SAG study reports role dearth, stereotypes

Latino actors continue to face racial stereotyping in Hollywood, leading to significant under-representation in films and television, according to a study commissioned by the Screen Actors Guild, which released the findings Wednesday.

“We continue to see Latinos largely cast in servant-class roles, like Jose the busboy and Maria the maid,” said Harry P. Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, which conducted the survey of executives and Latino SAG members. “We’re most disturbed by the universality of the stereotyping.”

Subtle shadings

The survey, dubbed “Still Missing: Latinos in and out of Hollywood,” found 73% of Latino SAG members believed that having a Latino surname was a disadvantage, while 45% of them asserted that they would not receive Latino roles if they did not fit into Hollywood’s image of Latinos as the “mestizo” stereotype of a mix of European and native ethnicities.

“If you’re too dark or too light, you don’t get the part,” Pachon said during a news conference. “You have to hit that magic midpoint.”

The survey, based on responses from more than 1,200 of the 4,800 SAG Latino members, also revealed that two-thirds of the actors said they had been rejected for a role because they did not fit a Latino stereotype, while 70% said casting directors were the most likely group to express those stereotypes.

The respondents also said they encountered stereotypes about their language abilities, with 30% reporting that they had been required to speak poor English or employ an accent. Actors reported that they worked an average of 10 days per year, well below SAG’s overall average.

Financial doubts

Pachon also asserted that confidential interviews with Hollywood executives showed that they believe the inclusion of Latinos is the right thing to do but insist that TV programs and films showcasing Latino actors do not succeed financially and that Latino actors are not well-enough known to draw well at the box office. Those beliefs show that execs are not fully aware that Latinos account for one in nine Americans, with $404 billion in purchasing power, he added.

“Hollywood executives continue to assume that Latino-themed projects and roles do not play well,” Pachon said. “There’s a giant market out there that’s just waiting to be tapped. Hollywood is ignoring a valuable resource to reach that market: the vast, underused pool of Latino talent in its own backyard.”

Inaccurate representation

The report came a year after Pachon performed a “Missing in Action” study for SAG, showing that Latinos received just 3.5% of the total hours worked in 1998 under SAG contracts, compared with their representation as 10.7% of the U.S. population — the greatest disparity among any minority group.

“What we’re asking for is an accurate portrayal of the American scene,” Pachon said. “How can anyone show Los Angeles or New York City without Latinos?”

Pachon said it is crucial for SAG, producers and studios to continue to push affirmative action, mentoring and other advocacy programs to advance the cause of Latino actors. “People have said the pressure to change tends to be episodic,” he noted. “I don’t want to have to be making the same speech 20 years from now.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more