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Lack of Latino representation distorts culture through whitewashing

The media give Latinos token representation and ask them to remain content with crumbs. While the Oscars shined for its diversity in honoring female and African American talent, Latinos still remain unrecognized.

The film industry continues to operate as a meritocracy, making it difficult for Latino talent to shine. In comparison to other races in the media, with African Americans at 13 percent and Asians at 5 percent, only 3 percent of speaking characters are Latinos. With the number of Latinos going to the movies increasing, they still remain the most underrepresented demographic in major movie roles.

It is apparent how invisible Latinos remain in the media because of their lack in major roles, favoring in perpetuated stereotypes. The industry shows little interest in telling stories catered for a Latino demographic.

This is a problem for Latinos in the U.S., and it affects how they are viewed in the Donald Trump Era. Anti-immigrant voices peddle narratives based on negative prejudices. This is exacerbated with Hollywood roles that degrade and misconstrue Latino culture.

On-screen representation sticks to traditional and ignorant stereotypes. Hollywood repeatedly falls into hurtful stereotypes, like drug dealers such as Pablo Escobar in American Made, instead of developing fully fleshed out characters with interesting backstories.

This representation, or lack thereof, is especially problematic for women. Most female characters are either maids or hypersexualized like Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan and Sofia Vergara in Modern Family, who exude the spicy Latina trope. This stereotype overemphasizes the importance of appearances while limiting the ambitions of young women.

We are seen as a subset of society and are unable to integrate. It will be immensely difficult to overcome these toxic stereotypes without eroding our culture away. The only solution is to provide an outlet for these changes to come. We cannot stop our progress with movies like Coco.      

The recent onslaught of the #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite movements have successfully changed the faces being nominated for awards. They have pushed for rightful recognition for people of color, such as minority directors Guillermo del Toro and Jordan Peele.  This progress is encouraging, but there needs to be a broader scope of representation.

The issue of tokenism remains prevalent. Instead of giving Latino characters to actors from that ethnic background, Hollywood continues to cast white actors to portray Latino roles, which not only takes away job opportunities but also steals the chance for Latino talent to shine.

This remains a prevalent move for Hollywood, from Ben Affleck portraying a character named Tony Mendez to Madonna portraying Argentina’s iconic first lady Eva Peron. Oftentimes, directors create characters with Hispanic last names in order to meet diversity quotas but still use white actors to portray them.

Even films like Pixar’s Coco, which centered on celebrating Mexican traditions with a predominantly Hispanic cast, was directed by a white man. Although it respectfully represents the Day of the Dead celebration, it feels on the verge of cultural appropriation because Pixar is an American company capitalizing on an indigenous tradition for profit.

Latin traditions become profitable commodities to be packaged into toys and movies that line the pockets of white executives.

This is a mixed message to the growing Latino population: Our stories are only worth telling when they can be exploited.

This is not to discount the efforts that are being made, which, while flawed, may eventually lead to more on-screen representation. If films like Coco can be successful, it might lead executives to change their minds and allow Latinos leading roles. They are a start, but we need to continue this progress.

Hollywood should produce content that represents the experiences of Latinos both inside and outside the borders of the U.S. Every child deserves to grow up watching people like them on screen, not some distortion of their lives and culture.

Opinion columnist Janet Miranda is a marketing junior and can be reached at [email protected].

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