H’wood neglecting Latino auds, SAG sez

'M.I.A.' reports pix, TV must up Latino representation

Latino audiences in the United States spend more than $500 million a year going to the movies, according to a study commissioned by the Screen Actors Guild and due for unveiling today.

Those audiences, the study says, are six times more likely to watch movies with Latino stars or Latino themes — “The Mask of Zorro,” for instance — than other kinds of movies.

“It’s time for the entertainment industry to wake up and take this audience seriously,” SAG president Richard Masur said in a preface to the report, titled “Missing in Action: Latinos In and Out of Hollywood,” a copy of which was made available to Daily Variety.

Masur pointed out that by 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that one in every six people in America will be Latino, and yet they remain woefully absent from most screens.

The latest figures come in the wake of Monday’s SAG report on minority casting, which noted that while Latinos make up roughly 11% of the nation’s population, their roles in films and TV represent less than one-third their actual slice of the U.S. population (Daily Variety, May 4).

The report said that U.S.-born Latinos are “avid consumers of movies,” with more than one-third, or 37%, sitting down to 13 or more movies a year. Foreign-born Latinos are less frequent moviegoers, but because they “make up a significant share of the Latino community, the industry has a great opportunity to expand its audience,” says the report, prepared by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.

“The industry must find the content and language in films that will appeal to this portion of the community, who in California make up over 50% of the Latino adult audience,” the report says, referring to immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries.

Harry P. Pachon, president of the Rivera think tank, said Latinos in the U.S. spend $661 million a year on entertainment outside the home, principally films, theater, opera and ballet, with about 80% of the total going to films.

“When you ask Latinos what movies they see, they don’t mention ethnicity as a factor, but when you ask them who their favorite stars are, you discover that 40% of Latinos go to movies because of a Hispanic star or theme,” Pachon said in an interview.

Missing onscreen, too

Despite the crossover success of Latino actors such as Salma Hayek, Andy Garcia, Cameron Diaz and Jimmy Smits, little work overall is going to Latino actors, who last year worked only 3.5% of the total hours worked under SAG contracts. Many of the actors interviewed for the survey felt that being Latino was an obstacle to their careers, primarily because of negative stereotypes.

“I peaked as a Colombian drug lord,” a Los Angeles-based Latino SAG member said in the report.

“The call was for poor white trash or Latino,” said another.

According to the survey, most Latino audiences do not protest when they see negative stereotypes about their ethnicity. “They simply switch channels or they tell their friends not to see the show or the movie,” Pachon said. “It’s a quiet audience.”

TV, vid figures

Eighty-eight percent of Latinos rent movies at least once a year, with almost one-third picking up titles in both English and Spanish in roughly equal numbers. Only 4% rent exclusively Spanish-language pics, while 63% rent primarily or exclusively movies made in English.

Forty-eight percent of the survey’s Latino respondents said they watch TV in both English and Spanish, while children in Latino households are more likely to watch English-language TV than are the adults.

“The industry is not reflecting the American scene,” Pachon said. “How can you make a movie about New York City or Los Angeles and not have at least one Latino as a background actor? It happens all the time.”