Latinos Are Biggest Moviegoers, Yet Few Roles In Top Movies

Latina actress Zoe Saldana, seen here with actors Lee Pace, Chris Pratt and Vin Diesel, attending a screening of "Guardians of the Galaxy" on July 29, 2014 in New York City. A USC study found less than 5 percent of actors in 2013's 100 top-grossing films were Latino. Andrew Toth / Getty Images

Recent surveys consistently show Latino families are the most avid movie theater goers, yet when it comes to Latino actors in top roles, the numbers are very low.

“Hispanics and Latinos are one of the fastest-growing groups in the U.S.,” said Marc Choueiti, one of the authors of a new study from USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “If popular films were the only way to gauge diversity, viewers would be completely unaware of this. Individuals from this group are almost invisible on screen,” he stated as part of the study's release.

The report found 4.9 percent of the actors in 2013's 100 top grossing movies were Latino, making Hispanic actors the most underrepresented group.

Apart from the lack of Hispanic actors, the study found Latina actors were the group most likely to be partially or fully naked on screen - 37.5 percent of Latinas compared to 23.5 percent of Black, 31.9 percent of White and 18.2 percent of Asian actresses. Latino actors were more likely "to be shown in tight, alluring, or revealing clothing," according to the report.

If popular films were the only way to gauge diversity, viewers would be completely unaware of the fact Latinos are one of the nation's fastest-growing groups, said one of the study's authors.

Manny Alfaro, executive director of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA), said to NBC News the figures were not surprising. "Producers are not prone to create projects that feature Latinos unless they're pushed," he said.

Alfaro said having a bigger supply of Hispanic actors is one way of effecting change. In New York City alone, he said there were about 20 theater production companies specializing in Hispanic/Spanish theater, and every year he sees a percentage of Hispanic East Coast actors moving to Hollywood.

Felix Sanchez, of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA), said the main issue is there are few Latinos "behind the camera" involved in decision making as a movie is being conceived and produced.

"If you don't control the shots, and if you don't have any input, they (executive producers) are not getting any kind of constructive feedback," said Sanchez. There are also few diverse writers creating meaningful Latino characters that are not "flat," he added.

Sanchez said Latino moviegoers should be encouraged to "express dismay at the lack of Latinos in a film and the narrowness in which Latinos are portrayed" just like people give their "ratings" on Yelp.

Alfaro thinks that as Latino movie audiences grow, there will be more demand for productions that feature Latinos in the lead or in the theme of the movie.

"In the long term, they will have to react as the audience gets bigger, more demanding and more politically active," said Alfaro.

--Sandra Lilley