The Hollywood Ethnicity Problem
A Conflict Unfolding Online and Nowhere Else
The Hollywood Ethnicity Problem
By Ida Alwin / filmsforaction.org
Mar 17, 2016

A couple of days ago a friend sent me a link to a report by the BBC about the news that there is a diversity problem in Hollywood.  I’m not sure why the report was not extended to include the British film industry, but it is at least heartening to see that the British Broadcasting Corporation has been alerted to the diversity issue affecting western entertainment – I suppose in the end it’s not when you arrive at the party that counts, but that you came at all.

Putting aside the condescending tone of the piece and the ill-advised, chipper library music that dilutes the thoughtful and key commentary from interviewees, this is the latest in a plethora of online material addressing the lack of Latino-centric content and representation in film.  I highlight “online” because that is where the majority of the focus lies on the subject.  If the print media is considering the subject, the online community is shouting about it.

And that’s wherein lies the problem.  The only place the furore is happening is online and on social media.  

 

When we started doing the rounds in LA with our film two-and-a-half years ago, we had an unconventional project; unconventional because one of the leads is Hispanic, he’s not a gardener or immigrant and the ensemble is made up of a majority of “minority” characters.  The establishment repeatedly explained that we were headed for an uphill battle because there was no audience for “Hispanic dramas”.  Despite the fact that the other main protagonist is British and 40% of the film is set in the UK, we suddenly had a “Hispanic film” because one of the leads is Hispanic.   

Accepting for a moment the “Hispanic film” label, when quoted to that Hispanic movie-goers consistently oversample in film consumption[1], again we were told that those statistics reflect a desire for “dance movies”, family films and Fast and Furious (which I think we can all agree now has enough sequels to qualify as a genre of its own).  Dramas did not enter the equation.

 

And yet (largely online) vocal opposition to the idea that Latino and Hispanic audiences don’t want meaningful content continues to suggest otherwise.  Much has been made over the success of the talented directors coming out of Mexico, and rightly so, but where does that leave those thirsting for content and on-screen representation? 

For starters, this is not simply a “minority” issue.  It is ‘an everyone’ issue.  I wrote previously about how Hollywood’s lacklustre box office of late could be attributed to, among other things, a lack of enthusiasm for diversity on-screen and in subject matter.  This is an economic issue that, if addressed equitably, could see the start of a recovery of audience interest based on actual demand rather than marketing equations and the strategies of a dearly departed studio system. 

Take for example, Southern California Public Radio.  An article published on Remezcla.com highlights the rise of a radio station against all the odds of a dying medium.  While radio audiences decline, the station’s listenership has risen to more than 700,000 a week, making it the most listened to public radio news service in Southern California.  Additionally, after aggressively targeting Latino millennials, their listenership increased 27%.  One of the key actions taken was to hire a diverse reporter staff.  “Our newsroom is about 40% people of color”, says Bill Davis, President Southern California Public Radio.  SCPR took in to account the changing landscape of the US’s population and it paid off.

But Bill Davis and the team at SCPR understood the need for change, and in conjunction with other organizations like the Latino Public Radio Consortium undertook the task of making that change.   Buy-in from the stakeholders was key during this process, and that’s where Hollywood has dropped the ball. 

 

Despite the vocalization this issue has received, Hollywood just isn’t listening.  Wider concessions need to take place among those who could blow this movement wide open by really diversifying the big screen.  That means compliance across the board, from agents to studio and marketing execs.  Hollywood isn’t a local public radio station, but research shows it really is worth the re-brand.  Beginning a process that takes in to account the fact that people actually want to see the change in demographics reflected in their entertainment could be an important first step towards an upturn in numbers for Hollywood and beyond.  Moving the conversation from the virtual world of social media in to the real world makes good business sense, because sometimes the best business case for doing something is simply because it’s the right thing to do.

 

 

[1] 25% of all US movie tickets are bought by Latino and Hispanic audiences who make up 17% of the population

 

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The Hollywood Ethnicity Problem