There’s lots of talk about diversity in Hollywood right now. And we want to believe it’s working, that Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian femmes are finally getting the TV deals that pipe their stories into our living rooms. But is it all talk?
We DMed Dr. Ana-Christina Ramón, Director of Research and Civic Engagement at UCLA’s Division of Social Sciences to find out. Along with professor Darnell Hunt, Dr. Ramón co-authors the center’s reports on diversity in Hollywood, including their recently released 2020 findings. We took our Twitter relationship to the next level (email) and what follows is a dressed-up version of our “conversation.”
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: Hi! Thanks for emailing with me. I’ve followed you on Twitter for a long time and am always so grateful for your insight. You bring this super important, data-driven perspective to the conversation on diversity in Hollywood and you do it as a Latina. So my first question for you is: can you share what’s the most important takeaway from this year’s report?
DR. ANA-CHRISTINA RAMÓN: Thank you. In terms of the 2020 report in film and television, we found that although the percentage of people of color in front of the camera has increased, the numbers behind the camera are relatively stagnant. Most importantly, we find that diversity in front of AND behind the camera appeals to most audiences. We continue to show that diversity sells.
Latinas are powerful and should never underestimate that power… Tell Hollywood what you want to see through social media, on your smartphone, with your TV remote, and at the movie box office.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: That makes sense to me. We want authentic stories, not just brown bodies on screen. And to have that, we have to be involved in the story’s creation. So tell me, why is researching diversity in Hollywood important?
DR. ANA-CHRISTINA RAMÓN: The images we see on screen permeate throughout our society. Films and TV are not just entertainment. Media, especially television, acts as a dominant socialization agent. Visual media teaches us how the world works and our place in it. In our culture, media consumption has become an essential part of our daily lives. Considering that people of color are about 40 percent of the population and growing, their underrepresentation in all the major fields of the entertainment industry is particularly problematic and harmful for these communities socially and politically.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: So true and so frustrating, particularly to me as a Latina. We share that same box on the census — what drew you as a Latina to this work? Why is it important to you personally?
DR. ANA-CHRISTINA RAMÓN: Professionally, I’m a researcher and social psychologist. I’ve always been fascinated by how people view the world and how their perceptions are shaped by it. The way TV and movies shape people’s perceptions about race and ethnicity falls in line with those interests. Also, I’m a native Angeleno, who is the daughter of Mexican and Peruvian immigrants. So, I grew up not far from Hollywood yet never felt truly represented by the industry. And, this issue is very important to me personally as a Latina. I want to see my own experiences on screen, and I want my young daughter to grow up seeing multidimensional characters who look like her on screen as well.
TV and movies shape people’s perceptions about race and ethnicity.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: Why should Latinas and femme Latinxs care about diversity in Hollywood? I’m a media fan but sometimes I get so frustrated and think we should just burn the whole thing down. I mean, like you said, LA is a Latinx town and even though we’re surrounding the industry, we’re banging on the door, we’re subscribing to their streaming platforms, they consistently fail to do right by us.
DR. ANA-CHRISTINA RAMÓN: Others’ views of underrepresented groups are influenced by the images they see in the media. When there is limited representation, stereotypical characterizations can easily predominate. This has been the case for the Latinx community. It’s in our community’s best interest to advocate for itself and demand change.
Increased and meaningful representation in the entertainment industry will likely have a domino effect on how society perceives Latinxs and how Latinx kids perceive themselves. Advocating for representation in areas like government and the tech industry is as important as advocating for representation in Hollywood. At 18 percent of the population, we should demand that we are proportionally represented, particularly considering our high consumption of movies and streaming television. We shouldn’t be satisfied with minimal representation. We need to understand the power we have as consumers.
Plus, Latinas are often the “herstorians” and archivists of their families. They have so many stories to tell.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: Ha! I love that. I know whenever I post autobiographical stories it’s the women in my family who speak up. They offer extra details about the familly. They keep track of the narrative. Sometimes, I think that’s half the reason I co-founded latinamedia.co — to have better conversations with my tias. What’s your goal with the Hollywood Diversity Report?
DR. ANA-CHRISTINA RAMÓN: The goal has always been to document the relationship between diversity and the bottom line. In the end, we want to provide industry players and advocacy groups with the data they need for their work.
I grew up not far from Hollywood yet never felt truly represented by the industry… I want to see my own experiences on screen, and I want my young daughter to grow up seeing multidimensional characters who look like her on screen as well.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: Money talks! The entertainment industry is a business and it’s so valuable to be able to say, “this is affecting your bottom line.” I’m so grateful you are doing this. Anything you’d like to add?
DR. ANA-CHRISTINA RAMÓN: Lastly, I want to make sure every person understands the power they have to influence what they see on TV and in the movies. Most people don’t think they have any power to advocate for themselves in a field they do not belong to. But, virtually everyone partakes in the entertainment industry as a consumer in the U.S. So, be vocal about what you want and choose the content that most appeals to you.
Latinas are powerful and should never underestimate that power. Use it to create change in the entertainment industry. Tell Hollywood what you want to see through social media, on your smartphone, with your TV remote, and at the movie box office.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: Truer words have never been spoken. And that’s what we’re all about here, using our consumer power, our voices to demand better representation. Gracias otra vez. This has been amazing!