DGA Summit Explores Advancing Latinos In Film And TV

More than 100 DGA members and industry decision-makers attended a Directors Guild’s summit Saturday that examined the underrepresentation of Latinos in the film and TV industry, and ways to increase their numbers. Latinos and Hispanics make up 18.5% of the U.S. population, but far less than half that percentage directed episodes of dramatic TV shows last season.

“The chronic lack of inclusion by the studios and networks is something our guild has been fighting against for a very long time, as we’ve pushed for meaningful change,” DGA president Lesli Linka Glatter said in her opening remarks. “It’s mind-boggling to think that despite such a high Latino population in this country, especially here in the industry’s home of Los Angeles, that so many of the gatekeepers continue to bury their heads in the sand on this issue. Last season, our annual inclusion report found that just 7% of dramatic TV episodes were directed by Latinos. That number has barely changed over the years. And while our panelists today will take a deep dive into the many factors and potential solutions to this injustice, there are some things we know are not a factor – like talent and compelling stories. There is certainly no lack of either across this vibrant, multi-faceted community, as evidenced by all the compelling work of our Latino members.”

The virtual summit included a pair of panels, followed by a networking mixer where members had one-on-one sessions with studio executives, producers and agents. The summit was sponsored by the DGA’s Latino Committee and by its Career Advancement Sub-Committee.

After thanking committee co-chairs Ed Ornelas, Jay Torres and Alicia Zaragoza, Glatter turned the meeting over to Zaragoza, who delivered an “Identity Statement” that revealed how the Latino population is the second-largest demographic watching film, TV and streaming content in the U.S. but remains the most underrepresented population telling stories in entertainment.

“This cannot continue,” Zaragoza said. “It’s time to elevate and amplify our community. We have much ground to cover. With a unified front, we will begin to change the story, right here, right now.”

The summit’s first panel, titled “DGA Latino Roadmap to Inclusion,” was a solutions-based conversation to address concerns and create pathways to employment for Latino members. Moderated by Ornelas, it included DMZ executive producer Roberto Patino, Heyday Films president Jeffrey Clifford and WME agent Daniela Federman.

The panel discussed concerns about the current state of the industry and how to create pathways to employment for the guild’s Latino members.

Patino recalled his early days in the industry and the responsibility he feels to help others along the way. “Every day when I walk into the office, I’m very cognizant of the fact that when I was in the mailroom, I was the only Latin assistant, the only one who spoke Spanish. I feel honored to represent the talent that I do, and I feel an incredible responsibility to represent that talent well.”

Clifford suggested that the process of opening doors can also begin with belief in one’s self. “It’s about opportunity and about pipeline and believing you [a Latino director] are capable of doing that.”

“There’s a wealth of talent and a desire to hire talent, but a dearth of talent circulating the suites of the places that push the ‘go ahead’ buttons,” said Federman. “This is where the onus falls on the community: We have to celebrate and talk about each other’s work. We have to pass it around; we can’t rely on existing structures… because there is only so much that network executives or studio executives will be willing to bet on.”

In the second panel, “Increasing Latino Visibility,” industry professionals discussed their observations and insights regarding the lack of Latino representation in mainstream media. Panelists included UCLA Director of Research & Civic Engagement Dr. Ana-Christina Ramón, CAA agent Jon Cassir, Amazon Studios executive Lorenza Muñoz and journalist Carlos Aguilar.

The panel, moderated by director Patricia Riggen (Dopesick), explored the lack of visibility for Latinos in the industry, where it originated, why it remains so pervasive, and offered suggestions on what can be done to reverse it.

Ramón touched on a perception problem that exists in the industry and how it can be corrected. “We have so many sub-groups within the community, the question of representation becomes very difficult to talk about. A show that depicts Chicanos in East L.A. might not speak to the Cubans in Miami, and so on. But the industry still thinks that one thing should fit all. It’s not just about the agencies, it’s not just about the studios, it’s about all of us working together to build this [community of Latino creators].”

“And once you make your first movie,” Aguilar said, “there’s Latino directors that spend a decade without making a second movie because the first one maybe wasn’t the biggest hit. It’s a complex problem that takes a village to solve, but I think we’re being more intentional about it.”

Muñoz said that “It’s really incumbent on us as representatives and advocates to talk to our clients and really say to them the walls and barriers of this are crumbling down and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be looking at really well-known library titles from different studios and elsewhere and saying, ‘What’s your version of this story?’ We can actually tap into a whole new market.”

Cassir said that “We need to be pushier, across the board. Everybody needs to be more aggressive in their language, in how they’re trying to further Latinos getting hired on different jobs.”

The webinar portion of the summit ended with closing remarks by Latino Committee Career Advancement Sub-Committee members Regina Ainsworth and SJ Main Muñoz.

“We represent one in five Americans, so 100% of that money’s being left on the table. There’s so much more reach and so much more power we have as a community,” Ainsworth said.

“No matter how non-uniform our community may be, how diverse out histories, our voices are rich; and our cinematic visions are unique, special, and valued,” Muñoz said. “Together, the DGA Latino Community can stand united and continue to set goals for our future. Mas fuertes, juntos.”

Following the webinar, the summit moved into addressing some of the issues raised via a mixer, where Latino DGA members met online with industry decision-makers, including executives and representatives from Disney, Endeavor, HBO, Paramount, Netflix; agents from Paradigm, Verve and RBEL; and executive producers and unit production managers from various projects.

The Latino Committee was created as a networking group to advance career and job opportunities for Latino DGA members by improving craft skills, networking, and making Latinos better known to the Hollywood creative community.

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