According to the last US Census, Latinos are the largest ethnic minority group in the United States, but when it comes to the small screen, they are grossly underrepresented. Here is a fact that will blow your mind: Hispanics spend a whopping 127 hours every month watching television. So why are there so few Latino faces on TV, and which stereotypes are preventing Latinos from breaking the glass ceiling?
With over 50 million Hispanics in the country, you would think that advertisers and TV networks would try to attract more of this lucrative market by incorporating more Latinos into shows and commercials. But perhaps they don’t need to. Univision and Telemundo are the two most watched TV networks in Hispanic households. In fact, more than half of Latinos watch Spanish-language TV, which already caters to the community with programming. However, 67 percent of Latinos watch English TV shows at the same time, proving there’s a large market that is seemingly going unnoticed. Latinos watch ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX as well as the Spanish-language channels – but you might find it hard to locate Hispanic stars on some shows.
Let’s take daytime TV as an example. Up until recently, there was no Latina on the table of The View – the long-running ABC morning talk show where the co-hosts discuss a broad range of political and cultural topics. That all changed with Rosie Perez of course, but it took the show several years to introduce a permanent Hispanic co-host. It’s a similar story on CBS’ The Talk and countless other daytime shows. While Oprah Winfrey was breaking barriers for the African-American community in the 1980s, there were very few – if any – Latino talk show hosts on television. The same can be said for the national news; while Diana Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Connie Chung, Brian Williams, and Robin Robers have been bringing the American public the latest global events over the last few decades, there are very few Latino faces reading the news. In the world of local news, it’s a slightly different story. Depending on the market, some affiliates in densely populated Hispanic areas will have a Latino news anchor reporting from the studio – or at least a Latino reporter on the beat.
There’s another problem: When Latino characters are on television, they are often portrayed as stereotypes, which can perpetuate certain attitudes towards the community. Throughout history, there have been examples of Latino housekeepers on television, including in the 1987 show I Married Dora, which was about a man who married his housekeeper to stop her being deported. This still exists to the present day. Consuela in Family Guy is a prime example of this, even if the show does poke fun at all races and backgrounds with its unique brand of humor. Other Latino stereotypes include the “saucy sexpot” (see Eva Longoria’s character on Desperate Housewives or Sofia Vergara’s role on Modern Family) and the “Latin lothario” (see several male characters from daytime soap operas over the years).
However, things could be changing. Research suggests that the money spent on Hispanic media advertising has been considerably more than advertisement expenditure in general – even during the Recession. What does this mean? Well, advertisers are paying attention to the Latino community and are investing more money in network advertising to attract this market. TV execs should soon follow suit – hopefully we’ll see more Latino faces sitting at the tables of The Talk and The View shortly. There are also plenty of sources for Latinos to get information, including Telemundo and ZayZay.com – both of which target the Hispanic community.
Things aren’t as bad as they seem. There are plenty of examples of positive Hispanic role models on television. For example, Dora the Explorer might only be a cartoon but she is proud of her bilingual roots and is projected into the homes of millions of young Americans every year. Then there’s Ugly Betty – the comedy-drama that proved to be a huge success and helped to make a star of America Ferrera – and Gina Rodriguez, who is delighting audiences in the CW comedy series Jane the Virgin.
There might be a long way to go, but there are good examples of Latinos on TV – you might just have to look for them!
written by: Kirk