The United States is stepping closer to a future where ethnic minorities will be the majority. Yet, the absence of diversity in the pool of Oscar nominees for the second consecutive year has cast a harsh light on Hollywood and its struggle to be inclusive. While #OscarsSoWhite has caused a social media uproar, it is Spike Lee's comments on the justified outrage that has unveiled the larger problem.
While the difference in advertising dollars paid to Spanish-language broadcasters is much less than that paid to English language entities, equity can still be achieved if parties recognize those disparities and negotiate a settlement that takes all these factors into consideration.
- Alex Nogales
“The Academy Awards is not where the ‘real’ battle is,” Lee wrote on Instagram. "It's in the executive offices of the Hollywood studios and television and cable networks."
Actor and activist Ruben Blades agreed, and bluntly added, that American Latinos, 18 percent of the nation's population, are excluded more than any other minority, even though we watch more films per year than anyone else.
David White, National Executive Director of the largest performers union SAG-AFTRA, applauded the steps the Academy is taking to confront the problem but added, "This is only one step and the truth is we have a pipeline problem. We do not have enough people of color in the pipeline of decision-making [in film or television].”
Diversity on television has done slightly better than film in recent years. It has slowly seen the value in portraying stories of multicultural audiences on prime time broadcast networks with shows such as "Blackish," "Superstore," and "Shades of Blue.” Yet, inclusion is often a gesture meant to placate an impassioned demographic and it seems that with every step forward, we are taking two steps back.
Despite the challenges, these small strides in television were on full display at this Saturday’s SAG Awards. Time and time again throughout the night, the stage became a reflection of the diverse and rich population that the United States represents, and as such, it became the topic of conversation online and throughout the remainder of the weekend. And just like that, #SAGSNotSoWhite was born.
But what was less obvious to most was the inclusion of Spanish-language telenovela stars on the red carpet and in the room. True to its core values of diversity inclusion, SAG-AFTRA ever so subtly shone light on the increasing importance of multiculturalism and diversity of language on American television.
For many of us, telenovelas are the exclusive source of entertainment that features Latino actors and content in Spanish. A growing number of these telenovelas are being produced in the United States, and are employing a growing number of American Latino actors in coveted leading roles. Spanish-language television is critical to a thriving and growing demographic, and recognition through equity and greater opportunity for its actors is vital and overdue.
The success of "Jane the Virgin," adapted from a famous Venezuelan telenovela, is an incredible example of the demand for this type of content, regardless of ethnic background. Ironically, its fiction also points out a harsh reality of inequality in television. Jaime Camil, the actor who plays the show’s stereotypical narcissistic telenovela star, enjoys the SAG-AFTRA rights, benefits and member protections that come from working on an English-language set. Had this production been made in Spanish in the U.S., he would not.
Currently, U.S. Spanish-language networks do not offer their talent the same opportunities or pay that their English-language counterparts receive. While the difference in advertising dollars paid to Spanish-language broadcasters is much less than that paid to English language entities, equity can still be achieved if parties recognize those disparities and negotiate a settlement that takes all these factors into consideration.
As influencers, we have the responsibility of working with film and television executives to ensure representation of diverse story lines and actors, but we must also put pressure on advertisers to pay equal and deserved dollars to Spanish-language broadcasters. Spanish-language networks should not be subjected to second-class status when the customer base they serve – American Latinos - are among the best and most loyal of consumers in numbers that Nielsen recognizes and supports.
Just as Viola Davis said in her SAG-AFTRA award acceptance speech, “Diversity is not a trending topic.” This fact has never been truer. This award season serves as an opportunity for long-term change and a wake-up call for Hollywood and the entertainment industry.
Alex Nogales is president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a media advocacy and civil rights organization for the advancement of Latinos.