Centering Hispanic Stories in Film and TV: How Representation Drives Viewership
Associate Dir., Research & Media Insights
Oct 12, 2021
In May 2021, Samba TV published an analysis on the racial diversity (or lack thereof) featured in top U.S. TV shows. To put it plainly, we found that representation on television’s top shows was severely lacking. Only 24% of top-billed actors were non-white, compared to 41% of the U.S. indentifying as an ethnicity other than white. On top of that, we found evidence that diverse households prefer watching shows with diverse leads, making the status quo even less tenable for studios and advertisers aiming for mass appeal.
One of the most striking disparities between TV representation and the census was that of Hispanic actors. In the U.S., 18% of the population identifies as Hispanic, whereas only 3% of top-billed actors across the shows surveyed were Hispanic. We also analyzed the TV hours consumed by each ethnic group, and determined that Hispanic households were watching 16% of the total. In other words, Hispanic viewers are consuming a much larger slice of the pie relative to their representation on TV.
While overall representation of Hispanic actors is lacking, an increasing number of shows and movies are hitting the mark and paving the way for a shift in the right direction. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Samba TV took a closer look at some of the recent movies and series starring Hispanic actors and centering Hispanic stories. Who is viewing this content and how might that differ from other popular movies and shows?
Everyone loves a spin on an old classic, or at least 1.1M U.S. households were intrigued enough to watch Cinderella on Amazon Prime Video within its first three days streaming. This made it Amazon’s third most popular release of the year, with Camila Cabello bringing new life to the iconic title role.
Compared against other top Prime Video releases of the year (Without Remorse, The Tomorrow War, and Jolt), Cinderella was the only one to over-index among households with Hispanic viewers (+4%). While all four films over-indexed with households with Black viewers (the Michael B. Jordan-fronted thriller Without Remorse by +95%), Cinderella was the only film of the four to over-index with both Hispanic and Black viewers (+23%), highlighting its draw among diverse households.
In The Heights
HBO Max’s In The Heights generated a lot of buzz this summer - both positive and negative - driving 693K streams within its first three days. The film was adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical of the same name, and centers around a Dominican community in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Starring Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, and Leslie Grace, the film has drawn both acclaim for portraying multi-faceted Hispanic characters, as well as criticism for lack of Afro-Latino representation.
In The Heights over-indexed by 30% among households with Hispanic viewers, 22% among households with Asian viewers, and 1% among households with Black viewers - highlighting its ability to attract a diverse audience, similar to Cinderella. California, the state with the largest Hispanic population in the U.S., watched at a rate of about 40% above that of the U.S. overall. The film also over-indexed in Florida, the state with the third largest Hispanic population. Of the top three other films released by HBO Max in Q2 2021 (Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, and The Conjuring 3), it was the only one to over-index in Florida.
FX Paving The Way
Beyond film, some linear networks and streaming services have placed more emphasis on Hispanic representation this past year. In particular, FX has led the charge with hits like Mayans M.C. and Pose - two shows with very different content, but similarly diverse casts. Of the two, Mayans M.C. drew the larger audience, with its season three premiere on March 16 driving 1.1M tune-ins within its first four days.
A crime drama that takes place in a fictional California-Mexico border town, Mayans M.C. over-indexed by 29% among households with Hispanic viewers. Comparatively, the other top FX shows of the year (Snowfall, American Horror Story, and What We Do In the Shadows) each under-indexed among Hispanic viewers, despite generally high viewership and diverse draw across various age and ethnic groups. Expectedly, given the plot, Mayans M.C. over-indexed dramatically in California (+67%), along with other heavily Hispanic states like New Mexico (+29%) and Texas (+12%). Of the top FX shows, it was the only one to over-index in Texas.
While the work is far from done, it's clear that representation drives diverse viewership. And with more networks and filmmakers creating authentic Hispanic stories led by thoughtfully portrayed characters, there's movement in the right direction.