Forum: Lack of Diversity Within Hispanic Media

Posted by sylado:

Have you ever noticed that as far as the Hispanic media is concerned, there is virtually no existence of Blacks?
Well I have and feel that something needs to be done about this. I am a 38 year old Black Latina and have yet to see any changes in regards to this issue and feel that it’s time for a change which has been long overdue.

I would like your input, ideas, and assistance in doing something about this and making more people aware of this problem – in the meanwhile, I’m including a recent article from the Washington Post.

Thank you.

Please read on…

The Blond, Blue-Eyed Face of Spanish TV
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2000; Page A01

Malin Falu has long been among New York’s most beloved Spanish-language radio personalities. The region’s huge Latino community has showered her with awards and has compared her to Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey because of the renowned figures she has interviewed and her intimate on-air style.

Falu, 54, studied theater in London, pursued modeling in New York and has hosted a version of the “Soul Train” music show in her native Puerto Rico. But whenever she has tried to capitalize on her experience by landing work on Spanish-language television in the United States, she has been stopped dead in her tracks.

A seemingly sure-fire endorsement deal fell apart after she met face-to-face with its sponsors. A television station lost her audition tape after she tried out for a news anchor’s job. Also, two segments she had shot for a national morning show were killed.

Falu says those rejections are evidence of the rigid racial hierarchy that holds sway on Spanish-language television in the United States. Quite simply, she says, the whiter you are, the better your chances to be a star.

“I think this is all about race,” said the brown-skinned Falu. “Professionally, there is no other reason for me not to be hired.”

Falu’s view is shared by an increasingly vocal corps of activists, actors and broadcast personalities who are critical of what they call a kind of racial caste system that gives Spanish-language television an almost exclusively Caucasian face.

Not only are few Afro-Latinos or indigenous people cast in Spanish-language television shows, they say, but the few that are most often play demeaning roles.

Latinos span the racial spectrum, with some being blond and blue-eyed and others having African features. A majority of those in the United States are of mixed race, indigenous or African stock. But that reality is not reflected in the offerings on the two networks that dominate Spanish-language television in this country, Univision and Telemundo.

Few darker-skinned personalities deliver the networks’ domestically produced news shows. On the wildly popular telenovelas, the soap operas that are a programming staple of both networks, the starring roles are almost always filled by white Latino actors who typically play members of the upper class. Darker-skinned people, meanwhile, most often portray maids, gardeners, chauffeurs or dabblers in witchcraft.

“These shows stereotype the hell out of people,” said Juan A. Figueroa, president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. “If you looked at the soap operas without knowing better, you would think they came from Scandinavia or somewhere like that with all the blond, blue-eyed people you see. Meanwhile, the few people of color are relegated to the subclasses.”

The racial images offered on Spanish-language television have been a source of dissatisfaction among Latino leaders for years, but the issue rarely has surfaced in public as activists have chosen to focus on increasing opportunities for Latinos on the major U.S. television networks and on film.

But that is beginning to change with the explosive growth of Spanish-language television. The four major television networks have seen their audience share shrink in recent years, but the Spanish-language audience has grown. In several major cities, including Miami, Houston and Los Angeles, Spanish channels are now the most watched among key demographic groups.

“There is a reluctance, more than a reluctance, in our community around this issue,” Figueroa said. “It is considered taboo to even bring it up. But that is part of the challenge we face now in breaking that barrier.”

Last year, Latino activists led a brief boycott of the four major U.S. networks for what they called a “brownout” of Latino characters from prime-time programming. The protest prompted ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox to add Latino characters to their shows.

But even as they took on the big four networks, many activists quietly seethed at the offerings available on Spanish-language television as well as the lack of racial diversity on the networks. Just as some African Americans have taken on BET, the nation’s only major black-oriented cable television network, for a programming lineup they call lowbrow and stereotypical, some Latinos say Spanish-language television offers too many sexist portrayals of women, a mind-numbing array of formulaic telenovelas and, most of all, a lack of racial diversity.

“When we challenged the networks on the lack of diversity, it raised the question of what was going on with Spanish television,” said Marta Garcia, co-chair of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “And we have been very clear on the fact that both Univision and Telemundo need also to clean up their acts when it comes to diversity and how they portray dark-complected people.”

Garcia met recently with Henry G. Cisneros, the president of Univision, to complain about the images on the network, which dominates Spanish-language television in the United States and has grown to be the nation’s fifth-largest television network. Coalition officials have also raised similar concerns with Telemundo executives.

Meanwhile, activists are pushing the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund to consider a lawsuit against the two major Spanish-language networks challenging their depiction of darker-skinned people.

A Telemundo spokesman acknowledged that black and indigenous people may be underrepresented in the network’s shows. But, he added, Telemundo is working to improve the diversity of its offerings but is limited because it purchases much of its programming from Latin American producers. Likewise, Univision buys the bulk of its programming from the Venezuelan television company Venevision and Mexico’s Grupo Televisa. And in both Mexico and Venezuela, darker skinned people are rarely seen on television.

“People who are really militant about this might exaggerate the situation,” said Ted Guefen, the Telemundo spokesman. “But they say those images are underrepresented; they do have a point.”

Guefen pointed out that one of the hottest new shows on Telemundo is “Xica,” a novela based on the life of historical figure Xica Da Silva, a 19th-century slave who won her freedom with her lovemaking prowess. The Brazilian-made show is noted for its steamy scenes featuring young actress Tais Araujo, who is called the first black woman to be cast in the leading role of a Latin American telenovela.

Univision officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Several phone calls to the network’s public relations officials resulted in promises to contact programming executives. But no Univision executive offered comment. Similarly, e-mails sent to both Cisneros and his administrative assistant brought no response.

Activists who have met with Cisneros say they have been promised improvements, particularly as Univision moves toward producing more of its own shows.

“Latino programming in all of its genres has a hard time accepting as a critical part of its identity [our] mestizo, mulatto origins,” said Felix R. Sanchez, president of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. “We have to reach a point where we say mestizo, mulatto is beautiful, much like the turning point for African Americans in the 1960s, when they said black is beautiful.”

Roland E. Roebuck, a D.C. government employee and self-styled Afro-Latino activist, has written to Cisneros and several Latino civil rights groups to complain about the racial images on Univision and Telemundo.

“Much of the programming is filled with these Clairol ladies trying to accentuate their European tendencies,” Roebuck said. “It seems that everyone uses Clairol to tint their hair and become instantly blond” even though they are Latino.

A survey of 4,000 Latino members of the Screen Actors Guild by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute recently found that Latino actors preferred the opportunities offered by English-language productions to those offered in Spanish television. A majority of the respondents felt that Spanish-language productions provided greater opportunities for fair-skinned Latino actors, with the opposite being true for darker-skinned Latinos.

“It’s true. There are many actresses who could not get work in [Latin America] because of their skin tone,” said Tony Plana, star of the new Showtime series “Resurrection Boulevard,” which has broken new ground with its all-Latino cast and won kudos for its depiction of a Latino family in Los Angeles. “They tend to want to have a blond, blue-eyed, upper-class character.”

Analysts say the lack of racial diversity on Spanish-language television is rooted not as much in the attitudes of the programming executives here as it is in the racial attitudes that prevail in Latin America. That attitude, they say, is particularly evident in the telenovelas, which are a global phenomenon and air in more than 100 countries. The melodramas, which typically run for several months, often feature a love story in which a woman is trying to make the leap to the upper classes by getting a rich man to fall in love with her.

“There is a class phenomenon in Latin America where you think of upper class and upper-middle class being more European, and the black and indigenous population being more in poverty,” said Harry P. Pachon, president of the Rivera Institute, a Latino research organization in Claremont, Calif. “And it seems that Spanish-language television has taken this to heart.”

Elpidia Carrillo, a Mexican-born actress who through the years has played in American films alongside mega-stars, including Jack Nicholson, Richard Gere and Arnold Schwarzenegger, said that in Mexico, her stunning but decidedly nonwhite look was a barrier to getting many acting roles.

“It seems that I was always being cast as a campesina [farm worker], or a prostitute,” said Carrillo, who lives in Los Angeles. “It has only been a little better here. It was very difficult for me to try to get a job in Mexico. There are not many stories written for Latin-looking actresses. . . . [The Latin American film industry] is very racist that way.”

Jerry G. Velasco spent eight years as an actor in Mexican telenovelas. He has been a taxi driver, a chauffeur and an organized crime hoodlum. Only once did he land what he considers a classier role, when he played a historical character who was the vice president of Mexico.

Velasco, now a film industry activist in Los Angeles, said the parts he got during his Mexican television career had nothing to do with his limitations as an actor. Instead, he said, they were the result of his olive-colored skin, something he and many other Latinos in the television and movie business say defines their opportunities.

“I’ll tell you this,” he said. “I would never be the one who gets to take the leading blond girl home.”

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

2000-08-14 16:23:00

One comment

  1. Sylado,

    You are correct. My son was born in the Dominican Republic, I am anglo. My son was targeted for racial hate crimes in Texas through school districts and Texas Academy of Math and Science/University of North Texas. His grades were altered, records burglarized, we had death threats, eagle scout was withheld, and TAMS/UNT boasted they would lower his records each semester at the begining of the program. We literally caught them at it. His Honors diploma wasstolen and he received no diploma from TAMS/UNT.

    What we have found is Lulac is pitted against the NAACP and transfer their resentment of the white supremacist to blacks. Lulac officials in Denton and UNT betrayed my son who is a National Hispanic Scholar. Black organizations will not represent him. Hispanic organizations will not represent him. He was a dual national and the Dominican consul and Dominican organizations in the US would not represent him. Verification has been abused to withhold financial aid each semester at TAMS/UNT and at Duke University. The dirty tricks and total exclusion from advancement coupled with constant harassment has continued to date. I am writing in a motel in Durham, NC. His Financial Aid has been withheld since 1999 and he is blocked from admisions and the Duke President and Provost refuse to correct this or to speak to me. Norma Cantu, Assistant Secretary of Dept of Ed., a hispanic, has used her office to protect the hate crime activity and the alteration of records. She is compromised by Andrea Cantu, an anglo, her inlaw, who stole tests from my son winning State in the Texas Science and Math Teachers Association in Science when the targeting began. The cover-up of hate motivated corruption is usually carried out by a minority who prostitutes their position. This has been our experience. We put our trust in God, because not one single legal defense organization or one single oversight established by law within government or within education will step forward. Your concern about the mix of races in Spanish TV is valid, however some folks are fighting just to stand under the subworld of whitesupremacist hate in Education and public office. From where I am sitting now, your cause, while correct, seems of small importance in comparison to my son’s situation.

    Edited 9/10/2000 12:32:11 PM ET by GEORGEDALLEN

    2000-09-10 02:18:00

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