Hollywood Thinks JLo Represents All Middle-Aged Latinas and 16 Years of Film Shows It
Representation in Hollywood has been a controversial topic since the dawn of the entertainment industry, particularly for Latinas. When thinking about middle-aged Latina actresses, names such as Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria, or Jennifer Lopez come to mind.
With factors like age, skin color, hair type, body, and facial features being top of mind during casting, many middle-aged Latina actresses are discarded unless they fit the right mold.
Add to this character stereotypes, such as Sofía Vergara’s role as Gloria Pritchett in “Modern Family,” and you get a sexualized and caricatured portrayal of Latinas. Now, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, based at the University of Southern California, released a new study showcasing the representation disparities in Hollywood.
Among the findings, the report identified that only 14 Latino leads or co-leads aged 45 or older appeared across 1,600 movies over 16 years. Who was the leading character casting for middle-aged women, though? JLo.
In 3 of the five top-grossing films over 16 years, JLo played the lead
The study examined the prevalence and context of Latino characters on-screen across 1,600 popular films. Additionally, it explored Latinos working as directors, producers, and casting directors across the top-grossing films from 2007 to 2022.
Interestingly enough, when it came to casting middle-aged women, Lopez came out on top. Leading performances in three out of five top-grossing films in the last 16 years. Notably, “The Boy Next Door,” “Second Act,” and “Marry Me.”
However, Lopez’s talent aside, the data reflects the reality of Hollywood today. Especially the need to diversify the representation of Latinas in film. As the report states, “It is clear that there is no career longevity for Latinas or Hispanic women in this industry.”
Stacy Smith, founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, said, “JLo is amazing, and she continues to be successful, but there are storylines and people that represent the nuance and diversity of this community; most simply aren’t getting the opportunity.”
This adds to the disconnect between community representation for Latinas 45 and above and what Hollywood portrays.
“If we are trying to think about the multidimensional complex nature of this community, there’s a complete disconnect if JLo has to represent every Latina 45 and above,” she continues. “The people that greenlight or allocate the resources on this community don’t understand anything about the community.”
Afro-Latinas only played one leading role from 2007 to 2022
Across the 16-year sample, one remarkable finding was how little representation exists for Afro-Latinos in film. The study states that just eight Afro-Latino actors were cast in leading or co-leading roles from 2007 to 2022, ranking as less than 1% of all leading and co-leading roles during that time period.
Yet among the most overlooked were Afro-Latinas. Nathalie Emmanuel played the only protagonist across 100 top movies in 2022 in “The Invitation.” Casting for Afro-Latines goes back to using actors who moviemakers consider “look Latino.” With identity among U.S. Latinos being multidimensional, many African Americans play Afro-Latino roles.
Currently, representation for Afro-Latinas is limited to casting actresses like Zoe Saldaña. However, her roles don’t portray Afro-Latinas in film. Take “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Avatar” as an example.
“Zoe Saldaña has been holding it down for Afro-Latinas for a long time, yet she’s been stripped of her Afro-Latindad in the majority of the roles she plays,” Blactina Media founder Nydia Simone told PopSugar.
She continued, “Saldaña has created her own lane by carving out a space in the sci-fi and superhero genre by playing ‘race-less’ roles that allow audiences to focus on her strong characters instead of being pigeonholed into stereotypical roles.”