Greetings from behind the Tinsletown Curtain. I was recently asked to write a 20-year review of Latinos in Hollywood, and happily accepted the request. I wondered what would be the best way to look back at our progress, so I decided to start by examining the strides in other industries, to help create a historical perspective.
In 1993, AOL was how we got on the Internet, using "dial-up." Twenty years ago gas was $1.34 a gallon; I could have filled up my Prius for $13.40. Cell phones were so large you could get a hernia carrying one; you had to have a second job just to pay for the per-minute plan (no data packages back then). And technology has grown by leaps and bounds in 20 years, all market-driven. And what group consistently over-indexes on all technology usage -- you guessed it, Latinos!
But how have Latinos fared in a 20-year span? Surely we weren't frozen in time (I say that, but then exclude some of my cousins back home, who still wear fashions from the '70s -- you know who you are, but then again...). Our population's numbers have ballooned. Latinos went from 20 million in 1990 to more than 51 million in 2012. This jump accounted for 50 percent of the entire U.S. population growth. Hispanic buying power was $211 billion in 1993. Today we are at $1.3 trillion, a staggering six and a half times multiple. Most recently, Latinos became a voting bloc so important that even radical right-wingers admit that no political party can win an election without the Latino vote. They are fielding silver-tongued devils like Congressman Don Young of Alaska to woo all of us "wetbacks." Holy molé, who's in charge of that playbook?
Latino influence and spending power is undeniable, which leads me to ask: Just how does Hollywood, the liberal and creative capital of the world, view this exploding market? They have reacted neither fast, nor furiously. I found an 1995 LA Times article that stated, "According to MPAA studies, Latinos are the fastest-growing movie going segment." Wow, all the way back in 1995 the MPAA knew Latinos were a boon to their industry. The LA Times article goes on to say, "The 'ethnic group,' which represents 9 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 12 percent of attendance last year."
Fast forward to 2012, and Latinos accounted for 16 percent of the population and 30 percent of all movie tickets purchased. So in the 18 years since the initial study, one would think Hollywood must have been diligently preparing for this "Latino Tsunami." Which would mean that in 2013, there would be a plethora of Latino writers, executives, directors, actors and producers nurtured in order to cater to the one sector where substantial growth is happening. That's market place economics? Supply and demand will govern a free market, right?
But it seems Hollywood is not familiar with great Spanish philosopher George Santayana, who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Case in point: In 1990 Latino executives at TV networks and film studios could be counted on one hand and you would still have a few fingers left. In 2013, in a "condemned to repeat moment," you can still count the Latino execs on one hand, but now you might only have one finger left -- I'll let you choose which one.
In 1993 actresses and actors were 3.4 percent of the working talent, growing to 6 percent in 2012, a meager increase in 20 years. Latino writers were 1.1 percent of working writers. A recent WGA white paper stated that Latino writers are now 4 percent. I'm sorry, but going from 1.1 percent to 4 percent would be like bragging that you are the tallest midget in the circus. Especially hard to swallow when one considers that 18- to 34 year-old Latinos are 30 percent of the coveted demographic that mass media desires.
The History of Marketing to "Minorities"
For years there was what ad agencies called an "ethnic budget" created to cater to all "non-white" people in America. Apparently blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans all had one thing in common -- we were not white. This was incredibly ironic for the Native Americans, considering they are indigenous to this country.
Then marketing budgets split in two. There was a "Hispanic budget," which was meant for "Spanish-language" outlets, and an "urban budget," which in the minds of many marketers meant "angry Black people." The new trend in 2013 seems to be the "multicultural budget," designed to encompass all "non-white" people. Sounds like we are back to square one and the "ethnic budget."
TO BE CONTINUED...