Despite overindexing movie ticket purchases and making up nearly a fifth of the U.S. population, Latinos remain underrepresented as employees in nearly all major media and entertainment industries, according to preliminary results from ‘a federal study released Tuesday.
Latin Americans appeared to be overrepresented in just one media sector, as service workers, the data showed. Directors, editors, and executives with decision-making power were the least representative of Hispanics working in Hollywood, in the news media, and in publishing. The study, conducted by the US Government Accountability Office, is the first of its kind to focus on the employment of Latinos in the media.
Overall, Latinos in the United States made up about 12% of the workforce in media and entertainment jobs, up from about 18% of the Hispanic population in 2019, according to GAO.
The first results of the study were eagerly awaited in watch circles and in the Hispanic media. In recent years, politicians in Washington and Hollywood heavyweights have strongly pressured industry executives to correct the representation deficit of the country’s fastest growing minority subgroup and now The most important.
Tuesday, the representative Joaquín Castro (D-San Antonio), who takes care of the issue as a political cause, the figures announced during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, DC Castro and fellow members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had asked GAO to review available data on Hispanic employment in media and entertainment in October 2020.
“The media industry, and Hollywood in particular, is still the premier image-defining and storytelling institution in American society,” Castro told the club. “This missing narrative, this systemic exclusion, it’s not only dangerous for Latinos, but it’s dangerous for everyone.”
Castro criticized major newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times for having particularly low rates of Latino or Hispanic journalists relative to the demographics of their cities.
“The point is, some of America’s most renowned media institutions are the most important and long-standing perpetrators of cultural exclusion,” the congressman said. “With today’s GAO report, it is now common knowledge that Latinos are under-represented in the media industry.”
Still, GAO’s initial ratio in terms of raw employment numbers is not as low as previously thought, and has surprised some analysts and advocates. UCLA and USC researchers regularly tracked in front and behind the camera visibility for Latin Americans in major studio productions, typically finding single-digit percentages as late as last week.
Professor Chon Noriega, who was not involved in the study and is the former director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, warned that the GAO figures could leave a rosier impression than the reality the position of Latinos in the media.
Significantly, the GAO did not distinguish between jobs in English-language or mainstream media versus jobs in Spanish-language media, due to its data sets. Spanish-language media generally employ Hispanics in greater numbers and in some markets, such as Los Angeles, tend to dominate the peaks in ratings.
Media activists have specifically called for better representation within English storytelling targeting the general public, arguing that Spanish-language media does not easily reach the broader American population. In the past, advocates have criticized large entertainment companies for beefing up their diversity figures by including Spanish-language programs and hires in their internal analyzes.
The Spanish-language media “do some of the work to balance things out, and they should be there, because in general, they’re not really treated as part of American audiovisual culture,” Noriega said. “The same with music, right? But you have to analyze the difference between English and Spanish.
The GAO examined responses to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a random selection of households, from 2014 to 2019. The bureau compared these numbers with data collected by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2014 and 2018, from companies with four or more employees. (The study excluded employees of companies specializing in tech, social media, and telecommunications.)
“If four Latinos get together and form a production company, whether or not the film ends up on TV or in a movie theater becomes secondary,” Noriega said. “Their presence in the industry has been duly noted, but not their marginality.”
Other data points jumped to observers who responded to the report. Senior executives and executives were only 4% Latino or Hispanic in 2018, while professional graduates, including producers, directors, actors and journalists, were around 8% Latino. Service workers were 22% Latin American in 2018, according to GAO.
The racial distribution among Latinos (who can be of any race) is also remarkable.
The GAO found that Latinos who were “single white” made up 67% of the Hispanic media workforce in 2019. Black or Afro Latinos made up 3% of the group; Asian Latinos made up 1%; Latinos who identified as American Indian (often a default for people identifying as native like actor Yalitza Aparicio) were 2%; and Latinos who identified as “another race” or “two or more races” made up 27% of the total. This last sub-group is generally made up of Latino mestizos who classify their heritage as partly indigenous and partly European.
Brenda Castillo, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, said Monday that the new numbers belied a more complex landscape at the industry level. In the aftermath of the 2021 Emmys air, in which no non-white actor won performance awards, the first release of GAO numbers seemed dissonant, she said.
“I mean, did you watch the Emmys last night?” Said Castillo. ” We are turning [close to] 20% of the American population, and we are certainly not 20% of the employees in publishing, television, entertainment.
“Hollywood and the media companies, the majority are in California, where 40% of the population is Latino, and then the Emmys were held in LA, which is 50% Latino,” Castillo added. “It’s just not moving fast enough.”
The GAO study arose in part in response to the anti-Latino gun massacre in El Paso in 2019, which prompted political leaders to question whether Trump-era sentiments against immigrants are fueling hateful or stereotypical representations of Latinos in the public. Castro also noted Tuesday that states with large Hispanics like California and Texas should not “subsidize exclusion” by offering tax incentives to media industries that do not employ enough Latinos.
GAO’s studies of Hispanic representation in media and entertainment are not complete. A second study is expected next year.