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Rep. Joaquin Castro led the charge in Congress to get the report on Latino representation in media published. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

Long-awaited government report shows Latinos vastly underrepresented across media

The report, commissioned by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, was demanded last year by reps led by Joaquin Castro.

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According to a government report released on Tuesday, Sept. 21, Latinos are consistently absent in major newsrooms, Hollywood movies and other media industries where their portrayals — or lack thereof — can seriously affect how their fellow Americans view them.

Last October, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the issue.

On Oct. 1, 2020, a group of Caucus members, including Reps. Joaquin Castro, Nydia M. Velázquez and Tony Cárdenas, sent a letter addressed to The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States GAO, requesting the agency release a report to help policymakers better understand the “current state of diversity in the media” and identify challenges and any potential solutions to diversify the influential industry.

“Nearly one in five Americans is Latino, yet Latino Americans are dramatically underrepresented in employment in and representation by the film and television industry,” the letter read.

Over the past few years, Castro has made the inclusion of Latinos in media a primary issue, urging Hollywood studio directors, journalism leaders and book publishers to include their perspectives. 

“The film industry must address the pernicious lack of opportunity and representation of Latino Americans. The stories that Hollywood tells affect how entire communities are perceived,” Castro tweeted in January, in reference to the very small number of Latinos represented at the Golden Globe Awards. 

This lack of representation, especially in films and TV, means Americans miss out on a complete understanding of Latinos and their many contributions. 

At its worst, when Latinos are only portrayed as drug dealers or criminals, politicians are invited to exploit these negative stereotypes for political gain. 

That type of rhetoric can lead to violence against Latinos, like the killing of 23 people in El Paso in 2019 by a gunman who was targeting Hispanics. 

In an interview with The Associated Press, Castro said that American media has relied on Latino stereotypes.

“If the goal is the truth, well that has certainly not served the truth,” he said. 

The report found that in 2019, the estimated percentage of Latinos employed in the communications field, including periodical, book and directory publishers, was only around 8%. 

The report discovered that an estimated 11% of Latinos were news analysts, reporters and journalists, but the GAO included Spanish-language networks, where virtually all contributors are Latino, which could inflate the figures significantly. 

It was also revealed that the largest growth among Hispanics in the media industry was in service jobs, while management positions had the lowest representation. 

Ana-Christina Ramón is part of a team that has been collecting information on Hollywood diversity for 10 years, and started publishing yearly reports in 2014. Ramón is the director of research and civic engagement at the UCLA College of Letters and Science. 

Her research has found that Latinos account for only 5% to 6% of main cast members in TV and film, despite composing about 18% of the U.S population. 

“It’s a bit of a ceiling. It doesn’t go over that percentage,” Ramón told NBC News, adding that TV has made much bigger strides in substantial roles for Latinos when compared to films. 

For years, Hollywood executives have insisted that movies with diverse leads are not profitable, but Ramón found that they are. 

She said there’s an idea that if there is too much diversity, it will “scare off the white people.”

“Well it has not scared off the white people,” Ramón said. 

Christina Mislán, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia, was not shocked when she saw the figures the GAO reported, pointing out that a lot of the growth in Latinos in media professions comes from the service industry.

“It’s important because the more representation we have of diverse cultures and peoples does allow for more opportunities to have richer, more complicated stories being told,” Mislán told NBC News.

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