Hollywood is mostly white, occasionally black, sometimes brown but rarely cafe con leche*. When it comes to awards, Latinos are rarely nominated, never mind actually winning one.
When Gina Rodriguez won the Golden Globe for her part in Jane the Virgin, we Latinos went berserk. We applauded the way we do when our plane lands safely on terra firma in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. We felt a sense of pride as though she were our sister, daughter or cousin. Before Rodriguez, America Ferrera won the Golden Globe for her part in Ugly Betty in 2007. Both shows, by the way, were English replicas of Colombian and Venezuelan shows that aired on Spanish language channels in Spanish (Betty La Fea and Juana La Virgen). Other recognizable Latino Golden Globe and Oscar winners include: (cue the crickets).
You can’t win if you’re not in the game, and not enough Latinos are in the game. And therein lies the rub. It’s not for a lack of trying. There are simply not enough Latino directors, producers and writers making content for Latino actors… of which there are not enough. I get that Hollywood is Big Business. Everyone is in it to make money. (Aren’t we all?) But to cast the same actors and hire the same directors over and over again makes not casting Latinos a non-issue and that is incredibly dangerous.When something becomes a non-issue it’s easy to poke fun at it… enter Neil Patrick Harris as host of the Oscars. It’s also easy to forget that we’re here. Or even worse, it’s easy to think that all we care about is immigration.
In her acceptance speech for winning the Golden Globe, Viola Davis thanked show creator Shonda Rhimes “… for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark-skinned African-American woman who looks like me.” Now back to being cafe con leche in Hollywood. Who is going to step up and create a Latino character that is any character other than a domestic worker? I have no idea how Shonda (in my head she and I are on a first-name basis) became the juggernaut she is today but I do know ABC should be worshiping at the altar that is SR. I suspect there were rejections and heartache. All of that is what makes the success that much sweeter.
It is beyond time that Hollywood takes Latino directors and actors more seriously and put them in positions to make decisions. Half the eyeballs watching screens large and small are Latino. OK, maybe not half, but pretty damn close. I’m loath to say “we need our own Latina Shonda,” because she forged her own path. But someone in Hollywood needs to step up and start casting a wider net. The talent is out there and Hollywood plays it way too safe… unless of course you are writing offensive emails that you think will never see the light of day (I’m looking at you, Amy Pascale).
I pray my kids never want to get into the entertainment industry. The heartbreak one endures is surely against the Geneva Convention. But if they do, if any Latino kids want to “break into Hollywood,” I hope they see someone on their screen that reflects the communities in which they live. Because let’s face it, Latinos aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Isn’t that the cruel irony?
*Cafe con leche literally translates into “coffee with milk.” It is also how my mother refers to the color of our skin. By ours, I mean Latina.