Hollywood is missing a big opportunity with Latinos

America Ferrera and Eva Longoria speak at the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards in January 2016.

Story highlights

  • Ana Valdez: U.S. Latinos are the superheroes of movie goers
  • We buy nearly one-fourth of all movie tickets in the United States, says Valdez
  • Yet Latinos are nearly invisible in entertainment, she says

Ana Valdez is the Executive Director of The Latino Collaborative, a non-partisan organization focused on raising awareness of Latinos' contributions to the current and future success of the nation's economy and society. The views expressed are her own.

(CNN)Whatever you think about diversity in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the drama that has unfolded since the Academy named the 2016 Oscar nominees, diversity in the entertainment industry has a very different meaning for Latinos.

As a media consultant, and as a U.S. Latina, this story for me is about opportunity not seized -- opportunity that I can capture with three simple facts:

One: U.S. Latinos are the superheroes of movie goers

    We buy nearly one-fourth of all movie tickets in the United States, despite making up only 17% of the population. Latinos are a key demographic for the movie industry, because as frequent moviegoers we help drive revenue for theater owners. In recent years, Latinos have made up between one-quarter and one-third of all U.S. frequent moviegoers, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. And unfortunately, Latinos rarely appear in those movies. Imagine what Latino box office would look like if we did.
    Ana Valdez

    Two: Executives of consumer goods companies will tell you that Latinos are driving U.S. retail growth

    Latinos accounted for at least 33% of automakers' combined year-over-year retail growth in 2014. Over the longer term, Latinos comprised nearly half of the increase in U.S. homeowners between 2000 and 2014.That trend will not stop, as a very young Latino population will continue to drive U.S. population growth.

    Three: U.S. Latinos are nearly invisible in entertainment

    Of the top 53 television, radio and studio executives, only one is Latino. In the top 10 movies from 2010 to 2013, U.S. Latinos account for 2.3% of directors, 2.2% of producers and 6% of writers. Currently, no Latinos serve as studio heads, network presidents or owners.
    As The Economist points out, it is actually Latinos who are severely under-represented at the Oscars. While black Americans have received 10 percent of Oscar nominations since 2000 compared to their 13 percent share of the population, Latinos have received just three percent of Oscar nominations with a 16 percent share of the U.S. population.
    Those three facts taken together say one thing to me: Entertainment companies are missing their chance to connect their bottom lines to a quickly growing revenue stream. And that means opportunity. The movie studio or television network that figures out how to speak more clearly and appealingly to Latinos stands to earn rich rewards at the box office and during sweeps. The first step down that road is to get more Latinos on camera and behind the camera.
    Putting Latino actors and actresses on camera will connect Latino audiences more personally to any film. I am not talking about Latinos cast in the old, worn stereotypical roles as criminals, cops and manual laborers. These tired characters are more likely to turn off Latinos audiences rather than get them to spend more at the box office. Rather, Latinos need to be cast in roles as diverse as Hollywood storytelling itself -- Wall Street traders, heroes in a future dystopia, or stranded astronauts. And this can also be boosted by involving Latinos in writing, production and with Latino executives to green light Latino-appealing shows and movies.
    Remember that the studio and network executives who take these basic steps will seize an important advantage over their competitors. It's an advantage that will translate into box office sales and television advertising dollars. This is not only the right thing to do, this is the smart business thing to do.
      As college enrollment and household income rise quickly for U.S. Latinos, we are spending more money, buying homes, buying cars, and yes -- buying movie tickets. Until entertainment executives in Los Angeles and New York understand that we are young, upwardly mobile and love to go to the movies -- and then act accordingly -- they will be leaving our money on the table. And that is no way to run a business.