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SAG Details Latinos' Continuing Struggle in Hollywood

The Industry * Minority advocacy groups lack credibility, says an anonymous studio executive in the report.

May 25, 2000|DANA CALVO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Screen Actors Guild on Wednesday released the second, more detailed volume of a study on race in Hollywood that contained a discouraging assessment and a stinging comment by an executive on the efforts last year to level the playing field for minorities.

Even though the national Latino population has increased five times since 1970, the share of jobs available to its professional actors remains at 2%. Latinos reported winning only one day of acting work each month, according to the study, "Still Missing: Latinos In and Out of Hollywood," which covers television, movies and other entertainment such as the new interactive media.

But as activists last year tried to bring these issues to the forefront, their determination was ill-handled, many network and studio insiders have said privately. Those sentiments were captured by SAG in an anonymous commentary in the report.

"What has hurt Latino and black efforts to pressure the industry is that these minority organizations have lost credibility," the unnamed studio executive told researchers. "We hear about [television viewer] boycotts, and these boycotts aren't even conducted during [ratings] sweeps week. Or we hear about a press conference where Latinos are going to boycott a show, and the Nielsen ratings don't reflect a drop in viewership."

The study was based on 1,200 questionnaire responses from Latino SAG members and elaborated on many of the findings in the original report released last May. The study reveals that not one Latino executive served in a creative decision-making position at either the television networks or movie studios, and that more than half of the movie studios did not have a Latino in their executive ranks.

"This study gives the industry perspective, which shows that they really don't know the market that's out there," said Harry P. Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute in Claremont, which conducted the study for SAG.

One of the trends Pachon found troubling was the low percentage of Latino actors participating in interactive media, a segment within entertainment that most believe will turn into a heavy growth industry. Only 5.3% of those surveyed have seen an increase in employment in interactive media during their career.

"The fact that they haven't participated is very disturbing," Pachon said. "It could mean that in 10 years we'll be discussing this issue once again--the lack of Latinos in this industry."

A large section of the study was soft science, with Latino SAG members responding to questions about their perceptions. About half of the respondents, for example, were unsure whether their Latino surname had an impact on their ability to try out for or win roles.

In related news earlier in the week, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts condemned the barely visible Latino presence in this fall's television network lineup, which was announced last week. By the NHFA's count, Latino roles on prime time include Shelley Morrison, who plays a Latina maid on NBC's "Will & Grace"; Laura Ceron, as a nurse on NBC's "ER"; and Diego Serrano, who plays a hair salon shampooer on Fox's "Time of Your Life."

"We are down to a maid, a nurse and a shampoo guy on network television," said the organization's president, Felix Sanchez. With the cancellation of CBS' "Chicago Hope" with Hector Elizondo, "Jesse" with Bruno Campo and "Suddenly Susan" with Nesto Carbonell, three central Latino actors have now departed prime time.

Last season also saw the departure of several high-profile Latino actors, among them Jimmy Smits (ABC's "NYPD Blue"), Benjamin Bratt (NBC's "Law & Order") and Jon Seda (NBC's canceled "Homicide: Life on the Street").

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