It is 1962, finger snapping has made its way onto the big screen and from now on, an iconic film filled with dancing, singing, and choreographed fight scenes would be remembered for its Academy Awards and not by the misrepresentation of the Latino community.
West Side Story is a modern-day musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This musical revolves around two gangs in New York who were in a constant battle for territory. Issues arise when a gang leader falls in love with a rival’s sister.
“The Puerto Rican voice of the 1950s was stolen and rewritten for appropriated consumption,” said Viviana Vargas in her journal entry on HowlRound.
In her examination of the movie, she explains how it misinterpreted and underrepresented the Latino community by only casting one Puerto Rican and filling the rest of the cast with Caucasians.
The issue is not only the misinterpretation of the community but the lack of representation that continues to have an effect on how the youth of different racial backgrounds choose to see themselves.
When a community is marginalized and is always seen as less than the dominant race, they choose to belittle themselves because that is what society forces them to believe.
Major broadcasting companies like ABC, NBC, Paramount Pictures and Universal Studios allow negative stereotypes and stigmas to expand by only casting minorities as criminals, antagonists, or minor roles which do not have a lasting impact.
The lack of representation in film not only affects the way one chooses to see themselves in their respected community but how society can continuously neglect a group of individuals who are not being represented as they should be.
Cristina Navarro, a UCLA graduate, and mom of three, feels that television has a big impact on society, “people choose to believe whatever they see, therefore when a person of color is always showcased as bad, there will be a pre-existing misconception that all people of color are bad. What is it teaching our children? Why is it that television is telling them, that because of their skin color or racial background they are bad for our society when they are more than capable of being the superhero.”
In the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report, released by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, it states that “1.4 out of 10 lead actors in film are people of color.”
In their graph which spans from 2011-2016, there has only been a .3 percent increase accounting for the 13.9 percent of minorities which had leading roles in comparison to the 86.1 percent lead roles played by white people. But in correlation to the population of minorities in the United States, the 13.9 percent would have to be tripled in order to properly represent the proportionate amount of people who live here.
In Los Angeles, with a population estimated at over 4 million, where groups of minorities are the majority, there seems to be a big issue involving race. There are not enough minorities being cast in lead roles, whether it be that the script was written specifically for the person who does not identify as a minority or that the director is simply biased and feels that they are not capable of living up to the role.
“It is sad to say that we are moving forward everywhere, except in accepting how diverse we are. I want my nieces and nephews to be in awe of how diverse we have come and allowing them to feel proud of their brown skin which is rarely showcased. Movies like Moana and Coco made them feel something they have never felt before, it was a rare opportunity where they did not feel like an outcast,” said Juanita Aguirre, an aunt and mom of four.
With the gradual increase of shows like “Jane the Virgin,” which emphasize the complexity of Latino culture by tackling on issues like immigration, deportation, love, sex before marriage, and independence, the scope for minorities to feel empowered widens.
They are given the chance to relate and have a sense of pride knowing that Gina Rodriguez, an actress of Puerto Rican descent, won a Golden Globe for her people. The people who are usually marginalized and looked down for where they came from.
“This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes,” Rodriguez said in her acceptance speech for her Golden Globe.
TV series like “Jane the Virgin,” “Blackish,” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” not only show the power of a diverse cast but represent the future of what media should be. The emphasis of telling stories from a different perspective to create a social norm that is outside of violence and racial stigmas that have been created by misrepresentation.
One opportunity, one diverse role, one emphasis on the beauty of a culture, will have the social presence to empower a generation of individuals who will embrace everything that makes them unique.