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What’s Hollywood got against Latinos?

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Felix Sanchez: New MPAA data show Latinos' moviegoing continues to rise. But Latino roles sorely lacking in films

He says the way Latinos are shown figures heavily in how the nation and world picture this growing group

Editor’s Note: Felix Sanchez is the chairman and co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

CNN —  

Neatly tucked away in just-released data provided by the Motion Picture Association of America is this revelation: While overall 2016 box office attendance remained flat, the number of Latinos going to the movies remains on the increase.

Felix Sanchez
Courtesy of Felix Sanchez
Felix Sanchez

Latinos remain over-represented among frequent moviegoers relative to their overall percentage in the US population. Their attendance has been trending upward for years: from 2015 to 2016 it grew from 7.9 million to 8.3 million (its all-time high was 11.6 million, in 2013). Similarly, during 2015-2016, attendance for African-American frequent moviegoers grew from 3.8 million to 5.6 million; for Asian-American frequent moviegoers, it rose from 3.2 million to 3.9 million.

Put another way, in 2016, Hispanics comprised 18% of the US population, but over-indexed at 23% of frequent moviegoers. African-Americans and Asians combined represent 20% of the population and accounted for 26% of frequent moviegoers. Taken as a whole, people of color now account for 48% of frequent moviegoers.

Yet nowhere in the MPAA’s 2016 Theatrical Market Statistics report was the issue of portrayal — the elephant in the report — discussed. But, in theory, if effectively mobilized, US ethnic and racial minorities could control the purse strings and have a decisive effect on whether the US film industry has a financially successful or a disastrous year.

The disturbing underbelly of this news? A 2014 study by Columbia University Professor Frances Negron-Muntaner, titled “The Latino Media Gap,” revealed that, “From 2000 to 2013, among the 10 films with the highest domestic growth per year, Latino lead rol