Latinos are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country and watch more television than most groups, yet they are vastly underrepresented on television shows, according to a new report from the Columbia University Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.
Despite Latinos representing 17% of the overall population last year, no Latino actors had lead roles among the top 10 scripted network television shows and less than 10% of supporting roles, according the recently released “Latino Media Gap” report. Given that Hispanic purchasing power is expected to reach $1.6 trillion dollars by 2015 and that Latino adults watched an average of 123 hours of television each during fourth-quarter 2013, according to Nielsen — second behind only African- American viewers — Latino representation on the small screen is disproportionally low.
Roles for Latino actors and actresses are largely stereotypical characters. While Latinas represent 69% of all maids on television, Latinas in real life only represent 44.3% of maids. Nearly 25% of Latino and Latina characters on TV shows are blue collar criminals, yet only 19% of Latinos commit such crimes. Latinos are portrayed as artists less than 1% of the time, yet Latinos constitute nearly 9% of creative professionals, according to the survey .
Behind the camera, Latinos fare even worse. From 2010 to 2013, Latinos accounted for 2.1% or less of pilot show producers, although in 2013 the number increased to 2.8% — encouraging, but still disproportionally low. At the current rate of change, the report said, it will take more than 100 years for Latinos to reach just 17% of lead roles in the top 10 scripted TV shows. By then, the Latino population is expected to at least double.
Signs are emerging, though, that may signal a move in the right direction for Latinos on the small screen, particularly on cable and in new media.
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s startup El Rey Network is offering original content targeted to Hispanic audiences, including its soccer-driven original scripted series, Matador, debuting later this summer.
OTT service Hulu later this month will debut the second season of East Los High, the first scripted series with an all Latino cast.
As with all minority groups, the lack of Latino decision makers has a definitive effect on the images and messages that we see on the television screen. The casting and the roles that we see are often representative of the experiences of the writers and producers. More minority representation among TV network decision makers will lead to more accurate representations of multicultural images on-screen.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.