Where are the Latinos in TV?
Sara Ramirez (© REX Features)
There are actors like Sofia Vergara on "Modern Family," Sara Ramirez on "Grey's Anatomy," and Adam Rodriguez on "CSI: Miami," but the reality is that for years and years very few Latinos have made it big on the small screen.
Even as Latinos are 50 million strong in the country, visibility of Hispanics on television still doesn't compare to their African-American counterparts. In the last decade, even when it seemed like networks were moving toward including more Latino faces on prime time, the optimism has quickly faded.
"It's always a struggle," says Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
"There are more Latinos today than what we saw in 1999-2000, but still woefully under anything substantial in keeping with our share of the population."
In 2012, the National Latino Media Council report card on television diversity summed up last season's Latino pool by giving grades to Disney/ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX. The report looked at actors in scripted and alternative shows, writers and producers, directors, program development, procurement, entertainment creative executives and network commitment to diversity initiatives and submission of data.
Overall, FOX received an "F" in all categories. Disney/ABC received a "B," CBS earned a "B-," and NBC received an "A-" for its efforts.
"The good news is that the four networks are very cognizant that Latinos are good business for them. Now they have to execute and they're trying to execute,” said Nogales.
As soon as the next fall season schedule filled out, Nogales says, he'll be able to see what the networks have planned and then he’ll have a meeting with them sometime in May.
"This is great because this way we know what happened in the winter months and what's going to happen in the summer and we still have time to influence their decision in terms of what characters are going to be Latino and non-Latino,” says Nogales.
The current slate of network presidents, the NHMC president says, have been generally receptive to the idea that more Latinos should be on television and that "by the fall we expect to see a hell of a lot better representation than we have right now."
One ideal scenario is seeing a Latino or Latina lead in a prime time television program. Not necessarily a Latino-themed program, but a Latino lead in a non-Latino show.
For actor Edward Padilla, currently seen on the second season of "Suburgatory" on ABC, the slate of characters we see on TV today are sometimes being written with more depth even if the roles on the surface appear to be stereotypical.
"It's nice to see a housekeeper be more than the maid," Padilla says. "On our show we see Carmen [the maid played by Bunnie Rivera], who is the love interest of another character."
Padilla says that Disney/ABC is making efforts to include more Latinos on the network including having Hispanics work behind the scenes from producers to writers who can influence programming.
A veteran actor, Padilla has also spent a career working on the stage and also directing. In the upcoming weeks he'll be directing the play, "Tamales de Puerco" at Casa 0101 in Los Angeles. The play is about a Latino family and their deaf child.
"Plays are wonderful ways of telling our stories, too," Padilla says. "For me it's a lot better than movies because you get to be with the actors."
Ingrid Oliu, an actress based in Los Angeles, says that it's also important for Latinos to support each other more than ever. Too, often, says the actress who has been starred in "Real Women Have Curves" and "Stand and Deliver," there are not enough Latinos connecting with each other.
"Casting directors use the same actors over and over again," Oliu says.
"Everyone can complain and say they don't see us … but who is going to write our stories and when we do, who's going to go see them?"
Oliu, who is now also writing scripts, says she wants to see Latinos show their support within the industry, but also at the box office. When it comes to TV, she wants to see more Latinos behind the camera as well.
"We need writers and people to write for us," Oliu says. "If I wait every 10 years for a good script, I'm in deep [expletive]."
"We have to stand up," he says.
"We have great leaders in different areas of art and these people need to stand up. We're less than 2 percent of all speaking roles on prime time television. That needs to change."
The only serious role a hispanic actor has had is to be the villian. El Hollywood always wants hispano's to be the degenerate gangster, cartel leader, Guerilla mercenary, or just another bunch of ants in the fire. Wasn't TV awesome back in the day! Better yet get the networks to do a pesudo documentary of how awesome it is to live in total chaos and exaggerate the how ignorant and uneducated hispanics are.