CHICAGO – Gina Rodriguez, the star of “Jane The Virgin,” recently issued a call to action for Hispanics who bemoan the lack of diversity in Hollywood: She wants us to watch more shows starring Hispanic characters.
The Golden Globe-winning actress told Fox News Latino that Hispanic representation in TV and films is still lacking. “I do think that the Latino community can rise and come together and start watching ‘Jane’ even on a bigger scale and we can have numbers that are much greater,” she said.” Our viewership is not as crazy as I believe it can be. And that is the reason I make a call to action for Latinos. … We are 54 million plus in this country. If we have a third, even just 10 percent of them, watching ‘Jane,’ … then we can bring up our numbers, and they (the studios) are going to create more shows, and they aren’t going to have a fear that we don’t make money.”
Unfortunately, her math doesn’t compute in movie- and TV-land.
Hollywood knows full well that Hispanics are excellent consumers of entertainment content. Whether we’re talking about smartphone use, social media use, movie/TV viewership or binge watching, there is no question that Hispanics are the kings of content consumption.
Yet, year after year, these trends fall on the deaf ears of the casting directors and TV and film directors and producers who have a hand in making the entertainment landscape more diverse.
And whether they should attempt to do so over their artistic visions, as a matter of social justice, is hotly contested.
Not only did many in business and creative entertainment positions push back against complaints that this year’s Academy Awards were “too white,” in some cases even the talent themselves rebelled against the smear. Roland Ruiz, the actor who played the role of “Enrique” in Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated film “Boyhood,” was compelled to defend his employers after a blog post by Dr. Grisel Acosta called the film racist because the “Enrique” character was a migrant worker who was “saved” by one of the white protagonists.
Ruiz didn’t downplay the overall complaint, however. He noted that underrepresentation of Hispanics is “a very real issue in cinema and television today. There does exist a disparity in cultural representation and we have a lot of work to do.”
In another instance, bad-girl movie star Michelle Rodriguez – best known for the “Fast and Furious” franchise – shocked Hispanics when she suggested that minorities should stop stealing white superhero roles (one example: Samuel L. Jackson as Marvel Comics’ Nick Fury) and come up with original characters.
That didn’t go over very well, and she eventually apologized.
Most recently, there has been an outcry over Deadline Hollywood’s March 24 article about minorities rising in Hollywood to the detriment of white talent.
The article, originally titled “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing?” set off its own firestorm, resulting in the website apologizing and changing the headline of the story. In reality, though there is an uptick in diverse roles, minority actors still have a terribly difficult time getting cast as a fully fleshed-out character, as opposed to a “black,” “Asian” or “Hispanic.”
Yet this is where the future of diversity in entertainment lies – in minorities being an integrated and realistic part of stories that anyone, not just people of similar ethnic or racial backgrounds, would want to watch.
Gina Rodriguez should know that. After all, she surely didn’t get cast in “Jane The Virgin” because of a longstanding career in “Hispanic TV programming.” She had roles in mainstream works such as “Our Family Wedding,” “Law & Order” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
She recently landed a role opposite Mark Wahlberg in the big budget action film “Deepwater Horizon” and that’s wonderful. If it does well, she’ll be added to a list of Hispanic actresses, like Jennifer Lopez, Zoe Saldana, Cameron Diaz and Selena Gomez, who do well at the box office regardless of their ancestry.
If the film flops, no one will suggest that not enough Hispanics saw it to make it worthwhile for other filmmakers to do their best to reflect today’s diverse U.S. population.