Where are Hispanics in US media?

Hispanics make up over 17 percent of the US population, a figure up about 20 million since 2000, and they buy 26 percent of movie tickets. Yet they are between two and eight percent of the television and movie industry, a statistical disconnect Frances Negrón-Muntaner, founder of Columbia’s Media and Idea Lab, attributes to ever-larger media conglomerates resulting from corporate mergers.

Award-winning filmmaker, writer, curator, and comparative literature professor, Negrón-Muntaner studies representations of the Caribbean, the African diaspora, and Latinos in the US media. In her recent research, Negrón-Muntaner, who also directs Columbia’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, found that when a company merges, the new corporation tends to promote its own productions rather than those from independent, often more diverse companies. Thanks to mergers, a new company has more talent of different races and ethnicities, but the top leadership, those calling the shots, does not diversify.

“The companies formed in these transactions do not typically include Latinos in decision-making, hiring, and storylines of their shows,” Negrón-Muntaner said. “This is not just a cultural issue, it’s political and economic.”

However, she believes viewers can flex their consumer muscles to advocate for more—and more nuanced—Latino media representation, including in comedy. Negrón-Muntaner’s next question is why Hollywood seems to think Latinos aren’t funny, citing scarce Latino comedians in the spotlight. “Ultimately, I am interested in knowing what can laughter tell us about our collective selves.” Learn more.

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