LOS ANGELES – In a room filled with several influential Hollywood figures, “Barbie” star America Ferrera used her platform to address an ongoing industry issue: Latino representation in film.
“According to the numbers, the dominant narrative our industry puts into the world is that Latinos either don’t exist or they are poor, immigrant criminals,” the Emmy winner said before a gathered crowd Thursday at the Academy Women’s Luncheon.
The actor said she was taken aback after she learned that Hispanics and Latinos remained underrepresented in film over the past 16 years, according to a recent report by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
Despite the growth the Hispanic population in the U.S., Ferrera pointed out the study found that similar growth hadn’t happened in film. In last year’s movies, the study found that more than half of Latinos appearing on screen were depicted as criminals.
“I’m personally devastated yet again,” said Ferrera, who is of Honduran descent.
Ferrera was the keynote speaker at the event held at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures with attendees including Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, Kristen Stewart, Rita Wilson, Patty Jenkins, Eva Longoria, Lily-Rose Depp, Riley Keough, Leslie Mann along with Grammy and Oscar winner H.E.R.
Ferrera said the industry’s “system of dehumanization” has been felt in numerous ways in various communities, including Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander, African American and LGBTQ+ communities.
“We must be resolute in our commitment to caring for all of us, to demanding opportunity, access, equal pay, investment and possibility for every woman,” Ferrera said.
The actor is known for her roles in “Superstore,” the “How to Train Your Dragon” animated franchise and “Ugly Betty,” which won her an Emmy in 2007, becoming the first Latina woman to win the best lead actress award. She also stepped behind the camera as an executive producer and director for Netflix’s “Gentefied” and “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.”
Over the years, Ferrera has been vocal about the lack of Latino representation in media. With her husband Ryan Piers William and actor Wilmer Valderrama, she helped create Harness, a nonprofit organization aimed at building community between activists and grassroots leaders who leverage the art of storytelling to empower change.
“What I know today is that none of us needs to do it alone,” she said. “I know that together we can grow our collective possibilities, and strengthen a global community of women storytellers, artists and truth tellers.”
Thursday’s event was held to bring together women from all facets of the filmmaking community. It was also a celebration of the Academy Gold Fellowship – a one-year program for two emerging filmmakers who will each receive $35,000 and mentorship.
Annette Bening, actor and former academy governor, introduced Erica Eng as the fellowship recipient. Eng is a fifth-generation Chinese American director.
Before Ferrera’s speech, academy President Janet Yang said the event was a cause for celebration and called the energy in the room “electric” after Hollywood’s actors union reached a deal Wednesday with studios to end their strike, which lasted more than six months.
“We are all eager to get back to work,” Yang said. “We at the academy are particularly thrilled that our industry is once again united.”
Many actors in attendance dressed in Chanel clothing, jewelry, shoes, makeup and accessories. The luxury fashion brand, which sponsored Thursday’s event, has had a long association with film since founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel saw an opportunity to put her designs in the movies and empower women in film.
Ferrera paid homage to the event for highlighting women filmmakers and the efforts behind creating resources for those in the fellowship.
“Through this important fellowship, the academy and Chanel give female filmmakers access to career-changing resources and mentorship,” she said. “It’s some of the ingredients that have gotten all of us where we are today.”