Hollywood hasn’t always shown much interest in telling stories about Latino and Hispanic characters and communities. But Hispanic moviegoers are still some of the most loyal in the nation, according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s annual Theatrical Market Statistics Report, released on Wednesday.
Almost 18 percent of Americans are of Hispanic or Latino origin, but they make up 23 percent of frequent moviegoers, defined as people who buy a movie ticket at least once a month. African Americans and Asian Americans (as well as people of Middle Eastern and Native American descent) are slightly overrepresented among frequent moviegoers as well: African Americans are 12 percent of the population and 15 percent of frequent moviegoers, while Asian Americans and members of other ethnic groups are 8 percent of the population and 11 percent of frequent moviegoers. White Americans, by contrast, are underrepresented among frequent-moviegoers, even in a media environment where the characters we see on screen are overwhelmingly white: They are 62 percent of the population, but just 51 percent of frequent moviegoers.
All this, despite the fact that Latinos and Hispanics (as well as members of other racial and ethnic groups) continue to be underrepresented on-screen. In 2015, just 5.3 percent of characters in the top-grossing movies were Latino. Almost 4 percent of characters were Asian, and 4.9 percent were of Middle Eastern or Native American descent or were multiracial.
It’s true those numbers suggest that members of minority communities will continue to go to the movies even if they don’t see themselves represented on-screen. But they also suggest an opportunity for the studios that make movies and the theater networks that screen them to get already-loyal audiences to come back to the cinema even more frequently.
National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian said that diversity was good for his member companies’ bottom line. The Theatrical Market Statistics Report showed a bump in per-capita movie attendance in 2016 among African American and Asian American audiences; MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd suggested that the former was driven in part by movies such as Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s “Fences,” which brought in $57.5 million at the box office, and “Hidden Figures,” which has made $165.7 million.
“Diversity is a great thing for our business, diversity in the movies, diversity in people making the movies, diversity in people attending the movies,” Fithian said, pointing to the “Fast & Furious” franchise as a model for the global audience that movies can garner by embracing diversity. “It was gigantic in part because it was a fantastically fun franchise, but also because the cast of the movie reflected the population of the world.”
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