After #OscarsSoWhite, Hispanics Seek Their Hollywood Moment

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In the last 20 years, only three Hispanic actors have won Academy Awards: Benicio Del Toro, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

LOS ANGELES — After black actors and films that focused on black characters were overlooked for Oscar nominations in 2015 and 2016, the #OscarsSoWhite social media outcry was so fierce that Hollywood was forced to listen. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began a determined diversification effort, and last year there were six black acting nominees, a record.

Whitewashing, or casting white actors as nonwhite characters, has galvanized Asian-Americans in Hollywood. Stars like Constance Wu have railed against the practice, hurting ticket sales for films like “Ghost in the Shell,” a Japanese manga adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson.

But as Hollywood tries to deal with those issues, not to mention the fallout from the harassment crisis that began with Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, the minority group that Hollywood excludes the most onscreen — Latinos — is trying to create its own bullhorn moment.

“We are expecting that we are going to have to go to the Academy Awards this year and demonstrate,” said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a watchdog organization. “We’ve tried to push in less hostile ways. But these studios don’t seem to understand anything else.”

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Latinos make up 18 percent of the population in the United States and 23 percent of frequent moviegoers — those who go to the movies at least once a month. But only about 3 percent of speaking characters in films during the last decade were Latino, according a study released in July by Stacy L. Smith, an associate professor at the University of Southern California. (Ms. Smith’s team found that 13.6 percent of speaking characters were black, while African-Americans make up 13.3 percent of the population. For Asians, the shares matched: 5.7 percent.)

The last Hispanic actor to win an Oscar was Penélope Cruz, from Spain, who was honored nine years ago for her supporting role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” The last time the Academy Awards had a Hispanic acting nominee was 2012, when Demián Bichir was given a nod for his portrayal of an undocumented Los Angeles gardener in “A Better Life” and the Argentina-born French actress Bérénice Bejo was nominated for playing a dancer in “The Artist.”

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Only one Hispanic man has ever won the best actor Oscar — José Ferrer, for “Cyrano de Bergerac” in 1951 — and no Hispanic woman has ever been named best actress.

None of that will change this year. When nominations for the 90th Academy Awards are announced on Tuesday morning, almost all of the acting nominees are again expected to be white. The Vietnamese-American actress Hong Chau, who has a supporting role as a brusque refugee in “Downsizing,” could get a nod. Among black actors, Daniel Kaluuya, the “Get Out” star, and Mary J. Blige, who plays a hardened homemaker in “Mudbound,” could also snare nominations.

But it is almost certain that there will be no Hispanic acting nominees. None are even seen as being in the running, according to Gold Derby, a predictions site.

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“When will our exclusion matter?” asked Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a watchdog organization. Credit Emily Berl for The New York Times

“We’re stuck,” Mr. Nogales said. “When will our exclusion matter?”

Thomas E. Rothman, chairman of the Sony Pictures Film Group, said in an email: “Clearly the United States Hispanic moviegoing audience, which is quite strong, is underserved in terms of stories and characters they can relate to. We hope that ‘Miss Bala,’ with its empowered Latina protagonist, can be a step forward in addressing this need.” Sony is remaking that 2011 Mexican thriller with Gina Rodriguez and Ismael Cruz Córdova as the leads.

Hollywood’s other major studios declined to comment for this article, though several studio executives privately expressed frustration with the number of inclusion issues they are being asked to immediately address. At the moment, they said, the #MeToo fight against sexual harassment and gender equality has become all-consuming. They are also under pressure from activists working for improved onscreen representation for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Representatives for people with disabilities are also pushing for more respect.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences referred a reporter to comments that John Bailey, the organization’s president, made in an interview with The New York Times in August. The academy, which is 72 percent male and 87 percent white, roughly reflecting the demographics of the film industry, has pledged to double female and minority membership by 2020.

“We’re going to keep doing everything we can to be more inclusive,” Mr. Bailey said then. “But the academy is not the industry. We can jump in to work to solve this issue — and we are. But we can’t bear sole responsibility. The jobs have to be there.”

There are signs of progress.

In November, Disney released “Coco,” centered on the festive Mexican holiday honoring the dead and with characters voiced by an all-Latino cast, which is likely to be nominated for best animated film. The Guatemalan-born actor Oscar Isaac plays a primary character in the studio’s latest “Star Wars” trilogy. A remake of the Goldie Hawn comedy “Overboard,” which Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Pantelion Films are scheduled to release on April 13, stars the Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez.

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Disney’s ”Coco,” centered on the festive Mexican holiday honoring the dead and released last year, has characters voiced by an all-Latino cast. Credit Disney-Pixar, via Associated Press

And Latinos have been honored for their work behind the camera in recent years at the Oscars. The 2014 directing prize went to Alfonso Cuarón for “Gravity.” Alejandro G. Iñárritu collected back-to-back directing Oscars in 2015 and 2016 for “Birdman” and “The Revenant.” This year, Guillermo del Toro is expected to be a directing nominee for “The Shape of Water.”

Hollywood has come under fire for ignoring Latinos before. Chris Rock got the film industry’s attention in 2014 when he wrote a blistering essay on diversity for The Hollywood Reporter. “Forget whether Hollywood is black enough,” Mr. Rock wrote. “A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You’re in L.A., you’ve got to try not to hire Mexicans.”

But the underrepresentation of Latinos, unlike the sidelining of other minority groups, has never truly entered the public conversation.

One possible reason is the diversity of Hispanics themselves, with their distinct cultures and races from different regions and countries, from Venezuela to Spain. It can be difficult, activists say, to rally uniform support for Latino-focused films, much less orchestrate a cohesive repudiation of Hollywood practices.

Another explanation may involve the approach that many Hispanic advocates have taken. Rather than use direct confrontation — as when Spike Lee stood before academy members in 2015 and shouted, “Get some flave up in this!” — Hispanic stars like Eva Longoria and America Ferrera, and even people like Mr. Nogales, have instead tried to build consensus, often speaking out in passionate yet measured tones.

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When it comes to pushing for change for Latinos in Hollywood, “we’re still in early days, which I know sounds crazy,” said Christy Haubegger, an executive at Creative Artists Agency. Credit Emily Berl for The New York Times

Christy Haubegger, the founder of Latina magazine, for instance, has been trying to push for change from within the Hollywood system. She joined Creative Artists Agency in 2005 with a mandate to make the company and Hollywood more diverse. Creative Artists now represents more than 100 Hispanic clients, including Ms. Rodriguez, Ms. Cruz, Mr. Iñárritu and Ms. Longoria.

“To create sustainable, long-term change in the entertainment industry, we have to start at the bottom and touch every rung of the ladder on up,” Ms. Haubegger said. “It’s really hard, and it takes patience. We’re still in early days, which I know sounds crazy.”

She pointed to other efforts at Creative Artists, including overhauling the agency’s internship program, which was almost entirely white and male a decade ago and is now 65 percent minorities and female; establishing a series of conferences, called Amplify, that aim to accelerate diversity efforts in Hollywood and beyond; and presenting Creative Artists-conducted research to studios. One study, for instance, analyzed box office results for more than 500 films released between 2014 and 2016 and found that movies with casts that were 30 percent or more diverse outperformed non-diverse counterparts.

“And that’s true at every budget level,” Ms. Haubegger said.

One specific box office statistic, however, may help explain why most studios have not moved faster to include Hispanic actors: the relatively high percentage of frequent moviegoers who are Hispanic.

“Their attitude is: ‘Why should we do anything different? They are already coming,’” Ana-Christina Ramón, an author of several reports on Hollywood and race at the University of California, Los Angeles, said of the studios.

Ms. Ramón answers that question by pointing back to the data, which shows a sharp decline in the number of Hispanic frequent moviegoers over time. In 2013, for instance, 11.6 million Hispanics attended the movies frequently, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. In 2016, the last year for which figures are available, that number had fallen to 8.3 million.

“They are losing loyal customers,” Ms. Ramón said.

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How Pixar Made Sure ‘Coco’ Was Culturally Conscious

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Oscars Voting Pool Expands, With Female and Minority Membership Expected to Rise

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