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Politics

Hollywood still has a long way to go in casting Latinos

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- In the aftermath of a somewhat snoozy Academy Awards ceremony, here was my favorite headline: "This was the most Latino Oscars ever (but still not so much)."

It was a reference to the fact that plenty of Hispanic and Latin American people appeared onstage to present and receive awards, but there weren't any nominated for the top acting prizes of the night.

(Permit me to interrupt myself to trot out my favorite double diversity factoid: Lupita Nyong'o of "Black Panther," who won the best supporting actress award in 2014 for "12 Years a Slave" and presented on Sunday, was born in Mexico and lived there for several months in her teens to perfect her Spanish.)

To many critics, it was not enough that the film "Coco," based on Mexico's Day of the Dead celebration, won for best animated picture and best original song, and that Guillermo Del Toro became the third Mexican director to win best director (for "The Shape of Water"). True parity, many believe, won't be achieved until more Latino actresses and actors are nominated for their work in front of the camera.

It's a fair criticism: Only 2.7 percent of the top film roles of 2016 were performed by Latinos, according to the latest Hollywood Diversity Report by UCLA's Division of Social Sciences.

The reasons behind this oversight are perplexing. Let's face it, you have to work hard to ignore Hispanics in Los Angeles, where they make up 48 percent of the population. They also make up 17.8 percent of the United States.

Oh, and another little-known fact: Latinos buy more movie tickets than any other minority group.

Yet, time and again, individual Latino actors are passed over as too ethnic or too "Latin" for a non-Hispanic character or not brown enough or Mexican enough for an explicitly Hispanic role -- as if it weren't the job of the actor to shift, chameleon-like, into a role that does not represent their lived experience.

Truth be told, sometimes roles that portray Hispanics as thickly accented foreigners or impoverished gang-banging types are not played by actual Latinos, because the actors approached for the roles won't stand for being the face of offensive stereotypes.

Justina Machado, the star of the Latino-centric Netflix reboot of the sitcom "One Day at a Time," told me at a media event last spring that she's finally in a place after two decades of acting where she can confidently turn down requests to read for simplistically ethnic roles.

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