Opinion: Stereotypical casting in Hollywood continues to affect Latinos

By Jaime De Haro

Latino actors’ roles continue to be limited to roles within Hollywood’s movie industry based on their race, skin color or ethnic background. 

Whether it’s getting cast as the drug dealer, gang member, villain or bad guy, the stereotypes aren’t new.

If not those roles, it’s probably the vendor, maid, latin lover or even farm worker.

At parties , we’re either the catering service or some type of entertainment—at least, that’s what Hollywood thinks.

That’s how Latinos are portrayed in shows, theater performances and feature films that make it to the Oscars.

The term Latino pertains to those who are Mexican, Salvadoran, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Colombian or Honduran—the list goes on. 

Ultimately, there are a total of 28 ethnic groups within the Latino race.

If race is one thing, ethnicity is another along with skin color.

ELAC theater student Daniel Machuca said that Latinos are frequently cast in stereotypical roles. 

“I do think Latinos tend to be typecast for certain roles unless they look ethnically ambiguous or are fair-skinned. 

“Michael Peña is an actor with a lot of range, but he’s always been typecast as the ‘Mexican.’ 

“Benecio Del Toro is an interesting case though. Puerto Rican, light-skinned, and yet he’s allowed a lot more variety in his roles like in Sicario or Sin City,” Machuca said.

In many instances, a lighter skin colored Latina actress plays the rich daughter whereas a darker-colored Latina plays her assistant or maid. That can lead viewers to look at them that way in reality.

Another obstacle is added for Latino actors with accents. 

Casting directors use an actor’s natural accent as an excuse to stereotype them. 

Take Colombian actress Sofia Vergara for example. On ABC’s ‘Modern Family,’ she played Gloria Pritchett a character who’s cultural background is often referenced in the show.

In many episodes, her home country Colombia was always brought up in relation to drugs, violence and other negative aspects that make it look bad.

“I’m always looking for characters because there’s not much that I can play with this stupid accent, I can’t play a scientist or be in ‘Schindler’s List.’ My acting jobs are kind of limited,” Vergara said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

This along with other obstacles, can be a challenge for those who long to see themselves on the silver screen. 

An actress who made it out of the stereotypical cycle is America Ferrera. 

Two roles that I feel she was typecasted for were Ana Garcia in “Real Women have Curves” (2002) and for the role of Betty in “Ugly Betty” (2006). 

Although they were both a success, it bothers me that not only was she cast stereotypically, she was also cast for her body type. 

“What I continue to wish for my career, and women’s careers and people of color’s careers, is that we don’t have to exist inside of these boxes or these lanes—that we don’t have to be relegated to represent just the thing that the culture wants us to represent,” Ferrera said in an interview with InStyle. 

As an aspiring actor, I’ve also experienced this first-hand.

While working background on a set for a show that was under Universal Studios, I noticed the race of actors who were much closer to the camera. It was a fraternity scene—can you guess? 

It was mostly white actors whereas the colored actors of color were placed deep in the background. 

This brought me anger, but it mostly made me question my future as an actor. 

It also made me question, who else in my community is this affecting? 

Well, many students involved in the theater department at East Los Angeles College plan to pursue acting professionally. 

“I’d like to show the world the side of Latinos that isn’t represented. Still average Americans but also showcasing what it’s like being a person of color. 

“As a Latino actor, I would say my drive is to show the world that we can play other roles that aren’t law enforcement, criminals, slackers or destitute (people),” Machuca said.

The stereotypical casting of Latinos puts us in a box, closing off opportunities to portray ourselves as more than what is currently shown on screen.

According to a report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative,  as of 2022, “the overall prevalence for Hispanic/Latinos (with speaking characters) on screen across 1,600 popular films is just 5.5%… the Hispanic/Latinos population in the U.S. is 19.1%.”

If there’s a large population of Latinos, why don’t they have as many speaking parts? Why don’t we see them in feature films? Why are we only seeing them in stereotypical roles? 

Latinos are much more than what the media makes us seem. 

We’re not always the fruit vendor or construction worker they neglect, but individuals with a drive and purpose to be more. 

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