Only 5% of Characters in Top U.S. Films Are Hispanic or Latino

The group makes up almost 20% of the country’s population.

Bloomberg — By Mary Biekert

The biggest minority in the U.S. is one of the most under-represented in Hollywood, a new study of the 1,300 highest grossing films over 13 years out Wednesday finds.

Hispanic or Latino people are missing almost entirely from every aspect of movie making. In 2019, they made up just 5.9% of all characters in 100 top-hit movies, when they were included in films at all. Hispanic and Latino actors were entirely absent from over a third of the best performing movies that year, the analysis by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California finds. The group makes up more than 18% of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Other minorities in the U.S. get more on-screen time, Annenberg has found. In 2019, 15.7% of all characters with speaking roles in the top 100 grossing films were Black and 7.2% were Asian.

After backlashes like #OscarsSoWhite, Hollywood has slowly improved diversity in high profile projects — a move that has paid off. Films with minorities and women in leading roles have seen box office success, in part, by drawing more diverse audiences. Just this month, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” the first Marvel film featuring an Asian lead, broke Labor Day weekend records.

Hispanic and Latino Americans have the highest per-capita movie theater attendance among all races and ethnicities, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Yet they’re not often portrayed on screen, and when they are, they’re often typecast as criminals or poor. Nearly 40% of top billed Hispanic or Latino actors in the Annenberg were depicted as criminals; 13.8% were lower class or impoverished.

“Representation on screen matters for our community,” said actress Eva Longoria, whose production company, UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, partnered with the USC’s Inclusion Initiative on the study in a press release. “It shapes not just how others see us, but also how we see ourselves.”

“In the Heights,” a film adaptation of the hit Broadway show by Lin-Manuel Miranda, that came out this summer and featured a Latino starring roster, was a recent, highly anticipated exception. The film fell short of expectations. Miranda and director Jon Chu also faced criticism for not casting dark-skinned Afro-Latinos in major roles.

Hispanic and Latino directors only helmed 4.2% of major movies, USC found. A third of those directors were of Mexican descent, another third of Spanish descent.