The number of speaking roles for non-White actors in major Hollywood films reached a record high in 2019, but on-screen representation for Latinos and women of color still lags far behind other groups, according to a new study.
The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which examines diversity in the film and television industry every year, released its latest report on Thursday. The findings showed minorities starred in 32 of the top 100 films in the US last year — far higher than the notably low 13 minority leads in 2007, the program’s inaugural year.
“The data from 2019 reveal that no significant increase over time in the depiction of underrepresented characters has occurred, although since 2007 the percentage of White characters has declined meaningfully,” the study authors wrote in their analysis.
Only 5% of the speaking roles in last year’s top 100 movies went to Latino actors even though that demographic group represents 18% of the US population. Latinos were the only major racial and ethnic group that was underrepresented in on-screen speaking roles last year, according to the USC report, which notes that a small sample of non-White actors are getting the bulk of the roles.
Non-Hispanic White people, who make up about 60% of the nation, received more than 65% of major film speaking roles in 2019. Black people, who represent about 13% of the population, received 16%, and Asian Americans, who make up about 6% of the US, received more than 7% of speaking roles.
“Those numbers are abysmal and at the floor,” Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Founder and Director Dr. Stacy L. Smith told CNN Business Wednesday, referring to the figures on Latino speaking roles.
The data are particularly striking given the outsize percentage of American Latinos who see movies every year.
A 2018 Motion Picture Association of America study revealed Latinos have the highest movie-going rate among racial and ethnic groups in the country, accounting for 23% of ticket purchases that year, though they represent 18% of the population.
That reality, according to Smith, leads Hollywood studios to conclude they don’t need to make films starring Latinos to get them to go see movies.
“There’s a disconnect in people saying, ‘We long to see ourselves represented,’ and Hollywood saying, ‘If they come, we’re doing enough,’” Smith said.
Brenda Castillo, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a Los Angeles-based Latinx advocacy group, suggested Hollywood studios don’t get as much pressure about Latino representation as they do about other demographic groups.
“Often Latinos are not seen as part of the United States,” Castillo told CNN Business. “It’s deplorable when we are the fastest growing population. It would only make good business sense to market to us.”
Castillo’s coalition counseled Disney and Pixar on ways to make “Coco” a critical and box office success more than four years ago. The 2017 animated film cost about $175 million to produce and has since earned more than $800 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.
Both Smith and Castillo said they often hear industry insiders say there’s not enough Latino talent in their pipelines, even though organization’s like Castillo’s have development programs that have been connecting Latino actors, script writers and directors with major film studios for decades.
“A lot of times you hear we can’t find them,’ but sometimes these movies are taking place in Los Angeles, where we’re over 50% of the population,” Castillo said. “Our organization has been here for 35 years. We’re right here. Give us a call.”