The film industry’s diversity and inclusion crisis is no secret, and much has been said about how it impacts women. The numbers are grim in film for women in front of and behind the cameras—representation is slim and women on set remain rare. But as we challenge the film industry’s sexism, we need to do more to center one of the often underrepresented and misrepresented communities of women in the industry: Latinas.
According to a University of Southern California Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative (USC MDSCI) study of 600 popular films, Latinas made up just 4.3% of the women onscreen in the top 100 films of 2014. (That number hadn’t changed since 2007.) Out of 4,610 speaking characters in the top 100 films of 2014, only 36.8% were female, and a minority of those 19 characters were non-white: 15.8%. The study doesn’t provide specific numbers on which percentage out of the 15.8% was made up of Latina women, but a different USC MDSCI study examining the top-grossing 100 movies of 2013 by USC’s MDSCI found that Latina characters were less common than Latino characters. That study also found that out of all female characters across identity groups, Latinas were the most likely “to be shown with some exposed skin.”
It’s also not uncommon for Latina women to be cast in films in roles that fall in line with existing stereotypes about their community, and therefore further fuel the propagation of those stereotypes. The hypersexualized “spicy Latina” is perhaps the most common—but so are roles in which Latina women don’t know English well, are members of big families, are immigrants to the United States, and work as maids. Another challenge for Latinas on screen is identity erasure—when characters that are identifiable as Latina because of their names aren’t portrayed with any details pertaining to their ethnic identity.
The problematic underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Latina women is in stark contrast with the fact that they make up a significant sector of movie-going audiences. In 2014, they were a majority of movie-goers overall, and with varied taste: Latina women went to theaters to watch family-friendly flicks, thrillers and superhero movies.
Creating roles for Latina women and characters in film that aren’t limited by stereotypes and don’t erase their identities is crucial. For too long, the characters that are visible in film haven’t mirrored the multiplicity of what it means to be Latina—and change is long overdue.