Latinos make up approximately 17% of the U.S. population, according to the 2012 U.S. Census report, contributing to 50% of the U.S. population growth between the years 2000 and 2010. On the big screen, however, Latino roles are rare and far between, and when they do appear, characters are often limited to narrow stereotypes. According to a recent report released entitled “The Latino Media Gap: A Report on the State of Latinos in U.S. Media,” representation of Latinos has even decreased over the decades, with Latinos being more represented in media in the 1950s, when they were only 2.8% of the population, than they are today.
Of the few Latinos that do come out in television and movies, they are portrayed with the same, stereotypical roles time and time again. A popular trend for Latina women in entertainment media is to be placed as the role of the sexy, seductive woman. The report, “Race/Ethnicity in 600 Popular Films: Examining On Screen Portrayals and Behind the Camera Diversity,” states that of over 600 popular U.S. films reviewed, 37.5% of Latina roles were shown to be partially or fully naked, the highest percentage of any other race/ethnicity. Latino men were also found to be the most likely to be wearing “tight, alluring, or revealing” clothing out of any other race/ethnicity of men portrayed in films.
Constantly being surrounded by these images can affect the way young Latina girls are viewed by those around her, and, in turn, how she views herself. Raised in a Latino neighborhood in New Jersey, Kimberly, 18, shares, “Growing up in a predominantly Latin American environment, I’ve both experienced and witnessed the detrimental effect that the over-sexualization of Latinas in the media has on young Latinas. It’s an insidious and subtle effect that reveals itself in the ways young Latinas are treated by their peers.” Being shown in media as sexual objects, and constantly described by terms like “sexy”, “sassy”, or “exotic”, creates a confining box for what young Latinas are expected to look or behave like, and holds them to inaccurate standards by those around her.
In the 2013 report, “Global Box Office Hits Record in 2012 as Hispanic Attendance Grows in U.S.,” Latinos were found to purchase 25% of all movie tickets in the U.S., showing just how highly the entertainment media intake in this nation is for Latinos. This much media intake means a high level of exposure to the stereotypical roles presented in films and television. The result of this can be negative for young Latina girls and influence what they see the public perceives of them. Kimberly stresses, “The psychological backlash is often crippling, resulting in a lack of confidence in her intelligence or a sense that her body is more important than what she has to say. We agree that this is dangerous to all young women, but when these statistics show how targeted this over sexualization is, well then, it becomes clear that this specific problem needs to be addressed.”
When looking at the 2010 U.S. Census, only 44.3% of Latina women fill the occupation of a maid, yet 69% of Latinas in media play the role of maids, the report states. Even further, the representation of creative occupations, such as dancers, musicians, and writers, are filled by 9% of Latinos, according to the census, yet are only portrayed as so by less than 1% of Latinos in media. High school student Natalia, 17, shares, “As a strong and independent, young Hispanic woman… the stereotype of Latinas being portrayed as “sexy” or “house maids” in the media is a feeling of being demeaned because of my personal values and how I carry myself.” While there is nothing wrong with these titles, limiting Latinas to these few roles at such a grand scale ignores the truly diverse definition of what it means to be Latina, and the wide range of interests and capabilities of Latina women. Gladys, 17, urges, “there are other aspects where Latinas should be recognized, including in the news business, or as great lawyers, doctors, etc.”
To even further the problem, Latinos make up a very small percent of those contributing to the behind the scenes production, including positions as writers, producers, and directors. In 2013, Latinos made up only 5.2% of writing positions, 2.1% of producers, and 2.7% of director positions, according to the Latino Media Gap report. “The vast majority of all fundamental media decisions are made by affluent, middle-aged, white men,” the Latino Media Gap report states. With such little representation behind the scenes, the stories of Latinas and their realities are not being accurately told.
The matter becomes even worse when extending our view to news media as well. According to this same report, as of 2013, less than 1% of the stories covered on popular new stations are Latino related, and of that 1%, 66% of those stories are focused on crime, terrorism, and illegal immigration, showing Latinos in a negative light. This limiting portrayal in entertainment and news media can have highly negative effects on Latinas, and how the public views our potential to expand beyond these stereotypes. The message should be sent out to the heads of media to look beyond the common stereotypes to the greater depth Latinas have as individuals. Latinas are intelligent, diverse, and capable women, and deserve to be represented as such!