I feel like I’m having déjà-vu (and it’s not the good kind). Around this time last year, I read a very unsettling article in Variety by journalist Ted Johnson about the serious shortage of minority faces on network primetime television, especially in light of the severe, industry-paralyzing 2008 writer’s strike.
One year later, in a post-writer’s strike Hollywood atmosphere, nothing has changed—at least according to a recent, discouraging report released by the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG), which says that Latinos/Hispanics account for just 6.4% of all television and film roles compared to 72.5% for Caucasians. That low number puts Latinos behind African-Americans (13.3%) in total roles, but ahead of Asian-Pacific Islanders (3.8%) and Native Americans (0.8%).
Concerned about the lack of diversity on television, SAG President Ken Howard said in a statement, “The diverse and multicultural world we live in today is still not accurately reflected in the portrayals we see on the screen.” Howard added that SAG would continue their efforts to work with producers and other industry professionals to make sure they’re accurately portraying the American cultural landscape.
None of this surprises us at Latina. In our September issue, Contributing Editor Damarys Ocana wrote an illuminating piece called “Why Are There So Few Latinos on Television?” The piece explored the underrepresentation of Latinos on English-language television. Alex Nogales, President of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, told Latina that only 4% of on-camera talent is Latino and said, “That is very far away from where we need to be…You see the success of an Eva Longoria Parker or an América Ferrera and you think, 'Wow! There's a lot of us!' Not really.”
Nogales is quite right. Yes, Latinos have made great strides on television and we are no longer limited to playing the token cleaning lady. However, we must never forget that just 10 years ago the major broadcast networks came under fire when not a single new primetime television show starred a person of color in a leading role, prompting threats of boycotts. Those boycotts encouraged the networks to develop “diversity departments” within their companies in order to ensure that more minorities would be hired. Some networks, like ABC (which boasts a number of Latina leading ladies, including Parker, Ferrera and Sofia Vergara), have implemented positive changes as a result.
If there is a silver lining to this piece of news, it’s that SAG and other organizations are watching and monitoring hiring trends on television, especially when it comes to underemployed and disenfranchised ethnic groups. SAG contractors are required to submit hiring data to SAG for these purposes.