I exited the theater with questions. Was that a great interspecies love story, sci-fi fantasy or a cocktail of genres playing like a symphony? One conducted by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. It took del Toro a while to reach Hollywood’s elite circles. He made sure to mention it during his Golden Globes acceptance speech, while that dreaded background music crept up: “It’s taken 25 years … give me a minute.” Since then, we’ve learned that “The Shape of Water” became this year’s most nominated Oscar film, with an impressive 13 nods.
So, how exactly are Latinos underrepresented in Hollywood? We can start with numbers, based on a research study from the University of Southern California: Latinos make up 23 percent of frequent moviegoers while representing 18 percent of the U.S. population. Over the past decade, only 3 percent of speaking characters in films were classified “Latino.” These figures show an obvious disparity. What then, is the solution?
Is it up to screenwriters to create more compelling stories with Latino roles? Is it up to studio executives to greenlight them? Should producers do more to champion Latinos, even for nonspecific roles? I mean, look at Oscar Isaac, featured in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” Isaac was born in Guatemala to a Guatemalan mother and a Cuban father. He was raised in Miami. Benicio del Toro, Puerto Rican, also was in “The Last Jedi.” Diego Luna, Mexican, co-starred in “Rogue One,” which he played with his natural accent, something Latino audiences noticed — and appreciated. Cuban actor Ana de Armas was featured in last year’s highly anticipated “Blade Runner 2049.”
It’s a start, but not nearly enough.
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These stories need to happen more often, more consistently and with more intention. It needs to be an effort across the entertainment spectrum, from executives hiring more Latinos and moving them up the studio chain, to asking for more Latino-driven content, to directors, producers and writers championing Latino actors, whether it be space sagas or award season dramas, to managers, agents and casting directors thinking outside the box.
We must organize, with a strong message, and demand change backed by reason, numbers and a proven track record. The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHCM) is planning two protests before the Oscars. The first will be Feb. 5, during the Academy’s annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon. This is important and will send a powerful message, but we need to take the message and apply it year-round, particularly in those quiet times, outside the glitz of Hollywood’s awards season.
I would also ask every parent of a Latino child to inspire dreams in your kids. If they show interest in the arts, let them take acting classes, write a script or shoot that quirky little movie in the backyard. We need our young dreamers to become doers. It is always that next generation that will reach new heights.
And for those precious few Latinos that managed to find some success … become mentors, pay it forward. Even though the door may have been shut in your face, you found a way. Offer encouragement. You are often the only hope in a world that can feel so impossible to reach.
It is interesting that a film like “Coco” has come into our lives now. A mainstream animated feature from Disney’s Pixar, known for their attention to storytelling. It is a culturally specific film whose universal themes of family and “pursuing your dreams” hit a chord with audiences worldwide. “Coco” has already taken in more than $650 million globally, won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Motion Picture, and is nominated for two Oscars. Not bad for a film about a traditional Mexican holiday cast with mostly Latino actors. Credit to the filmmakers for their authentic vision and message. What the film points out is that we must seize the moment.
And that moment is upon us. It is time for our community to work together, create a movement, start companies, host networking events, break boundaries, and always fail forward, while celebrating, how Latinos can, the successes along the way. We earned it, but there is much work to be done. Meanwhile, I realize what “Shape” is actually about — inclusiveness.
Jose Luis Martinez is creative director of Miami Media & Film Market (MMFM).