Latina actress Gina Rodriguez, star of Jane the Virgin, has won a Golden Globe for Best TV Series Actress – Comedy or Musical! She said in her speech:
“This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes.”
This win is especially important given the research on Latin people on screen which shows that Latins are relegated to unnamed roles, and playing to the stereotypes of criminals, blue collar workers and sex objects.
The 2014 study by Frances Negrón-Muntaner and colleagues, published by Columbia University, found that (at the time of publishing) Latinos did not make up any lead roles in any top ten movies or scripted network TV shows. Even worse, Latino men comprised only 3% of supporting roles on TV and film from 2010-2013. Latinas made up 4.6% of film appearances and 9.5% of supporting roles on TV. Afro-Latinos do not star in any film or TV shows, but they make up less than 20% of all Latinos in films and TV.
When we are represented, most characters are linked to a crime (18% of Latinos on film; 24% on TV), or they are depicted strictly in law enforcement (37% of Latinos on TV). Latinas are overwhelmingly cast as maids. Since 1996, 69% of maid characters on major films and TV shows are Latina!
The study also finds that almost three quarters (72%) of all roles given to Latinos fit into three stereotypes: crime/law enforcement, blue-collar workers and “sexy women.” The rest are minor characters who are mostly cast as unnamed members of a large Latino family – yet another stereotype. Most alarmingly perhaps is the fact that almost half of all Latins on TV shows are uncredited (45%). The study concludes that Latin people “tend to embody many of the same stereotypes first visualised in cinema over a century ago: criminals, cheap labour, and sexual objects.”
Another study by Dr Stacy Smith and colleagues from the University of Southern California finds that only 4% of the top paid actors in Hollywood are Latin. The research analysed over 3,900 characters in 600 popular movies and restricted the sample to actors with at least one line of dialogue. Women of colour are less likely to be cast on screen than their male counter-parts. For example, Latinas only make up 37% of all Latins on film.
Latina actresses are most likely of all women to appear partially or fully naked on screen: 38% of Latinas are naked compared with 32% of White actresses, 24% of Black actresses, and 18% Asian actresses. (No data on Native American actresses were given in the study.)
Latinos are also more likely to be depicted in tight or revealing clothing than other racial or ethnic groups (17% Latinos compared with 14% Asian males and 8% of White men).
Both studies show that Latinos are also less likely to direct films and do work behind the scenes in pivotal cinematic jobs than White people. Black people are slightly better represented as directors in comparison to Latins, but they are a minority overall.
On the surface, Jane the Virgin draws on a type of stereotype within Latino cultures, that of the passive, obedient virgin, which is something I’ve previously researched. My research identifies that Latinas in Australia recognise this stereotype and its opposite, “the slut” (the so-called Madonna/Whore dichotomy) and they reject these binaries. Latinas recognise that they can assert their sexuality while also seeking gender equality and change within their communities and wider society.
Jane the Virgin subverts the passive “Madonna” stereotype however, in that Jane is working towards her education degree and has a strong relationship with her mother and grandmother. The show is based on a Venezuelan telenovela created by Latina director Perla Farías Lombardini. This version is centred on three generations of Latinas.
For global statistics on gender representations on film, read my article: Women & Girls on Film: “Inequality is Rampant.”
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