As Hispanic Heritage Month continues in the United States, a new report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative assesses the state of Hispanic and Latino representation in Hollywood’s top-grossing films.
The full study will be released next month, examining 1,600 top-grossing films released from 2007 to 2022 and more than 69,000 speaking characters, with qualitative data about how those Latino and Hispanic characters are presented in films, including whether they “stereotype or stigmatize” the community. It’s the third study analyzing Hispanic and Latino representation from the Initiative’s researchers, led by founder Dr. Stacy L. Smith.
According to the report, Hispanic/Latino actors filled just 10 leading or co-lead roles across last year’s 100 top-grossing films, and eight of those 10 roles went to Hispanic/Latina actors. In the 16-year span studied, just 76 actors filled lead or co-lead roles (across 1,600 top-grossing films); 44 were Hispanic/Latina; and five were Hispanic/Latinas aged 45 and older.
Overall, the study showed that there has been no significant change in the prevalence of Latino characters. In 2022, a mere 6% of speaking characters were Hispanic/Latino, which researchers note is not dissimilar to the 3% found in 2007, but vastly underrepresents the largest ethnic group in the country. (According to the US Census Bureau, the US Hispanic population reached 63.7 million in 2022, representing 19.1% of the population.)
Of the few Hispanic/Latino characters that appeared on screen in 2022, almost 60% were male-identified. The year saw the release of blockbusters like “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” — which, respectively, starred actors Zoe Saldaña, Danny Ramirez and Xochitl Gomez (pictured above) — as well as “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which featured a number of Hispanic and Latino actors in its ensemble.
In addition to instances of on-screen representation, researchers also analyzed roles behind the camera. Their findings: “Hispanic/Latinos continued to be virtually absent from directing and writing among popular films especially by Hispanic women and Latinas.”
The study’s lead author Ariana Case states: “Top movies still do not reflect the stories of the Hispanic and Latino communities in this country. Both behind the camera and on screen, the numbers reflect how little opportunity Hispanic and Latino creatives have to share their experiences and see themselves reflected on screen.”
While this report takes a look at 2022 films, the results are indicative of the climate in 2023, where Latinos, as well as other underrepresented and marginalized groups, were greatly affected due to the historic Hollywood strikes. In August, with actors unable to promote projects due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, 27 Latino organizations united to support projects such as DC Studios’ “Blue Beetle,” their first film starring a Latino superhero.
The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study was produced with support from McDonald’s Spotlight Dorado, an effort aimed at empowering Latino and Hispanic voices across industries, beginning with film. Their mission is to increase inclusivity and pave the way for these underrepresented stories and storytellers. McDonald’s USA’s content and culture director Ryan Worthy notes that the Initiative’s research has been “an integral part of how we’ve been informing our efforts for Spotlight Dorado.”
Worthy adds: “We’re excited to take our partnership to the next level to continue on our shared mission of shining a light on the underrepresentation of Hispanics and Latinos, while doing our part to give the community a voice and drive much-needed change in the industry.”
In 2022, McDonald’s launched the Spotlight Dorado short film contest, which aims to bridge the gap for budding filmmakers. The contest is free to enter and the selected filmmakers are awarded a $75,000 production budget and provided mentorship from industry leaders — including Anthony Ramos, Al Madrigal, Danay Garcia, Carlos López Estrada and Nancy C. Mejía — as they shoot their own projects. The 2023 finalists are Marissa Díaz (director of “Fancy Florez’s Summer Staycation”), Kryzz Gautier (“Chimera”) and Pablo Riesgo (“Cuando Volvimos a la Tierra”). Their shorts will premiere in November, and the public will vote for their favorite.