POV By Marcos Cline-Márquez | Growing up in a bi-cultural home, my views on diversity were molded by a number of things, including my family’s annual summer drive from Mexico City to a farming town of 400 people in central Illinois back in the ’80's. My mother, a child psychologist and deeply proud Mexicana (who much to my father’s and my chagrin has yet to get her U.S. citizenship), and my father, an economist and proud Midwesterner of Irish descent (who much to my mother’s and my chagrin has yet to get his Mexican citizenship) would pack the car and we’d make our way over the border to visit my paternal grandparents for the summer.  Our first stop was Nuevo Laredo, where we would buy the biggest piñata we could find.  Usually it took up three quarters of the back seat. See, my birthday falls mid-summer and none of the country folk in that small farming town had ever seen a piñata until we showed up. Breaking it open was quite the spectacle, one that my great-grandmother hated because “something that pretty shouldn’t be destroyed."  Our second and third most important stops were across the river in Laredo, Texas. Just west of the bridge joining my two countries was a mall that had a McDonald’s and a KB Toys. Heaven for a pair of Mexican kids like my brother and me. 

It was during those summer trips that I first realized that middle America was full of loving, warm-hearted, family-oriented folk (so was Mexico, but we already knew that). The fact that they thought my mom could make a better taco salad because she’s Mexican or that “there are so many Mexicans up in Keokuk (Iowa), they even opened up a Taco Bell for ‘em” didn’t register as racist, just uninformed.  Today I realize that racism and ignorance go hand in hand. What these people lacked was information and knowledge. What they lacked was a window into the culture, life, and innumerable contributions made by Latinos to the United States. Something they (and the rest of the country) still lack today.  When it comes to Latinos, most people continue to be clueless.

Much has changed in the 30+ years since those trips. For starters, Latinos now make up 18.5% of the U.S. population and have become the country’s largest minority.  Here in Los Angeles, we’re right around 50%. One would think that Hollywood would be bending over backwards to cater to us and, to some extent, they are.  Darnell Hunt, dean of the UCLA College division of social sciences and co-author of UCLA’s 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report states that, “As of 2019, both women and minorities are within striking distance of proportionate representation when it comes to lead roles and total cast.” Given the potential dollars earned, Hollywood executives would be silly not to put faces onscreen that reflect their audience. In 2019, the films that performed best at the box office were the most diverse, with casts in the 41% to 50% minority range. Just look at the numbers for Aladdin and Jumanji: The Next Level.

While progress is being made in front of the camera, the stories being told don’t carry the authenticity required to unlock the full potential of the U.S. Hispanic Market. There are two main reasons for this:  1- The content buyers (i.e. the studio and network executives)  who decide what stories get told are not representative of the market, and 2- This same group satisfies their diversity quotas by focusing on what’s in front of the camera, ignoring such equally important factors as screenwriting, directing, wardrobe, and art direction, to name a few.  Data suggests that Hollywood is behind the curve on diversity in C-Level positions (91% white, 82% men), as well as senior executive positions (93% white, 83% men). Same goes for essential crew. In other words, the fundamental structural change that is needed in Hollywood to accurately represent 20% of the population has not happened, leaving the cluelessness largely unchecked.

Hollywood comprises only a fraction of the stories being told on screen today. Consumers absorb content in many different ways, one of which is through advertising. As a commercial producer, I’m here to tell you advertisers fall into the same trap as Hollywood.  While many companies have taken the appropriate step of hiring a multicultural agency to design their messaging, they often continue to look to non-Latino production teams to execute the creative.  Without taking that extra leap, even the multicultural stories being told will remain inauthentic. The lack in Latino below-the-line talent will persist rendering ineffectual our efforts to interpret scripts in a way that is culturally honest.

Successful multi-cultural messaging is not reliant on an individual or a one-dimensional approach, but on a team of people from various backgrounds, each with something to contribute. Whether you are making scripted one-hour dramas or six-second pre-rolls, truly embracing the multicultural market means valuing the contributions of people who may not look, talk, or think like you. Embracing diversity through casting alone, without altering the way we do business behind the camera, is merely pandering. If the faces onscreen are diverse, but their stories inauthentic, they will not seize the attention of this coveted market.  

Ultimately diversity must continue to be addressed. But while those C-Level and Executive positions slowly evolve to look like the rich tapestry of America itself, you, the brand managers, marketing executives, and others, must empower the Latino writers, directors, DP’s, Art Directors, Wardrobe Stylists, and others who daily tap into their personal experience to help tell more faithful and genuine stories to your potential multicultural consumer.  These artists work in an industry where success is largely driven by credits, yet the industry keeps dragging its feet when it comes to giving Latin behind-the-camera talent the opportunity to accumulate them. 

If reaching a diverse consumer base or audience is a priority, ask yourself: How diverse is your advertising supply chain? Are you establishing strategic partnerships with production companies or content providers who make an effort to first understand your brand and then bring their team’s personal experiences to telling your story? How is your vendor management being handled, and who is handling it? More importantly, how is your company story being told (and by whom)? Failure to deal with these issues will only result in the continued cluelessness I’ve witnessed since I was a kid. It’s time to change that.

That’s my story, what’s yours?  Reach out via Twitter, email, or heck, just give me a call. 

Marcos Cline-Márquez at Founder & Executive Producer, Altered.LA