Has the Latinx TV Renaissance Finally Begun?

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Has the Latinx TV Renaissance Finally Begun?

Recently I was binging Primo on Amazon Freevee. The semi-autobiographical TV series, created by writer Shea Serrano and co-produced by Mike Schur (Parks and Recreation, The Good Place), debuted in May. 

The comedy centers on the life of 16-year-old Rafa, nicknamed Primo, a Mexican-American growing up with a single mom and five crazy uncles in San Antonio. The show is funny, heartfelt, and loaded with complex and interesting characters. I loved it. 

After watching Primo, I started to think about all the great Latinx characters I’ve seen on TV series I’ve enjoyed recently. Who can forget Jenna Ortega’s quirky character and insane dance scene in Wednesday, Diego Luna’s masterful performance as a scavenger turned rebel in Andor, or Pedro Pascal’s reluctant father figure in The Last of Us?

Does the past year indicate that we’re finally at the beginning of a Latinx TV renaissance? After all, Latinos represent 19% of the population of the United States. Surely the largest minority group in the country is well represented on TV? As a 52-year-old Mexican-American who’s seen significantly more negative and stereotypical representations of Hispanics on TV than positive ones, 2023 looks like the year I’ve long been waiting for. Sure, I can’t create myself as a Latino athlete in video games such as Madden 23, PGA Tour 2K23, or NBA 2K23 but at least an appropriate number of TV series have an appropriate percentage (say 19%) of Hispanic representation, right? Sadly that’s not the case.

While there have been several memorable characters played by Latinx actors recently, Latinos in every facet of the entertainment industry unfortunately remain underrepresented.  

The stats show a lack of inclusion

According to the Latino Donor Collaborative’s (LDC) 2022 Latinos in Media Report, Latinx representation in films and TV is lacking in every aspect. Latino actors were cast in lead roles in only 2.6% of the series that aired in 2022. Dramas featured the highest representation of Latinx actors in lead roles (6.2%), with comedies having the second highest percentage (4.7%). The alternative genre, which had the highest number of shows in 2022 only had 9 series (1%) with a Latino lead and 29 episodes (0.3%) with a Latin director. 

The report states that cable and premium cable had the lowest Latino representation. In 2022, premium cable had zero Latin leads and only nine out of 

800 episodes were directed by a Latino. On traditional cable, only 1.1% of the TV series that aired had a Latin lead actor or actress. And you can forget about finding a Latino talk show host. They literally don’t exist. 

It’s not much better for the Latinx community on streamers either. Despite housing one third of all the TV series across streaming networks, Netflix featured only four U.S. Latino leads, 30 co-leads, and three Latino showrunners out of nearly 2,300 TV episodes. A recent study by Netflix in cooperation with Annenberg Inclusion Initiative showed Latinos, who (in case you forgot) make up 19% of the U.S. population, acted in 4.5% of main cast roles on Netflix in 2021. That compares with 17.1% for Black actors and 9.4% for Asian actors.

Not only is representation an issue according to the LDC, so are negative stereotypes. Of the 2.6% of shows that aired during primetime and streaming in 2022 that had a lead actor that was Latinx, 47% of them portrayed Latinos negatively or perpetuated false stereotypes. The negative stereotypes conveyed a message that U.S. Latinos tend to be gang members, drug dealers, or steal opportunities from Anglo-Americans. 

Why is this a big deal?

So what difference does all of this make? Why is it important for Hispanics, or any other minority or marginalized group for that matter, to see reflections of themselves on television? It’s just TV, right? How important can it be to see yourself reflected in the latest HBO prestige drama or Netflix reality show? Do I really need to see a Latinx Bachelor? To that last point, not necessarily—but I’m a supporter of representation for other reasons. 

This might sound strange, but it carries weight to be represented on TV. To see people who look like you go through the same struggles (real or fictionalized) but also share the same dreams (real or fictionalized) as every other culture is unifying. It’s a reminder that no matter who we are, we have more in common than we think. All of us—regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religious belief, or any other intersectionality—have hopes, dreams, goals, and struggles. To see that represented in someone on a TV screen that looks like you is a reminder that you’re not alone. Knowing that someone just like you has been in your shoes is both comforting and inspiring. 

So what can we do about it? 

LDC president and CEO Ana Valdez recently told The Hollywood Reporter that the organization only had one goal: “To create a fact-based portrayal and narrative of who we are, and a fact-based narrative of who we are would be at least 19 percent of the stories—good and bad, we don’t all have to be heroes.”

Fair enough. I’d take that. But all I would ask for is one thing: opportunity. Just give Latinx actors, showrunners, directors, writers, and anyone else who works in the entertainment industry an equal opportunity. As Jenna Ortega, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, and others have demonstrated, creative Hispanics will make the most of an opportunity. But this is just the beginning. 

To paraphrase Pulitzer Prize winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, a New York native of Puerto Rican descent, the Latinx community is young, scrappy, and hungry—and we won’t throw away our shot.

Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot, and aspiring hand model. When he’s not singing songs from Hamilton off key, you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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