In the last few months, I have read countless articles on the hiring practices of African American females by Saturday Night Live. It all started in November with an open letter generated by the civil rights group ColorofChange.org addressed to SNL’s legendary producer Lorne Michaels, asking “Why Doesn’t ‘SNL’ Cast Black Women?”
In an Associated Press interview, Lorne Michaels responded to the groups outrage with: “It’s not like it’s a priority for us…It will happen. I’m sure it will happen…You don’t do anyone a favor if they’re not ready.”
Oh Lord…did he really say favor? Ay yay yay.
Since then, just two months after the sparring began, SNL has hired three African American females: two writers and one performer.
Great… Right? WRONG!
Not far behind was another open letter — this one from The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA), and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA). Their staunch complaint called the show’s lack of Latino cast members “segregation in the digital age.”
More articles surfaced, followed by other articles, followed by tweets, followed by status updates, followed by retweets, followed by op-ed pieces, followed by… You get the picture. Like a reality TV show, it’s hard to keep up with, but juicy enough to have to.
As the Twittersphere and the land of Facebook went LOCO, other ethnic groups weighed in as well, leaving such comments as, “Where are the Asians?”
Another comment I saw tweeted, “Latinos are jumping on the black bandwagon,” and that is what prompted me to write this piece.
It’s not that we (Latinos) are jealous of the progress of the black community. We are not jumping on any bandwagon. Rather, we are, and have been, pushing that same wagon.
We understand the importance of diversity in the media within our communities, because we too were little kids once looking for hope in the only place to which we could escape: our entertainment.
As a kid, I related most to Norman Lear’s sitcom, Good Times. Maybe because the buildings reminded me of the Brownsville, Brooklyn ghetto I was living in. Or maybe because the cast was comprised of black faces which I had all around me. But Good Times did not just represent blacks. It represented my family as well. I related immensely! It wasn’t like just being a fan of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, which I was. It was special. It was important. It was about me, and people like me. It was a comedy that in its truth made me cry! Turning poverty from shameful to righteous.
Our trials, our inability to get work, the feeling of inequality that loomed. Even at a young age, you can feel social inequality, prejudice, and injustice.
I was 11 years old when my Mom and Dad took me to see Scarface. Yes, that’s right, Scarface at 11… And while you might think it wrong for parents to take their 11 year old daughter to see that movie, first please consider that I lived in the crime capital of NYC and saw drug deals, shootings, etc. long before I saw the film.
I had no idea what Scarface was about going in. I wanted to flee during the opening scenes that looked like a documentary: A ship coming to shore and the Spanish speaking voice over of Castro. I was thinking, “Oh no! I have to see a Spanish language movie!”
But within minutes, I began to get lost in the story of Tony Montana, a guy just trying to make a better life. It had a profound impact on me, because I was so surprised and inspired by just the sight of a Latino on the big screen. The subject matter wasn’t important. I didn’t even know that Pacino wasn’t Latino (and thank God I didn’t). All I knew is that I could see people like my family, and me ACTING in a MOVIE. It gave me HOPE.
As an actress in my 20s, I remember being informed of the Mastro and Greenberg Prime Time Television study conducted in 2000 which found that compared to Caucasians and African Americans, Latinos were under-represented on primetime television, where they comprised only 3% of television characters.
In 2010, another study titled Portrayal of Racial Minorities on Prime Time Television: A Replication of the Mastro and Greenberg Study a Decade Later found only 5% of all television actors observed were Latino, only a 2% increase from the prior study a decade earlier. Meanwhile, the representation of African Americans remained constant at 16% of all television primetime actors.
This while the US census, in that same year, sited the Hispanic population as the larger of the two.
Furthermore, the new study said, “Viewers still see Latinos as having heavy accents, with little articulation skills, and as generally not well respected—especially compared to either African Americans or whites.” The study concluded, “Latino representations have lost the most ground… Latinos continue to be in a distinct minority.”
Those facts stir this Latina to the core.
As a Latina actress, I have always struggled with casting people and producers. I am not ethnic enough to play the exaggerated Latina roles, while I am simultaneously not white enough to be seen for the non-ethnic parts. Which is it? Do you see me as white, or are you ready to accept my shade as Latina?
And I just love the auditioners who ask, “Where are you from?”
To which I respond, “Brooklyn.”
They continue, “No. I mean where are your parents from?”
To which I answer, “Brooklyn,” while thinking, “Wait… Are my parents up for this job too?”
“No, I mean, where is your Spanish from?” they so sensitively wonder.
According to the rules set forth by the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation for Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) that question is DISCRIMINATORY!
Speaking of SAG-AFTRA. I am fortunate enough to have performed on camera for dozens of commercials…both Spanish and English language. You should know that organizations like the Hispanic Organization for Latino Actors (HOLA) has been fighting the pay scale for National Spanish language commercials versus their English counterparts for years.
It can be the same commercial, appear more times and on what Nielson determines to be the highest rated program of the night and still Spanish language commercial performers receive a “per cycle payment” rather than a “pay-per-play” structure received on the English language counterpart. The four major Spanish language networks are either paid as program use or Wild Spot. For Wild Spot residuals, the television markets are weighted differently than in the English language market to account for the cities with large Hispanic populations.
What’s all that mean? What does it say of our value…as Latinos in entertainment?
But our value is not only questioned by our onlookers…Let’s not forget those hermanos and hermanas that come to discount my Latino experience because of the lighter shade of my tan… It’s no wonder we are torn apart and have not ONE voice. We can’t hear ourselves over each other.
We are put into boxes and then thrown around. It’s enough to give you a pounding headache! That pounding is what led me to writing…Not just this article but my own truth, because no one can ever take that away.
It wasn’t until I wrote and performed my autobiographical one-woman play, Brownsville Bred that I got people to glimpse at my experience.
I had no idea the success that my play would encounter. I conceived and wrote it specific to my experience as a Puerto Rican girl from Brownsville, Brooklyn–a girl who never fit in. But the more audiences I performed for, the more I came to this beautiful realization: the more specific a story is, the more universal it becomes. We have more in common than we think.
My play garnered a book packaging deal with Parachute Publishing and I have been writing it ever since. Now as my packager and I wait patiently for a mass publisher to love and believe in the book as much as we do, I continue to do what brought me to that hard to find place of satisfaction: write.
And so now I write, pieces like this one when I NEED to release, and the comedy web series, Reasons Y I’m Single. The show which I also direct and produce as an affordable outlet to depict great women including the character of Doris Martinez, a Latina that is fervent about her Latinaness and yet equally discriminatory. Because the irony begs a question and creates the funny, I have to hold a mirror to it. She has my Latina zeal without my pragmatism or my observing ego.
Doris is not always right. In fact, she is often wrong, because in Reasons Y I’m Single, I don’t need Doris Martinez to be right. I just need her to EXIST. To prove we exist! She keeps me motivated and makes me proud. Reasons Y I’m Single is not a Latino show. It’s a show about three single women, who are lonely and just trying to find a place to exist. To fit. Each character is a fish out of water. Their experiences are sometimes paranoid, always triggered by our human experiences, and riddled with the best survival mechanism I have ever known: self-deprecating humor.
So there you have it. One more opinion piece born from the hiring practices of SNL and the importance of Latinos being represented in entertainment. And let’s not forget the Asians.
So let’s keep pushing the wagon… matter of fact, let’s ask others to jump on, so we can take turns, and provide needed rest in between, so the wagon never has to stop travelling until we reach our destination.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON REASONS Y I’M SINGLE, visit www.ReasonsY.com
For more about Brownsville Bred visit www.BrownsvilleBred.com