With Latino-focused films such as "Encanto" and "West Side Story" in the running to receive Academy Awards on Sunday during Hollywood's biggest night, it may appear that Latino representation in movies improved over the past year.
But the newest Hollywood Diversity Report from the University of California, Los Angeles, released Thursday shows that Latinos barely saw themselves represented, in front or behind the camera in last year's top films.
Ana-Christina Ramón and Darnell Hunt, experts at UCLA's Division of Social Sciences, examined the top 252 English-language films based on box office receipts and streaming data from 2021, the second year in which the Covid-19 pandemic forced movie studios to adopt hybrid release strategies.
Latinos represent nearly 19 percent of the U.S. population. The study found that 7.1 percent of leading acting roles and 7.7 percent of overall film acting roles went to Latinos.
Behind the camera, Latinos accounted for 5.6 percent of writers and 7.1 percent of directors.
A large percentage of the movie business’s box office revenue and home viewership was driven by consumers of color in 2021, according to the study. People of color accounted for the majority of opening-weekend U.S. ticket sales for 6 of the 10 top-grossing films that opened in theaters last year.
“For people of color, and especially Latino families, theaters provided an excursion when almost everything else was shut down. In a sense, people of color kept studios afloat the past couple of years," Ramón, director of research and civic engagement and co-author of the report, said in the statement about the study. “Studios should consider them to be investors, and as investors, they should get a return in the form of representation.”
An increase in overall diversity
Overall, 43.1 percent of actors in the movies analyzed in the report are people of color. That’s more than double the percentage from 2011, the first year in which the report's authors started collecting data on the subject.
“Minorities reached proportionate representation in 2020 for the first time when it comes to overall cast diversity in films, and that held true again in 2021,” Hunt, dean of social sciences and co-author of the report, said in the statement.
He partly attributed the trend to the greater number of movies that are initially released on streaming services. Nearly 46 percent of the films analyzed in the report were released on streaming services only.
“We do think this dual-release strategy is here to stay,” Hunt said. “And it could have a lasting impact on diversity metrics in front of and behind the camera as studios think about how to finance content for different platforms.”