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Latinos Vanish From Primetime
By Roger Armbrust
October 9, 2001
A national Hispanic arts-foundation survey finds Latino characters disappearing from primetime television.
"As the Latino population continues to grow in the United States, Latino representation on television is steadily decreasing," states Prime Time for Latinos, a 21-page survey recently published by the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. "Young Latino viewers trying to understand how they fit into the larger U.S. culture are presented with a bleak picture of relative unimportance."
The report confides that the lack of Latino roles for the 2000-01 primetime TV season indicates that network executives believe Latinos "are not a significant segment of the U.S. population. What's more, by relegating Latino characters to mostly secondary and non-recurring roles, these television programs create the impression that Latinos are not worthy of society's attention."
The federal government's 2000 census data shows that Latinos make up 12% of the national population and 16% of the youth population, the study stresses. Yet primary recurring roles for Latinos "comprise only 2% of the primetime television population, and their representation has actually decreased since the 1999 season, when it stood at 3%." The actual number of primary recurring characters fell from 14 in 1999 to eight in 2000, according to the study. The number of "plot-relevant" Latino characters fell from 42 to 30 between '99 and 2000.
Latinas accounted for only 2% of the 782 female characters appearing in 2000 primetime, the study notes.
Portrayal of Latinos in primetime showed characters "often identified as 'sexy' or interested in sex," and in two cases Latino heritage was the focus of humor.
The foundation is quick to point out that--by dismissing the growing importance of Latinos in the U.S. population--networks are missing a valuable viewing audience for advertisers. Between 1993 and 1999, Latino TV households increased 27%, from 22.2 million to 28.3 million, the report says, citing Nielsen Media Research as the statistical source. Latino households also watch TV an average of four hours more per week than other households.
"There is no question that it makes good business sense for network executives to reach out to Latinos, as their total spending is estimated to exceed $561 billion this year," the foundation notes.