Until recently, Latino portrayals in the media has had negative affects for the Latino community. Historically Latinos have not only been portrayed negatively through stereotypes but they have also been largely ignored and excluded from most American Media. Support for this assumption has been provided by The Annenberg School of Cultural Communicators Project which found that between the years of 1969 to 1978 only 2.5% of primetime television characters were Hispanic.10 The significance of this is that this figure is still significantly behind other minorities such as the African American population who comprised 8.5% of primetime television characters. Another study conducted by The Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington DC has shown that Latinos have been in the 2% range of representation in Media for the past 30 years. This percentage is also following a downward trend which is especially noticeable in the Prime Time Television shows.11 Findings also unveiled that “Hispanics are virtually absent as characters in the entertainment media and as correspondents and anchors in news media.12 This can be best demonstrated by the following video clip in which Latino media producers responded to the question if Latinos were well-represented in Boston's local main-stream media:
When Latinos are actually present in different forms of media a very consistent type of Latino is portrayed. Usually it is a person who has darker features, tanner skin, and an accent. The quest for a heterogeneous type of Latino completely overlooks the diversity that is included under the umbrella term. The lack of range in how Latinos are presented phenotypically also helps to polarize the community by showing usually either rich Latinos or poor Latinos. This phenomenon is reminiscent of the movie A Day Without a Mexican in which everyone who was from Latino descent disappeared. There was no recognition of different cultures, traditions, languages, and beliefs. The problem with the assumption that Latinos are so homogenous is that it leads people to believe that no diversity exists. The lack of diversity can be extended to the diversity of social, economic, education and health needs. If people in the United States assume that all Latinos are poor or rich then none of these problems are being addressed. The only way that most of these problems can be solved is with the help of the larger national and global community.
Another problem which arises from the assumption of Latinos as a heterogeneous community is that it oppresses Latinos indirectly. Although Latinos are a minority community not all Latinos like each other or share the same values. As a result it is more difficult for Latinos to come together to fight the created labels and false cultural propaganda that work against them. One way in which Latinos have started to fight against false perceptions created by the media is through creating their own documentaries.13 From Dr. Benamou’s presentation she showed that through the past fifty years Latino documentaries have included the issues of border control, farm work, feminism, media activism, gay and lesbian documentaries, and globalization. These documentaries were created in an effort to educate, be used as self reflection, and create opportunities where there were none. In Lilian Jimenez’s article examining Puerto Rican Cinema in New York she refers to Puerto Rican video and filmmakers as “ ‘picking up the gun’ in defense of civil and human rights in the United States after the Civil Rights movement”.14 Puerto Ricans also looked at their own takeover and entrance into the video and filmmaking industry as an affirmation of their own history and place in the United States.
This affirmation is important because not all Latinos are immigrants. Many are second, third generation and beyond Americans who are wholly assimilated and have rights and rightly insist on asserting their rights. The history and continued emergence of documentation and Latino filmmaking will help to counter the decline and negative stereotypes of Latinos in the media.
When it comes to stereotyping Latinos the media tends to translate everything negatively. Comfortable sexuality is labeled as prostitution or being vamp-ish, having a lot of kids is associated with being impoverished and acting assertive is viewed as ‘macho’. Viewers’ unrealistic view of serious problems and lack of understanding of Latino culture allows Media portrayals to cultivate and reinforce myths about the Latino community. These negative views also lend themselves to negative propaganda against Latino communities.
Historically women have either been portrayed as ‘senioritas’ or temptresses. These two roles translate into Latino women being passive, feeble, unintelligent, and dependant.14 Male roles have evolved from having a more negative stereotype to the cliché Latin lover. Actors which can be best associated with this image are Antonia Banderas, Andy Garcia, and Jimmy Smits. The Latino community has reacted to this stereotype with varying opinions. The difference in reactions is best portrayed in response to a 1995 survey by the Hollywood Reporter who rated the most popular Latino actors.15 The second most popular, Rosie Perez, was met with extreme controversy because of the tough image she portrays and the fact that she not exclusively Puerto Rican. Some members of the Latino community consider her tough image an embarrassment. The second opinion holds that the tough image is beneficial to the image of Latinos. The third opinion argues that it is not her fault and that Perez is a ‘commodity in demand’. “She has perfected and personally gained success with this image that the public wants. In essence the problem is not Perez but the expectations society has for Latinas”.10 In this next video,
Rosie Perez is interviewed by Tyra Banks as talks about how she must justify her accent to other Latinos because of her blend of Puerto Rican and Brooklyn cultures. The controversy of Rosie Perez is important because it brings up the question of who determines the images. Are they crafted by the audience, actresses, larger society, or expectations of Latinos?
Some notable detrimental portrayals include :
- The 1950-1956 156 episode series the Cisco Kid:
- Zorro from 1957-1959
Positive Portrayals include:
- High Chapparral
- Man In The City
- High Noon
- Border Incident
- Ox Bow Incident
Recent Television shows which have helped to promote positive Latino Stereotypes include Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty, and Desperate Housewives. These are all prime time television shows which have started to turn around the negative trends of Latino representation in the media. The following television clip is Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis praising America Fererra and the changing trends of Latinos in Media: