Television Oblivious to 'La Vida Latina'

It is hard to believe in a world saturated with Ricky Martin's "La Vida Loca" and Jennifer Lopez's "If You Had My Love," that Hollywood television executives are oblivious to the Latin craze in multi-media. But according to La Raza spokeswoman Lisa Navarrete, Latino actors and actresses make up fewer than two percent of the principles in this fall's television line-up.La Raza, along with other national Latino organizations, is hoping a Latino boycott of network television programming---set to end this Sunday, September 25---is giving the television industry a taste of the power of the Latino viewer/consumer. The boycott, or "brown-out," is one of the many strategies Latinos are using to draw attention to the color barrier in Hollywood---a color barrier that is not just black and white.While Latinos make up 11 percent of the US population, they make up 20 percent of the population in the Southwest and Florida, and will comprise 25 percent of the entire US population by the year 2025. But turn on your television set and you will see a paltry few. La Raza counts Martin Sheen (playing the president of the US in West Wing), Bruno Campos, NBC (Jesse), Hector Elizondo, CBS (Chicago Hope) and Cheech Marin, CBS (Nash Bridges) among the small set of Latino principles who will be living la TV loca this fall.The controversy cracked the mainstream media during last week's Emmy Awards, when Colombian born John Leguizamo accepted the award for his one-man-show Freak, which airs on HBO. During the ceremony Leguizamo made the crowd laugh by calling HBO the "Hispanic Box Office." After the ceremony he explained that he was inspired to write his own show after being offered one-too-many roles as a "drug-dealing cocaine Mafia prince.""The roles Latinos get are not breakthrough. They're not the upscale Latin people I meet in my life. They don't represent the doctors, the lawyers, the writers. . . . It is changing gradually. But I think Latino people have to do that themselves."Latino buying power does not appear to be the problem. In August the nation's largest Spanish language television network, Univision Communications, Inc., reported that its advanced advertising sales increased this year by 42 percent---to a total of $425 million. UCI's president, Henry Cisneros, praised the advertising community for "directly targeting the burgeoning Hispanic population."But Latino leaders are not content with Spanish-language "narrowcasting." They want to be represented in network "broadcasting" as part of the larger, English speaking TV Nation.Latino groups, convening in Washington last week for Hispanic Heritage Week, even called on Congress to put pressure on Hollywood. Representative Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Texas, leading a two-day seminar on Latinos and entertainment, called on his colleagues in Congress to shame Hollywood into hiring more minority actors and writers.Meanwhile, famous Latino actors like James Olmos and Jimmy Smits are heading competing groups which have applied for a three-year grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to develop Latino-oriented programming for public television. This strategy, similar to the NAACP's tactic of buying 100 shares of in ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, addresses the problem by going straight to the sources of production.The NAACP, in fact, endorses the September television "brown-out," and has invited Latino groups to join the NAACP in a boycott of television during the entire month of November---the crucial network "sweeps" month. Just like La Raza, the NAACP is concerned about the lack of minority representation on netweork television. NAACP president Kweisi Mfume says that his organization is even considering possible litigation against the networks for violating the 1934 Federal Communications Act---an act that mandates that the airwaves belong to the public.Not all Latino leaders and organizations have pledged to join the boycott. Some explain that they have "more important" issues to focus on. But in America, where the average American spends one-third of a life-time soaking up cathode-rays, what could be more important than television?Moreover, the television "brownout" proposed by La Raza is a classic example of minority consumers having to demonstrate---collectively---their buying power. And, just as the Civil Rights boycotts convinced conservative business elites that it cost them money to discriminate against African-American consumers, perhaps this fall's TV activism will convince Hollywood that there are pesos to be made by representing la vida Latina.

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