This task is a speech written from the perspective of Jennifer Lopez, a Latina actress who worked in Hollywood several times. She finds out that non-white ethnicities were being excluded from the American film industry. After moving to London in order to start a new acting career, she finally decides to expose the truth about Hollywood to the rest of the world. This task will express the dissatisfaction regarding how Hollywood, and the American entertainment industry as a whole, is unfairly pre judging professionals based on their race or cultural background in the 21st century.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, I am Jennifer Lopez and it is an honor to be here with you today in the beautiful city of London. I know only the very best people will take the time to come so far to listen to a conference like this one.
First of all, I would like to start by sharing with you one of my favorite Hollywood stories. Lupe Ontiveros was a Latina actress who arrived in Hollywood in the late 60’s looking forward to playing roles that would showcase her talents. Yet, throughout her acting career, she has been cast as a maid nearly 150 times. Ontiveros, like many other Latina actresses, was tired of always being forced to fulfill this obsolete but common Hollywood stereotype. You may think that since it’s 2017 this no longer happens, but my fellow Latina women in the Hollywood industry and I still receive countless calls wanting to cast us as either “the help” or the sexy, spicy, over-sexualized woman. It’s the 21st century and Hollywood needs to step up its game.
But before we get into the details of how unfairly the Latin community is portrayed in the mainstream media, we first need to go back to the place where the seed of racial inequality was planted. As most of you know, I, myself, have starred in quite a few Hollywood movies. While I was there, I noticed something that immediately caught my attention. Non-white ethnicities were noticeably excluded from the American film industry. Everywhere I looked, I only saw white people. Actors, white. Actresses, white. Producer, white. Director, white. Screenwriter, black. Just kidding, white.
Anyone who watches American television or Hollywood movies will notice the glaring lack of actors and actresses of color. We are, however, noticing some progress within the industry. After two consecutive years of an exclusively White slate of nominees for the four major acting categories—best actor, best actress, best-supporting actor and best-supporting actress—the Academy Awards, best known as the Oscars, finally presented their most diverse list of nominees thus far: one South Asian actor and six Black actors. Although this may seem like good news, there is still a lack of representation in the American film industry. Disgusted with this situation, social activist April Reign created the controversial hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and spread it through social media, raising awareness of the lack of diversity in not only the Academy Awards but also in the American entertainment industry as a whole.
Even though there are currently more African American actors on the big screen than ever before, I am still hesitant to call Hollywood and the Oscars completely ethnically inclusive. For Hollywood to become truly inclusive, we must see a significant increase in the number of minorities in the film industry. And these minorities should not be cast because their specific role requires them to be a certain race or because directors and screenwriters are trying to perpetuate a stereotype, but solely based on merit.
Yes, Hollywood is an industry and an industry’s first and foremost interest is financial profit. For decades, we have believed that the successful business model for this industry was a homogeneous one; one that portrays a white male as the protagonist. To fit into this offensive model, African American actors have often been depicted as drug dealers, con-artists or some type of criminal. Television shows and films such as “The Wire” or “Training Day”, typically overlooked how young Black men are more likely to be racially profiled, making them a more vulnerable target of police authorities. Together with this, there was a common belief that for a “Black film” to be successful, it needed to be about the emancipation, slavery, or the Civil Rights Movement. Is this necessarily true? I disagree. Sadly, the misrepresentation of minorities is still prevalent in this supposed race-blind society.
Other groups of minorities suffer from stereotypes as well. Let’s take into account the Latin community. With the Latino population in the U.S. growing more rapidly than ever, people are paying more attention to the way Latinx are represented in films and TV. Although Latinx people make up over 17% of the U.S. population, they are attributed the lowest number of speaking roles in the entertainment industry. Hollywood has done an excellent job portraying us Latinos or Hispanic people as either maids who do not speak English or as olive-skinned women with curvy bodies and long black hair. Close your eyes and picture Sofia Vergara for a minute. She plays the role of Gloria Delgado-Pritchett in “Modern Family”, a character that is not only constantly referred to as sexy but also as loud and crazy. Sounds familiar? Probably, because almost every Latina woman you see on American TV basically plays the same character. By itself, there is no reason why there should be a major dilemma based on her character, but the real problem begins when this idea of the curvy and sultry Latina causes people to judge Latinas based on their physical appearances and sexual attractiveness. In essence, we should never forget that Latinas are much more than their bodies, and the whole Latin community is one full of values, ethics, and unique traditions. The importance of stopping these inaccurate portrayals also relies on the fact that children could grow up with the wrong image of people of color in their heads; therefore, we as adults in the film industry should not let this happen.
Though there is still a lot of work to do, I am slightly relieved knowing that the current Academy President is Cheryl Boone, a fellow woman of color. Boone has openly expressed her concerns about this issue, and recognizes it as a dire one. Given her role in leading the committee that chooses the nominees for the Oscars, I remain prudently optimistic that we will see more and more young people of color within the Academy.
Not only is Hollywood lacking in racial and ethnic diversity, but it also lacks in other aspects of diversity. “Moonlight” was the first LGBTQ movie to ever win Best Picture, another remarkable event that happened at the 2017 Academy Awards. Considering the utter lack of LGBTQ movies in the entertainment industry, this is certainly a coup to celebrate. In 2006, Ang Lee’s movie titled “Brokeback Mountain”, a gay cowboy ballad, lost Best Picture to the film “Crash”. This alerted the presence of homophobia within the Academy. In fact, many Academy members, including Ernest Borgnine, refused to even watch Ang Lee’s film. Particularly, Borgnine claimed that he knew people said it was a good movie, but that he did not care to see it. This shows that Borgnine had personal reasons, a.k.a. homophobia, for refusing to see this film. Although “Crash” was a worthy winner, it left the audience with the suspicion that Academy members were not being impartial. Consequently, the well-deserved win for “Moonlight” is a necessary step toward inclusion if we take into account that the Oscars have apparently struggled to treat LGBTQ movies with the same importance and relevance as its competition. It’s not just about diversity, it’s also about equal recognition. Besides, since the Oscars are highly recognized awards, it is important that the Academy counts with impartial unprejudiced members when judging films and cast.
But overall, why does including minorities matter? In simple words, people like, and in some cases need, to see themselves reflected on the big screen. A white male kid can easily imagine himself doing all the things that the movie heroes do, but this may not be that simple for non-white children or non-white people in general. We need to show the audience that they are worthy no matter where they come from and that they are more than their stereotypes. They deserve the same opportunities and have the same exact capacity of achieving success as any of the famous characters they see on TV.
I am personally part of a minority: I am a Latina woman and I have heard offensive remarks like “Ha! You come from the third world!” or “So, do you ride a llama to go to school instead of using cars?” many more times than I can even remember. In fact, I will probably have those hurtful words tattooed on my mind eternally. We should put a stop to this situation because no one deserves to be treated differently due to their skin color, sexual orientation, or inheritance. Is Hollywood too white? Probably, and this is the exact reason why we should not settle with the way things are right now. We need to always keep in mind that we are all part of the same race: the human race. We must fight next to each other in order to obtain a world in which we all are attributed the same value. It is essential that we end with this situation, not just for you or for me but for future generations; for them to not grow up in a society in where only White people make it to the Oscars.
Last but not least, thank you all for sticking with me through this long speech. I hope I managed to show you that regardless of our skin color or our cultural background, we will always be capable of fulfilling our dreams.