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House Judiciary Committee addresses the representation of people of color in media

Diversity in American media — does it exist? An important discussion was held today in the House about representation in the industry.

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On Sept. 24, the House Judiciary Committee held a discussion on ethnic representation in the media and its importance, while conservatives argued otherwise.

The catalyst for the discussion on Sept. 24 was a guest column Rep. Joaquin Castro wrote for Variety in August, remembering the El Paso tragedy of 2019, when a man drove 600 miles to the city on the U.S.-Mexico border to kill Latinos because he viewed them as invaders. 

Castro explained that part of the hate that is deeply-rooted in this country arises from the lack of positive Latino representation in the media industry. 

We have seen it everywhere, both on and off camera in Hollywood and in the news industry.  

For a quick rundown of examples, look no further than the 2020 Emmy's or Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. Also read Maria Hinojosa or Ilia Calderon’s memoirs for more evidence of neglect. 

In film, which was the subject of the House Judiciary Committee’s discussion, the lack of representation is the most glaring in awards for lead roles. The times that it has been mentioned up to this point have also been brushed under the rug. But with 2020 being a year for revolutionizing, it is forcing those to not be able to look away. 

That is exactly what happened on Sept 24.

“The entertainment industry is the main narrative-creating and image-defining institution of American society. Unfortunately, Latinos are often depicted as stereotypes, if we’re represented at all,” Castro wrote. 

The House Judiciary Committee opened the floor to both conservative actors and producers as well as liberal ones who have witnessed firsthand the hardships of being in this industry as a person of color. 

It began with different testimonies, and one in particular was from the founder of the Youth Cinema Project, Edward James Olmos. In addition to driving home the point that diverse representation doesn’t exist yet in American media, Olmos pinned a lot of the blame on the lack of confidence created by the repressive environments for people of color in the industry. 

“Self esteem, self respect, and self worth is what we’re talking about today,” said Olmos, who is most-widely known for his role in Miami Vice as Marty Castillo. 

Before the meeting, California Rep. Nanette Barragán also shared some unfortunate statistics on representation in the industry that calls Los Angeles — a majority Latino locale — home.

“The media and Hollywood are the narrative-creating and image-defining institutions of American culture, yet for far too long Latinos have been hardly represented, and often depicted as stereotypes,” Castro said to begin the meeting. “This erasure has a high cost: today there is dangerous nexus between the racist political rhetoric and the images that people see on their screens of Latinos as criminals and as threats to society.”

Despite the heavy conversation taking place, there were some bright spots, such as using the example of Black Panther as a successful representation of diversity to be emulated in the future.

To talk about the film’s importance, Erika Alexander, an actor, director, producer among many other talents was on hand. 

“One of the reasons why it was so fantastic [Black Panther] is because we hadn’t seen that kind of representation before on screen in that way and everyone went. Black or Brown. It was an outstanding example that storytelling and representation matters,” she said.

So where do we go from here? Discussions like the one that took place today are important and an essential for  putting our best foot forward, but they mean nothing unless Hollywood and the wider media industry takes heed, listens, and acts.

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