Hispanic and Latino actors and filmmakers continue to be underrepresented in top films. That was the most important finding from a new report by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Covering top films from 2007 to 2022. The latest study examining Hollywood’s efforts (or lack thereof) when it comes to inclusivity on and off screen examined representation of Hispanic and Latino origins.
This study, which in turn was conducted by the founder Dr. Directed by Stacey L. Smith, it is the third to focus specifically on the representation of Hispanic and Latino descent in film. The research examined 1,600 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2022 and more than 62,000 speaking characters. The study also looked at performance behind the camera, evaluating more than 13,000 directors, producers and casting directors. Finally, the study provided a qualitative examination of Hispanic/Latino representations in the top films of 2022.
To the surprise of no one paying attention, the results were not encouraging.
Only 10 lead or co-lead roles (8.5%) in the top 100 top-grossing films of 2022 went to Hispanic/Latino actors. Eight of them went to women. In the 16 years evaluated, only 75 actors (4.4%) in lead/co-lead roles were Hispanic/Latino and only five were Hispanic/Latina ages 45 and older. Three of these older Latinas were played by Jennifer Lopez. Less than 1% of all lead/co-lead roles have gone to Afro-Latinos since 2007, while 2.6% of all lead roles have been U.S.-born Latinos.
This is despite the fact that Latinos make up 19.1% of the total U.S. population in 2022, according to the U.S. Census.
There was no year between 2007 and 2022 in which every major distributor released at least one film with a Latino or Hispanic lead/co-lead. Four of the seven largest distributors have had fewer than 10 films with a Hispanic/Latino lead in 16 years. Warner Bros. had the worst track record of any studio, with only three films with a Hispanic/Latino lead or co-lead in a 16-year period.
“There is a clear and persistent lack of stories focused on Hispanic/Latino actors and the Hispanic/Latino experience,” said lead author Ariana Case. “Despite the wealth of talent in this community, there is a clear reluctance from the entertainment industry to develop and distribute these stories.”
The report also examined the nature of financial support for films with Hispanic/Latino protagonists and the impact that a Hispanic/Latino lead or co-lead had on the box office. Across 126 films from 2021 and 2022, films with Hispanic/Latinx leads received significantly fewer production resources (median = $10 million) than films with non-Hispanic/Latinos in leads (median = $25 million). ). Films with Hispanic/Latino leads also received less average marketing spending ($26 million vs. $29 million) and were released in slightly fewer theaters (2,982 vs. 3,005).
However, films with Hispanic/Latinos as their focus received higher mean Metacritic scores (71) than films with non-Hispanics/Latinos as their focus (58.5). Ultimately, however, there was no difference in box office performance in 2022 between films with Hispanic/Latino leads and those without. Although films with Hispanic/Latino lead actors receive less financial support from executives, they earn as much at the box office as films without Hispanic/Latino lead actors, while their films receive higher critical reviews.
“These results highlight that Hispanic/Latino stories are supported with fewer resources. “This means that not only are the films themselves underfunded, but the Hispanic/Latino actors who star in these films are also likely to receive less compensation,” said Dr. Smith. “This reality makes matters worse – not only are there few opportunities for Hispanic/Latino actors, but the roles that do exist are less lucrative. This reality means that it is nearly impossible for Hispanic/Latino actors to sustain a film career.”
Looking at all the speaking characters over the 16 year period, there was no significant change. In 2022, 5.8% of speaking characters were Hispanic/Latino. That’s barely an increase from 3.3% in 2007. Overall, 4.4% of all speaking characters were Hispanic/Latino. Of the few Hispanic/Latino characters to appear on screen in 2022, almost 60% were male.
Additionally, only seven Hispanic/Latino characters identified as LGBTQ+ in 2022, and more than 95% of films from 2014 to 2022 lacked Hispanic/Latino LGBTQ+ characters. Only 1.8% of all Hispanic/Latino characters in 2022 were shown with a disability. 761 of the 800 films examined from 2015 to 2022 did not even feature a Hispanic/Latino person with a disability.
“Hispanic/Latinos are not a monolithic community, but the film presents a very narrow picture that does little to convey how diverse this group is,” Case said. “There is almost no representation of the diversity of communities that comprise this ethnic group. There are few women, few LGBTQ+ Hispanic/Latinos, and very few Hispanic/Latinos with disabilities featured in the film.”
Behind the camera, four male Hispanic/Latino directors worked on the top 100 films of 2022. Across 16 years and 1,600 films, less than 5% of all directors were of Hispanic/Latino descent. Only five of these 82 directors were women. Less than 1% of all top-grossing film directors from 2007 to 2022 were Hispanic/Latina. Four directors in the sample were Afro-Latino. The majority of Hispanic/Latino directors (69.5%) were born outside the United States. Only 3.3% of “Produced By” credits in 2022 and 3.1% overall were held by Hispanic/Latino producers. Less than 1% of all producers were Hispanic/Latino women.
The final behind-the-scenes role examined was the casting of directors. In 2022, 2.9% of all casting directors were Hispanic/Latino. Only 3.5% of all casting directors in 16 years were Hispanic/Latino. In films with Hispanic/Latino actors, Hispanics/Latinos filled 12.6% of speaking roles, compared to 5.2% of roles in films with non-Hispanic/Latino actors. A similar result was observed among Hispanic/Latino directors and producers.
“The lack of Hispanic/Latino characters on screen is no surprise given the lack of Hispanic/Latino storytellers behind the camera,” Smith said. “The industry has overlooked talented members of this community in almost every role behind the screen. This is an area for immediate action and improvement.”
The study also includes a qualitative examination of the representation of Hispanic/Latino characters. The authors identified high-profile Hispanic/Latino actors in the top films of 2022 and then rated every Hispanic/Latino character who appeared in the resulting 35 films.
The results showed that stereotypes still prevail in top films. 24.4% of high-paid Hispanic/Latino characters were portrayed as immigrants, while the same percentage (24.4%) were portrayed as low-income. More than half (57.8%) of the top-billing Hispanics/Latinos were criminals, with nearly half (46.2%) designated as violent criminals. 40% were portrayed as angry or temperamental. Almost a third (31.1%) were sexualized. For Hispanics/Latinos with the highest bills, these trends have increased significantly since 2019 and from 2017 to 2018.
Moving from the high-paid Hispanic/Latino characters to a total of 104 rated Hispanic/Latino characters, slightly fewer characters (6.7%) were identified as immigrant or low-income (3.9%), but nearly a quarter (23.1%) were Criminal. Of the criminals, 45.8% used violence and 58.3% were part of an organized crime syndicate.
Additionally, there is still a tendency to portray Hispanics/Latinos as “foreign.” Just over 15% of all Hispanic/Latino-speaking characters evaluated indicated that they only spoke Spanish. 26.8% of characters were shown with a Spanish accent. A similar percentage (31.1%) of high-paying Hispanic/Latino characters appeared with an accent when speaking English.
“In our previous reports, we have captured on film the constant stereotyping of the Hispanic/Latino community on screen,” Case said. “This report is no different and reflects a stubborn view of the Hispanic/Latino experience based on outdated and false beliefs. As Hollywood pushes these stories, audiences – both those who are Hispanic/Latino and those who are not – have little recourse to fight back and advocate for more authentic stories.”
The report concluded by offering a range of solutions aimed at studios, financiers, nonprofits and philanthropists. Drawing on the ideas presented in their previous reports, the authors argue that collective action is necessary to see change in film.