Audiences are sending Hollywood a clear message, turning out in record numbers to see films like Coco, Black Panther, Girls’ Trip and Wonder Woman. Top television shows include Scandal, This is Us, Blackish, One Day At A Time, Jane the Virgin, Transparent, Fresh Off the Boat—the list goes on.
It turns out that viewers want shows that look like their lives—with diverse characters and stories.
Even more importantly, the way we are represented in entertainment matters. When a girl sees herself as a scientist, or a boy sees someone with his skin color as a law student, it plants a seed that this is possible. Archery suddenly gained popularity with girls in 2012 coinciding with the releases of films including The Hunger Games and Brave. Seven of ten girls said they took up the sport because they were inspired by Katniss or Merida. After years of CSI breaking TV ratings records, there was an increase in forensics studies across the nation.
As a little girl growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, I was inspired by a young, Mexican American singer named Selena Quintanilla, whose skin looked like mine, whose hair texture resembled mine, who sounded like me. She wouldn’t live long enough to see the impact her talent made in the world, but she is responsible for paving the way for a young girl like me to eventually portray Gabrielle Solis on Desperate Housewives. It was during my time on Desperate Housewives that I realized I wanted to create more opportunities for others in my community. And I couldn’t do that without getting behind the camera as a producer and director. I was proud to produce great shows like Telenovela and Devious Maids, which were groundbreaking in having all-Latino lead casts, and to produce documentaries like Food Chains and The Harvest that humanized American farmworkers’ issues. And as an actor, I continue to seek out projects that tell our stories like Frontera, For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada and Lowriders.
Unfortunately, my story is not close to the norm. While TV has made the greatest strides in diversity, only 19% of TV’s lead roles were played by minority actors in 2016. And only 3% of speaking or named characters in the 2016’s top 100 movies were Latino despite the fact that we overindex in movie-going, accounting for 23% of attendees while we are 18% of the population and growing. Female-led films earn 16% more at the box office than male-led, yet we don’t see enough women on the big screen.
The good news is that we should diversify entertainment and it will be good for Hollywood’s bottom line. We need diverse decision-makers greenlighting and funding content; otherwise, similarity bias leads us to seek out people who share our backgrounds or experiences. And given that 95% of Hollywood film executives are white, that bias doesn’t seem likely to change.
We must proactively diversify our ranks. We need diverse executives, casting directors, producers, and directors to look into the large untapped talent pool of women and minorities. This is why the Time’s Up movement, of which I am a proud participant, is pushing our “50/50 by 2020” initiative. It will lead to a safer Hollywood and is proven to be produce profitable projects.
In the meantime, please join me in pre-ordering tickets for the March 9 premiere of A Wrinkle in Time. Directed by Ava Duvernay, starring Oprah, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling, and featuring newcomer Storm Reid as the protagonist, this movie embodies everything we want to see behind and in front of the camera—and it’s the perfect chance to vote with your viewership.
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