“Where are the Latinos like us?” That was the question Constance Marie kept asking herself while auditioning for what seemed like a parade of stereotypical roles as she embarked on an acting career three decades ago.
Speaking to Yahoo for Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month, the actress, best known as mother to Jennifer Lopez in Selena and as the wife on George Lopez, notes that while strides have been made, Hollywood still struggles when it comes to representation.
“When I started, I only saw Latinos in the victim role, where is the recent immigrant who would need to be rescued? And I thought to myself, I actually asked my mom at one point, ‘Where are the Latinos like us?’ Like, that are just American born, and we have the culture, but we're part of the melting pot.’ And she couldn't tell me.”
Marie decided early on that she would only participate in projects where she felt she was reflected in a positive way.
“I felt like if I was constantly in a project that was belittling my culture, and belittling the accomplishments of women, that white-washing, and that ... contributing to the self-loathing that might happen if you never see yourself reflected in the positive light.”
Representation now for a more diverse tomorrow
Melissa Fumero, who portrayed brainy cop Amy Santiago on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, says the lack of representation onscreen is directly linked to the lack of diversity offscreen.
“We have a real pipeline problem right now. We don’t have enough writers, we don’t have enough producers, we don’t have enough decision-makers. We need to open the door to hiring more creatives behind the camera.”
She notes that Latinx projects are often under the diversity or international branch of a streaming network, which usually translates to small budgets.
“We really need to be, I think, loud, about how underrepresented we are in television and film. Our shows are low budget, our movies are low budget. We need to see Latinos in all forms of the medium and in different genres.”
Marie explains that progress has been cyclical, and despite some positive strides, the industry has a long way to go.
“We went through a period where everybody was comfortable seeing brown faces in certain roles. And then there was a time when all of a sudden, we were not so hot anymore. And I don't know why those waves happen.”
According to the Hollywood Diversity Report, based on 2020 data compiled by UCLA, Latinos are more than 18 percent of the population yet compile 5.3 percent of the share of broadcast television roles in the 2018-19 season.
As for movies, the numbers are even lower, with only 4.6 percent of movie roles in 2019 going to people who identify as Latinx or Hispanic.
Streaming Opportunities and Making Strides
Marie believes that with the increase of streaming content, opportunities will follow.
“We can create our own content, we can write our own things, we can star in our own things, we can pitch them, we can give them pre-packaged things that we will show somebody how amazingly talented Latins are, Latinx, Hispanics, all of us are. We can pitch it to them. We can show them.”
But, she continues, the Latinx communities need to continue to fight for more representation, as there is still a long way to go.
“We have to be better,” says Marie. “We have to be more tenacious, and we have to claim our space, constantly.”
For more on the issues of politics, money and representation, tune in for Yahoo's one-hour special Latinx & Hispanic Heritage Heritage Month, Thursday, Sept. 30 at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT.