In her latest viral moment, America Ferrera took center stage at the Critics Choice Association’s annual awards show accepting the See Her Award. The honor is given to a woman who advocates for gender equality while defying stereotypes and playing characters with authenticity regardless of what makes Hollywood money.
“I could feel myself in characters who were strong and complex,” Ferrera said, speaking of her early love of television and film, “but these characters rarely, if ever, looked like me.”
“When I started working over 20 years ago — [it] seems impossible, I know — but it seemed impossible that anyone could make a career portraying fully dimensional Latina characters,” Ferrera added. “I, and some of my beloved Latina colleagues, have been supremely blessed to bring to life some fierce and fantastic women.”
Ferrera, who was part of the Barbie phenomenon in 2023 has been painting Hollywood pink this awards season. And while that success and celebration is undoubtedly warranted, it is not the norm. In fact, it’s far from it.
In 2024, the Latina Lady Liberty herself remains the only Latina to win an Emmy for lead actress for her role as Betty Suarez in Ugly Betty. Her back-to-back wins were so long ago that if a baby girl was born when America won her last Emmy, that same baby would be celebrating her Qunicerera now. Before America, EGOT-winning Latina Rita Moreno added two Emmys to her mantel for supporting roles in the late 70’s.
Erase by Numbers
And it’s not just awards shows. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released the findings of their 15-year study. The results bordered on devastating. They measure more than 1,600 top-grossing films and roughly 35% of the leads in those films were women. That’s not too bad, but it sure isn’t good.
If you thought those numbers were ”eh,” wait until you see this. In 2022, 44 of the top 100 films had a woman lead, but only 19 of those were from underrepresented groups, not even solely Latino. In fact, only 5.5% of the 100 films in 2022 had a Latino lead. Mind you, this includes men too.
A quick reminder that Hispanics/Latinos make up 19% of the population according to the United States Census. So yeah, the numbers are terrible.
Pink and Purple are the New Green
All of which makes Ferrera’s recent success all the more meaningful. Even more so when you consider it is backed up by some remarkable box office numbers. Ferrera not only delivered one of the most iconic speeches on film, she is also part of the newly minted billion-dollar club Barbie to date has brought in. That is not a typ0, that is a billion, with a ‘B.’ Barbie is largely a female cast and is helmed by a female director. We’re talking big Hollywood money here.
LatinaMedia.Co talked to America’s co-star, Barbie herself, Margot Robbie recently about this very subject, asking her if she thinks women moving the needle. “I have seen it move,” Robbie said. “But I don’t think in this kind of industry, or in probably most industries until something actually works and makes people money. I don’t think people will actually put the money behind it.”
Not only does Robbie serve as the lead role in Barbie, but she also serves as a producer on the film with her production company LuckyChap Entertainment. “I think it’s such a big deal that Barbie did well… It means the next time someone pitches a female lead, big budget, original film, they have statistics to point to and they can say this is a good business decision,” Robbie asserted.
She isn’t the only woman in film who sees an upward trend. Fantasia Barrino, who plays the lead character of Celie in The Color Purple sees it too. “We’re moving it. We’re moving the needle,” she said in our one-on-one interview.
“It’s happening a little slow it feels but it’s so impactful,” she adds. “So many women are being touched, so many women are rising up from what we’re doing — the work that we’re doing now. A lot of times my grandmother used to say, ‘slow down baby and open your eyes and watch.’”
And moviegoers are watching. The Color Purple brought in $25-million dollars in just two days over the Christmas holiday. That made the film the biggest opening for a non-franchise movie in nine years, breaking another Hollywood money benchmark.
Girl Math is Profitable
Those numbers, and others like it certainly send a message to those tracking Hollywood money according to Robbie: “You don’t make a female lead movie, or hire a female director for charity because this industry doesn’t run on charity. People won’t do it. They’ll say they’re going to do it but they won’t actually put their money behind it unless they know they’re going to get that money back and when you can prove something that is successful, then they’re more inclined to do it again.”
Hollywood wasn’t built on good intentions. It is manufactured and thrives on box office numbers — big box office numbers. It’s a fact that Margot Robbie knows well. “I definitely hate to make movies sound like a math equation because they are so much more than that. And it’s not why any of us got into this business, but at the end of the day, it is still a business and I think until things work at the box office, people won’t put their money where their mouth is.”
America feels similarly saying on Sunday night, “To me, this is the best and highest use of storytelling to affirm one another’s full humanity, to uphold the truth that we are all worthy of being seen — Black, brown, Indigenous, Asian, trans, disabled, any body type, any gender.”
We agree and can only hope that it is the beginning of a wonderful, colorful trend.