Wednesday, October 1, 2014
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Few roles for Hispanics in top Hollywood movies

Zoe Saldana (right) portrays the girlfriend of Bradley Cooper in "The Words."
Zoe Saldana (right) portrays the girlfriend of Bradley Cooper in "The Words."

A new study shows that less than 5 percent of actors in top Hollywood films are Hispanic, and that Latinas are more likely than women of any other ethnicity to appear partially or totally naked on screen.

The study of the 100 top-grossing films in 2013 by the University of Southern California's Annenberg school found that the make-believe world of movies generally does not reflect what America looks like in real life.

About 74 percent of the actors in the study were white, compared with a U.S. population that's 63 percent non-Hispanic white.

Hispanics, who are 17 percent of the population but had 4.9 percent of film roles, were the most underrepresented group, despite the fact that they bought about 25 percent of all movie tickets and are more likely than any other group to go to the movies, says the Motion Picture Association of America.

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  • Black characters represented about 14 percent of those in the films, comparable to America's 13 percent black population. However, 17 percent of the films examined in the study did not have a single black speaking role, and half the films had a smaller percentage than the population, which indicates that a few movies with predominantly black casts balanced out the many movies with few black actors.

    The year 2013 was called a banner one for black actors, due to such successful films as Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels' The Butler, and 12 Years a Slave, whose Steve McQueen was the first black winner of the best-director Oscar.

    Hispanic stars such as Zoe Saldana, who is Dominican, the New York-born Puerto Rican Jennifer Lopez, and the Spaniard Antonio Banderas appeared on the big screen.

    Yet there has been no significant change since 2007 in the number of non-white actors in top films, said Stacy L. Smith, director of USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative and author of the study released Monday.

    "The only obstacle here is imagination," Smith said in an interview.

    She said the number of black directors remained low - 6 percent of all directors in the study - and they were much more likely to use diverse casts. Hispanic directors were not counted.

    "What we're seeing in the aggregate is very few folks not white and male being able to participate behind the camera," Smith said. "So the [on-screen] landscape remains primarily white and male. When you do have diversity behind the camera, things start to shift."

    The study examined all 3,932 actors who spoke at least one word in the 100 top-grossing films of 2013. USC did similar counts from 2007 through 2010 and in 2012.

    Asians filled 4.4 percent of roles in 2013, compared with their 5.3 percent of the U.S. population. One percent of roles were played by "Middle Eastern" actors, less than 1 percent by American Indians, and 1 percent by "other."

    Almost 38 percent of Latina actresses appeared partially or fully unclothed on screen, the study said. That compared with 32 percent of white females, 24 percent of black females, and 18 percent of Asian actresses.

    "Latinas have this stereotype that we're sex symbols . . . that we walk sexy and [have] this flavor," said Roselyn Sanchez, a Puerto Rican actress who has appeared in such films as Act of Valor and Rush Hour 2. As for why Hispanics have so few movie roles, "it's not about talent," she said.

    About 17 percent of Hispanic males were shown in "tight, alluring, or revealing clothing," the most of any group; 14 percent of Asian males, 13 percent of black actors, and 8 percent of white actors were shown in similar attire.

    Black males were more likely than those from any other group to be shown in a committed relationship, at 68 percent. Asian males were the least likely, at 29 percent.

    Blanca Valdez, who runs a Hispanic casting agency in Los Angeles, said it's difficult for Latinos to audition for roles unless the call specifically asks for "diversity" or "multiethnic." That often keeps them out of secondary roles such as the neighbor, the lawyer, or the bank teller.

    She said some actors with Hispanic surnames who look white will only put their first name on casting photographs, just to get a foot in the door.

    But Valdez said things had been changing rapidly in commercials and TV, with more calls than ever for Hispanic and "multiethnic" actors. She hopes studios will "follow the money" since Latinos are such big movie fans.

    "I hope this improvement continues," Valdez said, "because there's so much talent out there that doesn't get seen."

    Jesse Washington Associated Press
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