, its words surrounding limited roles for Latinos remain true to most. Fortunately, new television shows and films, such as Coco, Encanto, and Selena: The Series, are starting to change the narrative and the movement has sparked.

With their recent Golden Globe wins for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Steven Spielberg’s rendition of West Side Story, Rachel Zeigler and Ariana DeBose have made Golden Globe history as Latina winners and trailblazers—but they won’t be the last. Zeigler and DeBose are just two examples of the enormous talent the Latino community can bring on and off the screen. Spielberg also cast a full Latino cast to represent the “Sharks” in West Side Story, something the original 1961 casting failed to do, shining light on the rich talent that diversity brings.

The opportunity is there and a new wave of talent is on the rise. Latinos are passionate, talented, intelligent, and proud—let this continue to be the focus of a leading role. As Latino cultural influence and spending power become more apparent, rest assured that Latino opportunity will follow. Let’s continue to support Hispanics in film and television, and reinforce the importance of our presence in the industry. Although these numbers can be seen as barriers, choose to interpret them as an opportunity—an opportunity for growth, talent, and change.

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Brenda Nicole Peña
Brenda Nicole Peña is a Latin Babbler Team Contributor. Her career has revolved around nonprofit communications work. She is a first-generation college graduate—Alumna of the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Texas at Austin. Brenda has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in public relations and Book Author of “The Adventures of Jack Jupiter in ‘Where’s Rocket?” and “Three,” a coming-of-age novel.