After spending so many years disappointed by the lack of Hispanics in Hollywood, let us take a moment to note: We’re getting there.
Part of the reason Hispanic actors sometimes fly under the radar is that they are typically part of an ensemble. Others appear in TV shows that have a significant following but not the mega-ratings of shows like “The Big Bang Theory” or “Two and a Half Men” garner. But they are there.
For instance, Latino actors have meaty roles on “The Walking Dead” (Christian Serratos) and “Orange Is the New Black” (Dascha Polanco and Selenis Leyva). “Empire” added several Latinos in its second season after weathering heavy criticism for its lack in the first season.
Rosario Dawson took a lead turn in last spring’s Netflix superhero show “Daredevil,” and it’s probably no coincidence that the show had two Latino executive producers – Joe Quesada, a prolific comic-book writer, and Marco Ramirez – on staff.
Ramirez has already made a huge impact in Hollywood. He has written for “Orange Is the New Black” as well as the now-concluded motorcycle drama “Sons of Anarchy” (which featured a prominent Hispanic character: Juan Carlos “Juice” Ortiz). He now writes for the (wonderful) new “Walking Dead” spinoff, “Fear the Walking Dead,” which features Ruben Blades as a main character along with several other Hispanics in prominent roles.
Don’t think this is just a blip in TV land, though.
I was delighted to see the hilarious Michael Pena – who once told me that he lied to his parents about going on vacation and instead ran away from his Chicago home to Hollywood – in the recent Ridley Scott blockbuster “The Martian.” Pena played astronaut Rick Martinez. His character was not some over-the-top hyper-stereotypical Mexican astronaut sporting chili pepper stickers on his helmet, just a regular old astronaut. It was refreshing.
You’ll also see a Latino (Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac) in the forthcoming “Star Wars” movie, “The Force Awakens,” as well as in Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, “The Hateful Eight” (Mexico’s Demian Bichir). Leonardo DiCaprio’s upcoming thriller, “The Revenant,” is directed by Mexico’s Alejandro G. Inarritu of “Birdman” fame. And in theaters now is the goth-horror extravaganza “Crimson Peak” from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. It’s true that none of these four gentlemen is technically Hispanic/Latino – this designation only exists in the U.S., everywhere else people are referred to by their countries of origin – but let’s not be too picky here.
Moving on to the “Great White Way,” aka Broadway – so named for its millions of lights on the theater marquees and billboards that illuminate the strip – there is, of course, the miracle of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Manhattan-born of Puerto Rican parents, Miranda took Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and made it a blockbuster hip-hop history sensation.
Opening this week on Broadway is “On Your Feet!,” a musical based on the life and music of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Sergio Trujillo, a Colombian-born dancer whose family originally had high hopes for him to become a chiropractor, has lovingly choreographed its salsa and traditional Cuban dance numbers for an all-Latino cast.
Even outside of entertainment, there are bright spots to celebrate.
CNN got clobbered in the media for marginalizing the black and Hispanic reporters who made appearances during the recent Democratic presidential debate. CNN was widely perceived as undermining those reporters by having them ask only questions on the Black Lives Matter movement and immigration, respectively.
Shortly after, CNBC featured Carl Quintanilla as a moderator during the Republican debate. The Emmy Award-winning, Michigan-born journalist, formerly of “Squawk Box” fame, asked candidates questions about debt limits and financial markets. Another refreshing change. Quintanilla stands out in a media landscape where Hispanics are a scant 4 percent of U.S. newsroom staff.
Obviously, more progress is needed. Earlier this year, the Fusion Network reported, “There are exactly zero Latino studio heads, network presidents, or CEOs. Of the top 10 films from 2010 to 2013, Latinos made up just 2.3 percent of directors, 2.2 percent of producers, and 6 percent of writers.”
Hispanics aren’t even close to attaining the 17 percent presence in media that would reflect their portion of the U.S. population. But even small gains must be acknowledged and celebrated.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.