Temple students, faculty discuss Latino media representation

Individuals with Latino heritage are often stereotyped in mainstream American media.

Samantha Rodriguez realized from a young age that people who looked like her were not on television.

“I would watch MTV growing up as a kid with my English-speaking friends, I never saw anyone on television that looked like me,” said Rodriguez, a senior international business major. “There weren’t any Latinos on MTV.”

Rodriguez was born in Englewood, New Jersey. She moved to Chalatenango, El Salvador, with her family when she was two years old and moved back to New Jersey when she was six.

Many Temple University students noticed that respectful representation for Latinos is rare in American media. Several students are disappointed by the way their ethnicity is portrayed in modern media. 

Across top-grossing films in America from 2007 to 2018, Latino actors only filled 4.5 percent of speaking roles, the New York Times reported

American television does not have enough Latino actors in mainstream television and film, which made Rodriguez feel like she had nothing in common with her friends while growing up, she said. The only Latino lead actors that Rodriguez related to were telenovela actors like William Levy and Carlos Ponce, she added. 

“Now in college, my roommates are starting to see a well-known show called ‘Power,’” Rodriguez said. “The only Latina in the show is casted as a mistress. This is not representing us in the right way at all.”

Latinas are often sexualized on screen, according to a 2014 study by Arizona State University. Of the most popular films in 2016, Latino actors made up 3.1 percent of speaking characters while 25 percent of female actors wore sexy attire or appeared with some nudity, according to a 2017 report by the University of Southern California. 

“We can never be a successful CEO or a woman in the medical field,” Rodriguez said. “We always get casted in these roles that look down on us.”

Kathy Piperno, a junior film and media arts major of Argentine descent, discussed how there was no Latino representation while she was growing up. She noticed how shows on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel didn’t have relatable characters. 

“When I was little I always wanted to be an actress,” Piperno said. “I felt discouraged because I didn’t see anyone who was Latino. This made me not want to act because I didn’t believe that I could achieve it. There was no one coming from the same background as me.”

Piperno said this lack of representation is the reason why she wants to become a filmmaker. With her goal of representing the Latino community, Piperno has an upcoming project with an entire Latino crew.

Guillermo Caliendo, a communication and social influence professor, said the lack of diversity in the film industry hasn’t changed.

“Growing up in Chile, we watched American television, and all of the actors were white,” he said. “There was not one person that I could relate to. ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’ ‘The Addams Family’ had no Hispanic actors. I was making white Americans my favorite actors as a kid.”

Caliendo said one of the most controversial yet influential movies that cast white actors to portray Puerto Ricans living in New York City was “West Side Story.” Natalie Wood, a white actress of Russian descent, landed Maria’s leading role. Only Rita Moreno, who played Maria’s sister-in-law, was Latina.

Caliendo suggested that this could be because directors feel more comfortable casting the same actors, as big names could attract the audience.

“If you take Brad Pitt out of a Hollywood film, and replace him with Ricky Martin, is the movie going to sell? Probably not,” Caliendo said.

Latinos make up 18 percent of the United States population, according to a July report from the Pew Research Center. Only three percent of producers in 2018 were Latino. The overall percentage of Latino directors for top-grossing films in the past 10 years is four percent, the New York Times reported

“To change this, we need to make sure people in these boardrooms are Latino,” Caliendo said. “If we are not in these boardrooms calling some shots, there will be a lack of representation. It is vital that we demand change.” 

Piperno believes that there needs to be more resources for Latinos so they can enter the film industry. 

“Aside from having representation in American media, we need to encourage and empower young Latinos and tell them that they can achieve their dreams and do whatever they want to,” Piperno said. “Latinos need the proper resources and a fair opportunity to create films that show our everyday life.”

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