Mainstream Hollywood Damages Its Profit Potential By Largely Ignoring Latinx Stories and Audiences: Study

Hollywood is leaving money on the table by leaving Latinx characters largely on the sidelines in mainstream TV shows and movies.

That’s the message from an organization backed by some of the nation’s most prominent Latinx business leaders that has come forward with research and a campaign to turn up pressure on the industry to address the stagnant state of Hispanic representation in front of and behind the camera.

The nonprofit Latino Donor Collaborative released an extensive study Tuesday that demonstrates how little progress Latinx talent has made in TV shows and movies over the past five years.

“We are such a big part of this country and this economy but unfortunately Latinos are lagging behind in media,” Ana Valdez, LDC president and CEO, told Variety. “We need to see our stories and our faces there.”

LDC has been working quietly in Hollywood and in the broader business community to promote Latinx advancement on corporate boards, in C-suites and in elected offices at all levels. The nonprofit funded by donations from Latinx leaders including LDC chairman and co-founder Sol Trujillo, former chairman-CEO of telecom firms U.S. West and Orange. The LDC’s focus has been on generating research aimed at highlighting the economic opportunities for investors and corporate America to more actively court U.S.-born Latinx consumers. LDC analysis demonstrates that the economic output of U.S.-born Latinx population would amount to the fifth largest economy in the world with a gross domestic output of $2.8 trillion.

In media, LDC has worked behind the scenes to counsel top management on the audience potential to be found in Latinx characters and stories. But with the excruciatingly slow pace of progress on representation, the LDC decided to go public with a PR effort dubbed “Let’s Get Loud.”

“We decided that’s it’s time for us to get loud and start using these numbers with everybody,” Valdez says of LDC’s research. “This lack of information that is creating a situation where studios are leaving money on the table constantly.”

The “Latinos in Media” report aims to make an undeniable business case that Hollywood is hurting its own profit potential with the persistent under-representation in media relative to Hispanics’ growing share of the total U.S. population. At present, Latinx communities make up about 19% of the U.S. as of 2021. That number stands to grow considerably in the coming years, given that Hispanics accounted for just over half of total U.S. population growth from 2010 to 2021, and the overwhelming majority of those were born in the U.S. and speak only English.

But on screen in TV and film, Latinx characters are still “virtually invisible” and worse, they’re often releated to stereotypical roles as criminals, drug dealers, prostituties, housekeepers, nannies and maids. The LDC study dives deep to break down the top characters in hundreds of scripted and unscripted TV series. According to the research, only 3.1% of TV series featured a Latinx lead or co-lead character, and of those only 1.3% were what the report describes as “positive portrayals,” defined as non-stereotypical roles and fully formed characters.

Latinx representation is film is only marginally better. In 2019, U.S. Latinos accounted for 23% of all moviegoers and purchased 29% ($2.9 billion) of all box office tickets sold for English-language films, per the LDC. Representation in films released through August of this year stood at about 5.2% of lead characters, and 2.6% of directors. LDC data shows that Latinx representation on the big screen has increased since 2018 but at a stubbornly slow rate. And it is no surprise to anyone in entertainment that the level of Latinx representation among executive decision-makers, talent agents and other key gatekeepers is miniscule.

The LDC is calling on the industry to address the business imperative for recognizing the economic power of Latinx consumers. The organization has no intention to call for boycotts against studios or networks. But it has vowed to issue an annual “Latinos in Media” report to ensure that there are clear public benchmarks on Latinx progress in entertainment. The LDC also maintains a growing database of experienced Latinx actors, writers, producers and below-the-line industry pros. That is an effort to support Latinx talent as well as to counteract claims that producers simply can’t find Latinx talent to fill key roles in TV shows and movies.

LDC also aims to encourage Latinx consumers to vote with their discretionary consumer dollars.

“Support the companies and channels and producers who represent us,” Valdez said Sept. 24 as part of the four-day L’Attitude Latinx business conference in San Diego. “Start using the power of your purse. “Support shows and films that represent you in the way you want to be seen. Don’t support the ones that represent you in an embarrassing way.”

The LDC report maintains that research demonstrates young Latinx viewers, who make up about 25% of all young adult entertainment consumers, are less inclined to watch mainstream movies and TV that have no Latinx representation. And younger U.S. Latinx consumers have different expectations than their parents and grandparents.

“U.S. Latinos are one out of every four subjects of interest for every Hollywood content creator (25% of all young Americans),” the report states. “Ninety percent of them were born in America, English is their first language, and are proud Americans. They are also proud of their Latino heritage, and unlike their parents, this younger generation of Latinos gravitates towards brands and content in which they can see themselves represented in an authentic and empowering way.”

Adds Valdez, “And we’re loyal. We remember the companies that show up for us.”

The release of the LDC report on the heels of the L’Attitude conference is an effort to spur post-pandemic America to recognize the relative lack of progress for Latinx communities across the board.

“It’s simple math,” Nielsen CEO David Kenny told the L’Attitude crowd on Sept. 23 of the future growth curve of U.S.-born Latinx population.

Advertisers who want to sell everything from packaged goods to cars to home mortgages are going to see the majority of business growth in the coming decades from Latinx households.

Jim Cramer, CNBC’s veteran host of “Mad Money,” brought his usual high-energy advocacy to his L’Attitude Q&A with Trujillo on Sept. 23.

“This is where the growth is,” Cramer shouted from the stage as he waved around a printout of a recent LDC report on demographic and business trends.

He also flatly told the crowd that the lack of awareness about Latinx consumer trends among many top business leaders is disturbing. Trujillo gently but forcefully pressed Cramer to commit to talking about this blind spot on his CNBC series. At the conference, Cramer bristled at anecdotal reports indicating that many top advertisers still discount Latinx consumers and question their level of discretionary income.

“That is insulting,” Cramer shouted. “That is in-sulting.”

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