June 2, 2000

Entertainment Industry Executives Admit to Lack of Understanding of Latino Audiences

Hollywood, Ca. — The Screen Actors Guild recently released Still Missing: Latinos in and Out of Hollywood, revealing that old stereotypes and lack of understanding of Hispanic social, economic and cultural diversity are key reasons why Latinos remain one of the most underrepresented groups in television, movies and other entertainment. Prepared by The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI), the study was commissioned by the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Industry Advancement And Cooperative Fund (IACF) and is a follow-up to a 1999 preliminary report.

One-on-one interviews with top TV and film industry executives reveal candid responses about their fiscal responsibilities and limited understanding of Latino audiences. TRPI researchers asked executives why they think Latinos remain in virtually invisible in the entertainment industry.

Studio executives were clear that economics determine what is produced, yet they held the perception that Latino-themed movie and television programs do not succeed financially. Hollywood insiders also said Latino actors are not well known enough to draw large audiences to the box office.

"From the responses, Hollywood executives continue to assume that Latino-themed projects and roles do not play well," said TRPI President, Dr. Harry P. Pachon. "This underscores the need for education by top executives on the growth and diversity of the Latino market and purchasing power of an annual $500 million movie-going audience. This study reveals that the lack of understanding of this audience are profound and broad-based."

In the SAG/IACF 1999 report, Missing in Action: Latinos In and Out of Hollywood, TRPI concluded that Latinos represent a vast and untapped market for Hollywood entertainment product. A year later, new research bolsters those findings and adds new ones.

In addition to surveying Hollywood insiders, the study included a mail survey of more than 4,000 Latino SAG members from around the nation. Latino SAG members were asked what they believe are some of the obstacles keeping them from obtaining roles in Hollywood.

Respondents (73%) felt that having a Latino surname was a disadvantage compared with those who felt it was a benefit. More than half of the respondents strongly agreed with the statement that "Latinos must fit a particular stereotype in order to be cast as Latinos." Fully two-thirds of respondents reported that they had been rejected for a role because they did not fit a Latino stereotype. Forty-five percent of Latino SAG members surveyed agreed that if they did not resemble a mestizo, Hollywood's popular stereotype of Latinos, they would not receive any Latino roles.

Survey respondents also indicated that they encountered stereotypes about their language abilities. About 30% reported that they were expected to speak poor English or to speak with an accent.

More than 70% of respondents reported that casting directors, the group most responsible for hiring talent, were the most likely to express Latino stereotypes. Far fewer Latino actors are subsequently cast in roles, therefore as a group they have less contact with producers, directors and writers. About 61% reported that writers held stereotypes; 59% reported that producers did; and 54% reported that directors did.

The survey confirms that acting jobs are hard to come by. In the past year, survey respondents said they worked an average of only 10 days. Foreign-born Latino SAG members said they averaged a bit more: 13 workdays in the past 12 months.

Latino actors were generally more likely to report that they preferred the opportunities offered by English language productions. Interestingly, respondents viewed Spanish-language productions provided greater opportunities for fair-skinned Latino actors, with the opposite being true for dark-skinned Latinos.

The report concludes with specific recommendations for the entertainment industry calling for:

Continue to collect and update existing data to support a financial case for hiring Latino actors

Educate the industry on the financial dynamics of the Latino market to demonstrate the very real market incentives to have Latino representation in front of the camera

Educate industry executives on the racial heterogeneity and economic diversity of the Latino community in order to eliminate Latino ethnic stereotypes

Develop long-range professional development programs for Latino actors.

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