Shaping Hollywood to Be More Inclusive of Latinas, One Story at a Time

Shaping Hollywood to Be More Inclusive of Latinas, One Story at a Time

When was the last time you saw a Latina on the silver screen?

I know it’s been a while since any of us have left our homes to hit a movie theater, but ask yourself, what was the last big-budget movie you saw that even featured or included a Latina? The two examples that come to my mind are Knives Out and Hustlers. A dedicated nurse and friend to a recently murdered patriarch, and a stripper who starts a lucrative operation scamming Wall Street clients.

Both roles embody a lot of stereotypes about Latinas. Ana de Armas is an immigrant. Her mother is undocumented. She’s at the mercy of that rich family. She’s a pawn, a conservative talking point, an example of the “good kind of Latina.” J.Lo is amazing in the role, her pole dance moves are fantastic, but she’s perpetuating the oversexed Latina trope.

Those two characters were pivotal to those films, and that’s huge progress. Not too long ago, Latinas only played minor supporting characters. But there’s more work to be done. This Spring I had the pleasure of teaching a new course at UCLA Extension called “Inclusive Screenwriting.” It’s a course designed to talk about race, representation and crafting inclusive stories for broad audiences. It’s one of the ways where I’m actively fighting to get more people who look like me to be represented in the mainstream media.

Even in my classes that are not about inclusion, I bring examples from a variety of films. In part, because I want everyone to feel represented, but also because I don’t want any of my students who are still finding their voices as writers to feel like there’s no room for their stories.

We need to create that space in the industry for a variety of stories. The only way to do that is to write screenplays that are unique and inclusive. One of the biggest things keeping some of these doors completely shut to underrepresented writers is the old mentality that talent finds a way.

If you are brilliant, if you are good enough, it doesn’t matter who you are, you’ll get there. If someone from a marginalized group has not had their break in the industry, their moment in the sun, that means they just aren’t that talented. This mentality helps a lot of gatekeepers sleep at night without having to take a long hard look at which voices they chose to support and which they chose to keep out of the industry altogether.

This is a sentiment I’ve heard people in positions of power echo throughout the industry for a while. Just be brilliant and you’ll get hired. There’s no systemic discrimination happening here. I have personally met brilliant writers who never had their break.

Even though the numbers don’t lie, movies with a diverse cast make more money than the ones with all-white casts, there’s still resistance to get those films greenlit.

Pointing out this imbalance, talking about race, discrimination and the lack of representation gets really uncomfortable for everyone involved. Usually, white people are overcome with a mix of shame and guilt. Sometimes they get defensive. It’s not their fault they were born in a position of privilege.

As a Latina, I’m not immune to the guilt. There are other groups who have faced far more than my group has. All we have to do is look at our past, you know, late May, early June of this year, when the country and subsequently the world, erupted in protests and solidarity for the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. We know there’s always someone in a worse position.

My teaching experience this past quarter was particularly unique. The COVID-19 pandemic and the stay at home orders forced all courses to be held online. This was a new experience for me and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. None of us were. We were all tense, tired, anxious, and at home full time, trying to juggle family and work. My students showed up raw for the classes.

Still, what made class possible was the space we created to talk about race. Because that was the main idea behind this course, it was okay to come in and talk about race. Not just okay, it was part of the curriculum. We all shared personal experiences, good and bad. I talked about the times I felt I made a difference just by being hired on a project. How my female point of view was heard and addressed, how I created change, even if small, just by being involved with a film and speaking up. I also shared some negative experiences. I showed up ready to be vulnerable with them.

Each of my students brought amazing stories to the class. In every one of those stories, a different aspect of the human experience was explored. All of those stories had an underrepresented character at the center of the story.

I’ve made a habit of asking my students what their biggest takeaways from the class are. Let me share what my biggest takeaway from teaching this course for the first time was: underrepresented communities are reclaiming their stories. They are rejecting the negative stereotypes, the role of token characters, and they are refusing to stay in a supporting role by creating raw and authentic stories.

So, hopefully, the next time you see a Latina in a film, she won’t be one dimensional, hot-headed, oversexed, a servant, or simply the objective of someone’s desire. She will be a fully developed character with an arc, a full human being, with hopes, fears and flaws, just like we are in real life.

Julia Camara is a Brazilian writer/filmmaker. Born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, she freelanced for years as a Portuguese translator for film and television subtitling. She has written and directed several award-winning short films, and teaches Screenwriting at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She can be found on her Instagram @julia.camara.writer

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Women in Texas at the National Women's March, rallying against deadly abortion restrictions.
Lucy Flores

The landscape of abortion rights in the United States has become more restrictive than ever in recent history, particularly in Arizona and Florida, where recent developments represent a major setback for women’s reproductive rights. On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in a 4-to-2 decision to uphold an 1864 law banning abortion from the moment of conception. The only exception is saving the mother’s life, but there are no exceptions for rape or incest under this law.

Just a few days earlier, on April 1, the Florida Supreme Court also ruled in favor of upholding a 6-week abortion ban, which will take effect on May 1. This further reduced the legal threshold for abortions in Florida, which used to be 24 weeks of pregnancy before Republicans passed a law in 2022 banning abortions after 15 weeks. Both of these rulings have sparked intense debate and outrage about their impact on women’s rights.

Overview of the Near-Total Abortion Ban in Arizona

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Medical professionals have spoken out about how dire the situation will become for women with this near-total abortion ban. Dr. Jill Gibson, chief medical director of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, told CNN that this ruling will have “absolutely unbelievable consequences for the patients in our community.” She continued by saying, “Providers need to be able to take care of their patients without fear of legal repercussions and criminalization.”

Representatives from Arizona and other states across the country have also spoken up against this near-total abortion ban.

Video by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramVideo by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Image by Rub\u00e9n Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Until this Arizona Supreme Court decision, abortion had been legal in the state up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. The right to abortion via Roe v. Wade prevented the enforcement of the near-total abortion ban, but since a majority vote in the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe, those opposed to abortion rights had been fighting to enforce the 160-year-old 1864 law.

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An Overview of Florida's Six-Week Abortion Ban

The landscape of abortion in Florida has also undergone a significant change with the enforcement of a 6-week abortion ban, replacing the previous 15-week limit. This ban, similar to Arizona's, severely restricts access to abortion care and poses a significant challenge to reproductive rights in the state. Providers are bracing for a public health crisis due to the increased demand for abortion and limited options for patients.

Practically speaking, a 6-week abortion ban is a near-total abortion ban because pregnant people often don’t even realize they could be pregnant by this early stage. Combined with Florida’s strict abortion requirements, which include mandatory in-person doctor visits with a 24-hour waiting period, it’s nearly impossible for those who may want an abortion to be able to access it before 6 weeks. Not to mention that fulfilling the requirements is particularly challenging for low-income individuals.

Video by theluncheonlawyer on InstagramVideo by theluncheonlawyer on Instagram

Moreover, this Florida law also restricts telemedicine for abortion and requires that medication be provided in person, effectively eliminating mail-order options for abortion pills. While exceptions for rape and incest exist in Florida, the requirements are also strict, asking victims to provide police records or medical records. For victims who don’t always report sexual violence for many different reasons, these exceptions don’t make a difference.

The consequences of Florida’s ban extend to neighboring states with more restrictive abortion laws. For instance, residents of Alabama, facing a total ban on abortion, and Georgia, with its own 6-week abortion ban, have relied on Florida for abortion services. That will no longer be an option, further limiting care alternatives.

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These recent abortion bans in Arizona and Florida are a major setback for women's rights, particularly impacting Latina women who already face barriers to accessing quality healthcare. These bans not only restrict women’s reproductive freedom but also endanger their lives.

Efforts to challenge these bans through legal means and ballot measures are ongoing, but the road ahead is uncertain. While there’s hope for overturning these abortion bans, the challenges of conservative laws and legal battles are formidable. The November ballot in both states will be crucial in determining the future of abortion rights and access for all.

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