Television Brings Hispanic Stories and Culture to American Viewers
Since 1968, Hispanic Heritage Month – which officially concludes today – has marked a time to celebrate the enormous contributions that the Hispanic and Latinx community has made to the United States’ economy, society, and culture. This year, it’s particularly poignant to recognize the iconic TV shows and characters that have brought Latinx stories and culture to American viewers. An H Code survey of U.S. Hispanics found that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hispanic viewers have significantly increased the amount of TV they consume. In fact, 60% of U.S. Hispanics reported that they are spending three to five more hours streaming video than usual, while 71% reported watching more TV shows.
Hispanic viewers have also trended towards programming in which they can see themselves and their culture. “During COVID-19, it was proven that Hispanic consumers prefer to read, hear, and watch content that is being created by the community, just for them,” noted Gonzalo Del Fa of GroupM Multicultural in his virtual opening remarks at this year’s Hispanic TV Summit.
When it comes to representation on television, the Hispanic and Latinx community has seen tremendous gains over the past decade. Who can forget George Lopez turning his standup act into a hit TV series? Or Jane the Virgin, which successfully combined elements of the telenovela genre, popular among many Hispanic viewers, together with modern comedy and a groundbreaking treatment of the topics of sex and pregnancy. In addition, the increasing number of Latinx characters in both lead and critical supporting roles has marked a significant step forward in the demographic’s representation.
Cable TV networks strive to include more Latinx and diverse voices both on and behind the screen. A few recent hits underscore the industry’s commitment to bringing authentic and multi-faceted representations of Hispanic and Latinx individuals, families and communities to viewers across the nation.
The Starz network’s Vida is a case in point. Created by Tanya Sancho and based on a story by Richard Villegas, Jr., the series follows Lyn and Emma Hernandez, two very different sisters (Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada) coming to terms in very different ways with the barrio of Los Angeles in which they grew up and left behind. Vida offers a unique Latinx perspective on issues of colorism, discrimination and gentrification while telling the Hernandez sisters’ story. In a 2018 interview with Entertainment Tonight, Sancho describes the show as “a love letter to brown females with agency, who are coming to terms with their power and trying to figure that out." The Starz drama also features an all-Latinx cast and writer's room, and many people of color also hold positions behind the scenes.
Then, there is FX’s Mayans M.C. – a spinoff of the popular Sons of Anarchy – which took a Latinx supporting character, Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (played by JD Pardo), and made him the lead. In creating Mayans M.C., a show with a predominantly Latinx cast that told a uniquely Latinx story, showrunner Kurt Sutter knew that he would need to bring authentic Hispanic and Latinx perspectives to every element of production. That led him not only to bring on Elgin James, who is multi-racial, but to also contract a predominantly Hispanic and Latinx crew. While the show’s material still tips into the problematic space of portraying Latinx characters as criminals, James sees this as a chance for the cast and crew to blend history and fiction to tell their own stories. “A lot of the people on ‘Mayans M.C.,’ both in front of the camera and behind the camera, actually grew up in the cycle of poverty and violence and then incarceration,” he told an audience at TCA in 2018.
Hispanic stories and culture also blend together on Discovery’s Hogar de HGTV, a new, Spanish-language destination for food and home enthusiasts. Launched during the pandemic, a time when much of its core audience found themselves hit hard by COVID-19 or under “stay home” orders, Hogar de HGTV caters to the interests and demands of Hispanic and Latinx viewers. The network features Hispanic talent and Spanish-language content that showcases the richness and diversity of Hispanic culture and culinary pursuits. It gives its viewers a chance to both retreat and relate.
More and more, Hispanic and Latinx talent can be found in many shows and networks on TV. As the U.S. Hispanic community grows, now making up more than one fifth of the U.S. population and projected to grow to 30% by 2060, these shows not only empower Hispanic viewers and talent, but also offer a look behind the scenes at Latinx culture and experiences in America.