Why Are Latinos Left Out?
It's time to get Hollywood's attention
By Luis Alfredo Vasquez-Ajmac
At the prodding of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus this fall, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a new report on Latinos continuing to be excluded in the media and entertainment industry. Unfortunately, there was nothing really new with the ongoing underrepresentation of Latinos in Hollywood from this report. It has been happening for decades. To belie this, the systemic racism in the entertainment business is getting worse, especially since Latinos continue to evolve as the largest non-white group in America, an estimated 60 million people, and our involvement in this powerful industry is diminishing.
The new GAO report released in September 2021 says that Latinos are not in top management positions from daily newspapers to movie studios. Currently, there is only one national Latino TV network news anchor and no CEOs in the film industry. Among the key findings is that Latino’s highest representation in films is as service workers and other minimum wage jobs on the large studio lots.
Yet young Latinos are the largest consumers of blockbuster movies and other forms of multi-media entertainment. And while Latinos purchase more movie tickets than any other group, we make up less than 5% of stars seen in films. Worse, skilled jobs as prop-masters, gaffers and other crafts have dropped by 1% for Latinos in these highly paying production and union jobs.
In Los Angeles where Latinos make up 50% of the population, that’s five million people; it’s hard to imagine that the biggest industry cannot find qualified skilled workers and other talent from our community.
Like most other media industries, not much is different in the entertainment industry. Latinos are ignored, marginalized, stereotyped or at best shown in a negative light. While the movie industry has tried to recruit Latino talent by hiring Vice Presidents of diversity and inclusion, Latinos are still left out. It’s time to look at new ways to help educate the film industry and other power brokers of the value to hire Latino talent, producers and entrepreneurs in this lucrative industry that is booming in our backyard.
There is no one more qualified to look for solutions to this growing problem for our community than Moctesuma Esparza. Raised by a single father in East LA’s working-class Chicano neighborhood, Esparza is a legendary filmmaker, businessman and activist. Among Esparza’s film credits include “Selena,” “Mi Familia,” “Ballard of Gregorio Cortez,” “Milagros Bean Field War" and some other 30 film productions.
Esparza is also founder of luxury Maya Cinemas movie chain and co-founder of the Los Angeles Academy of Arts & Enterprise (LAAAE) to help the neediest kids get into the arts and filmmaking. As important as Ethnic Studies is in California, Esparza believes young Latinos need to be exposed to the arts so they see the potential at an early age.
To begin addressing Hollywood’s exclusion of Latinos, Esparza says, “We need to hold our California elected officials accountable for pandering to Hollywood’s executives and stars to fund their campaigns and rub shoulders.” He added, “Otherwise, there is no incentive to change the ways things are.” The second thing we can do, says Esparza, “as taxpayers, we need to put pressure on our elected officials like Governor Newsom to stop subsidizing and giving the film industry tax incentives for filming locations, copyright protections and other benefits until they hire our community in meaningful positions.” One way to get your elected official’s attention is a simple and straightforward letter about your concern or call their office directly.
As a graduate of the UCLA film school, Esparza knows the value of learning from a higher institution of education, but he believes we need to reach Latinos at an early age to expose them to the arts. “We need to work to create a pipeline to help our young kids to see the potential in the film industry.” And give them a chance to write about the Latino experience in the United States from our reality.
That’s why Esparza started the LAAAE in downtown Los Angeles to service the most neglected and needy students from middle school to high school and help them find a pathway into the arts and filmmaking. Since 2005, the school has opened doors for students that otherwise would be closed to them in the entertainment business. This coming winter, the school kicks-off an enrollment campaign for anyone who wants to learn about the arts and storytelling.
From Washington, D.C., Esparza’s first student film, “Requiem 29,”and fifth film production will be recognized by the National Film Preservation Board and housed at the Library of Congress in December. “Requiem 29” was produced by Esparza with raw footage from student filmmakers and news content from KMEX-TV (Univision) of the massive Chicano Moratorium protest in East Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 1970. This gripping documentary captured a historic civil rights movement with soundbites and unedited film clips.
During that summer day, the largest gathering of 50,000 peaceful Mexican Americans and other anti-war protesters took place in East LA against the War in Vietnam. The protest ended with four people gunned down by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies and the start of ongoing police abuse against Latinos in Los Angeles that continues to this day. Among those killed was admired reporter and news commentator Ruben Salazar, the first Mexican American journalist to write for the Los Angeles Times. No other Latino filmmaker’s work has been recognized as much as Esparza’s work. This student film is a reminder of the importance to write our stories, to tell them and to show them. Otherwise, the US Latino experience will be invisible.
There is much at stake in the entertainment industry for Latinos to think about. While there is no real oversight to change the film industry, Latinos can start with small steps such as making this a topic of concern, talking with elected officials and pressuring the government to stop subsidizing the film industry and hold them accountable for discrimination. And more importantly, we need to nurture our children to expose them to the wonderful world of the arts and film. Y por fin, we can always just stop buying movie tickets. That may get Hollywood’s attention.
Luis Alfredo Vasquez-Ajmac is president of LAVA Force in Los Angeles. LAVA helps clients with multicultural marketing and communications services nationwide. Luis is also an Emmy Award-winning producer and social justice activist of Maya decent. See more @LAVAForce.co.