Giving Celebrities most of the Opportunities hurts us all

Diversity is the talk of the town again, somehow this time it feels different, but there’s a catch.

As a Latina filmmaker and actor, diversity efforts are something I’m very familiar with. Most artists from under-represented communities are.

I’ve applied to more inclusion and diversity programs than I can recall. I’ve never been selected to the programs at the Studios but colleagues who did have shared with me that it did little to further their career.

For years diversity programs were a way to pay lip service. Studios could say “Hey we tried.”

A few years ago, thanks to the persistence of Alex Nogales from the National Hispanic Media Coalition, I was able to meet with the head of one of the studios. I was hopeful because the executive said he was impressed by my work and took me to a table read of a show and even took me to the set. He introduced me to the white male straight director and said he would arrange for me to “shadow” him to give me valuable experience. Unfortunately, after several follow-ups, the executive told me that he couldn’t give me the opportunity after all, that I needed to apply to their directors’ diversity program. I was disappointed but not surprised. I didn’t apply to the program because, on the off chance I got selected, in my heart I knew it wouldn’t open any doors for me.

Protesting the lack of Latino representation at the Oscars with the NHMC

Protesting the lack of Latino representation at the Oscars with the NHMC

Because of lack of opportunities, many of us have taken to activism, to hold the powers at be, accountable and demand a more inclusive industry. I’ve joined in many marches and events to take a stand for such change.

I’ve noticed that when members of the Latino Community organize, one thing that is usually lacking is the presence of celebrities. This is too bad because they could help bring visibility to our efforts.

Something shifted in 2020, more and more studios and streamers seem to be trying to increase inclusion, which is very exciting because this time it feels real. For example, recently Netflix conducted an internal review and realized what many of us already knew, they’re lacking when it comes to representation of Latinos in front and behind the camera. So they announced a commitment to increase work for and by Latinos as have other institutions.

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I’ve been hopeful, but then a trend has emerged that has me worried though. I’ve noticed that a lot of the Latino artists benefiting from this shift are celebrities. I think this is worrisome because people like me, who have been working on refining our craft for years, are being overlooked.

This is something that has been happening to our community for many years. Often when I pitch my projects, I’m asked if I can somehow attach either Eva Longoria or America Ferrera. And although I REALLY admire the work both of them have done, they can’t be attached to every project. Hollywood would rather import celebrities from other countries like Mexico and even Spain to create Latino content than to give opportunities to unknown talent.

If the strategy to green-light new projects for our community is going to follow the same pipeline then we’re in big trouble. Yes, celebrities are important because they are a brand, but famous actors who have little to no experience are being given opportunities to direct big-budget films. Perhaps, just like Regina King or Olivia Wilde, they will show that they are talented directors, I truly hope so. But I still wonder why exclude the rest of us?

As it is, compared to other groups, there are very few Latino celebrities, in order to create other “celebrities” the industry has to take chances on other, not-so-famous people. It would be also very helpful if those who have been able to “breakthrough”, took on bringing others “up the elevator “ with them instead of taking most jobs. At the end of the day, I believe this will help the entire community as a whole.

Just like the one and only Rita Moreno recently said “Jlo can’t be sole representative’ of Latinos.”

Famous or not, we must as a community support each other, take a stand for inclusion, and demand our seat at the table.

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