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In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re exploring this issue and highlighting one Latino who is working toward change.
It’s About Time
In summer 2023, the smash hit Blue Beetle made its debut at movie theaters nationwide.
The movie, which depicts a Mexican-American superhero, is one example of how Latino representation on the big screen and behind the scenes via directors, writers, etc., is improving.
While many rave about the cultural significance of the movie, one question remains:
“It’s 2023. What took so long?” said Edward Dennis, artist and children’s book author.
Edward is right to ask this question. Latinos contribute a great deal to the US economy and culture. They deserve an equitable place in the spotlight.
But that’s simply not happening – and conditions haven’t improved even in recent years.
In 2022, just 5.2% of speaking characters on screen were Latino compared to nearly 68% of white speaking characters, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
Even more troubling, nearly half of the top 100 movies in 2022 and 2018 rendered Latinos invisible.
Latinos are also largely absent behind the scenes of movie making. Just 4% of directors were Latino in 2022, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
This lack of Latino representation has consequences.
“Not seeing anyone dark like you and only seeing Caucasian characters in video games, cartoons, or on TV makes you think, ‘I don’t belong here,’” explained Edward, who has first-hand experience feeling this way as a child. “My people always seem to be in the background [in the media]. They’re not in the frame and that’s how you start to feel in real life.”
With young people consuming more and more media, Edward worries about the psychological effects of Latinos being underrepresented.
“I definitely think not seeing yourself in the media is psychologically hurtful, and it definitely developed me into the type of person where it’s almost like me versus the world,” he said.
Giving Latinos a Bigger Spotlight
For the last 10 years, Edward has taken his frustration toward this issue of Latino underrepresentation and turned it into art.
He recently signed a contract for his second book in the series, which will feature the same Latino character navigating his career as a farmworker. Book three is also on the horizon.
The aim of his upbeat writing and illustrations is to help more Latino children “see themselves” in books and develop empathy toward others.
Edward’s mission is important for several reasons.
Like in movies, Latinos are vastly underrepresented in children’s books. For example, just 6% of the books received at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2022 had significant Latino characters.
Further, diversity in children’s book authors is also lacking. In 2022, only 11% of children’s books received at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center had at least one Latino creator.
Luckily, Edward is at a turning point in his career to help increase the representation of Latinos in the media.
His books are flying off the shelves, and he is currently a finalist for a Netflix grant to turn his first book into a short film.
Additionally, after the success of his first video game, Super Ubie Island, Edward and his team have been busy working with Microsoft to produce Super Ubie Island 2, which will be available on XBOX and other gaming platforms.
Through all his projects, increasing diversity has remained at the forefront of Edward’s goals, since Latinos and people of color are less likely than their White peers to get their hard work recognized.
“What is special about these opportunities is that Microsoft and Netflix gave us a shot because they wanted to support diversity in their respective fields,” Edward said.
Edward’s work means so much to him, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“With my books and other projects, I want kids to see how special [Latinos] are and how hard we work for this country – even though we don’t always get the recognition – and how resilient we are,” Edward said. “I’m hoping that any child of color that reads my books will be uplifted and inspired.”