As Hispanic Heritage Month has come to an end, it is important to continue to recognize this wonderful community in all aspects of society. Specifically, their presence in the media is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. As a Latina in journalism, the intersection of media and culture has become an important part of my studies and personal life.
For many years, TV and film have incorporated Hispanic culture and figures with programs like “Jane the Virgin” finding ways to destroy damaging stereotypes. Simultaneously, the Hispanic community has been disproportionately characterized within the media.
While it is key to acknowledge the success of Hispanic representation in the media, the struggles are worthy of recognition to spread awareness.
A Brief History
There are many past events that shaped the current representation of Hispanics in the media. Below are three of the most important moments that I believe signify how long this community has been fighting for equal acceptance in TV and film.
- 1922: The Mexican government protests the offensive portrayals of its citizens in movies by sending letters to Hollywood producers and filmmaking companies. From this, Hollywood agreed to avoid derogatory language and depictions of Mexicans and other Latin Americans.
- 1951: Puerto Rican actor José Ferrer becomes the first Hispanic and Puerto Rican to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “Cyrano de Bergerac” and was nominated in two other categories. A Latino actor would not win another Academy Award for 50 years after Ferrer.
- 1983: Stereotypes emerged in the film “Scarface,” where Al Pacino portrays Tony Montana, a Cuban drug lord. While the film became extremely popular and well-liked, it was unsettling to many in the Hispanic community, specifically Cubans, as they were depicted as drug dealers and dangerous criminals.
Negative Portrayals in Current Media
As history has shown, the Hispanic community has faced significant challenges in their efforts to increase their media presence. Despite the influx of Latin TV and film productions over the years, their representation still lacks accuracy.
In 2021, almost 8% of Latin leads had starring roles, but these numbers significantly reduced to around five percent in 2022. Since last year, the statistics have remained the same. The Latino Donor Collaborative stated in their 2023 media report that Hispanic youth are seeking other forms of media in order to see more representation, such as TikTok and YouTube. Furthermore, their research found that over 40% of Latinos in the U.S. feel that representative content is lacking from TV.
One important reason why the Hispanic community is resorting to other methods of watching content is because TV and film seemingly portray them in a negative light. For example, Sofia Vergara’s character in “Modern Family” is controversial. Vergara played Gloria Pritchett, Jay Pritchett’s hilarious Colombian wife. While her character adds an exciting element to the show, the implied stereotypes cannot be ignored.
Gloria is portrayed as a spicy Latina with “a hypersexualized persona” and “tendencies of a temper,” said RTF Gender and Media Culture in their analysis of the famous character. These stereotypes reinforce the depictions of most Hispanic women as extremely sexual and easily angered instead of primarily focusing on positive aspects like being family-oriented and confident.
Other examples that paint Hispanics in a negative manner are “Family Guy” and “Maid in Manhattan.” The two programs depict those in the Hispanic community as janitors or maids through their respective characters.
In “Family Guy,” Consuela is introduced as a maid/cleaning lady who has very broken English. Similarly, “Maid in Manhattan” stars Jennifer Lopez playing a maid living in New York trying to make a name for herself despite her occupation. It shows the struggles of a single, Latina, working class mother, but enforces the idea that Latinos are destined for a career in cleaning services. The use of both characters defines the Hispanic community as full of laborers.
Make Room for Powerful Hispanic Leads!
The increase in negative depictions of Latinos has not stopped the fight for equal and accurate representation in the media. In fact, many shows and movies include powerful Hispanic leads that invoke inspiration.
One example is “Jane the Virgin,” which stars Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva. The show does a fantastic job in portraying Hispanic culture and Latin women. Throughout the show, we see Jane go through many difficulties in her life, including her complicated pregnancy. While the stereotype of hypersexuality is constantly associated with Latinas, it is not a focus in this series. Instead, Jane is seen as supported by her loving family and friends through this challenging time. More importantly, we see her as a human being.
Another aspect of the show that makes it one to remember is the recognition of culture and how important it is to cherish family. Jane is very proud of her heritage and prides herself on being bilingual. Her culture is something that is not forcefully talked about, but is a natural part of the show.
The series “Ugly Betty” shares similarities to “Jane the Virgin” that makes it one of my favorites. The show was adapted for American television in 2006 from a Colombian series titled “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea.” It follows the life of Betty Suarez, played by America Ferrera, and her family who show nothing but constant love and support as she navigates her career and relationships.
Suarez starts off as an assistant to an Editor-in-Chief of a fashion magazine, where she faces criticism from her peers as a Mexican woman working at a predominantly white occupation. Although she comes from a different background than her co-workers, Betty does not stop chasing her dreams of becoming a journalist.
Like Jane Villanueva, Betty embraces her culture and identity, staying true to herself despite those who told her otherwise.
As a Puerto Rican, watching these two shows always made me even more proud of my culture and ethnicity. I related especially to Betty, as a career goal of mine is to become a journalist as well. I have always felt inspired by Hispanic representation in the media, including the challenges and successes these individuals faced.
While it will never be easy, fighting for equal recognition in the media is extremely important. This is why spreading awareness on the use of stereotypes and unfair representations is a crucial step in creating change.