Nielsen’s Stacie De Armas and Actor Robin De Jesús on Latin TV Representation
Robin de Jesús is a hot actor who received rave reviews for his performance in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s production of tick, tick… BOOM! Stacie de Armas, Nielsen’s Senior Vice President, Diverse Intelligence & Initiatives, has been named one of the most powerful and influential Latinos in entertainment.
These two Hollywood powerhouses are coming together to share their thoughts after Nielsen released a study titled “Being Seen on Screen: The Importance of Quantity and Quality in Representation in Television.” The report reveals that on-screen diversity is at an all-time high across cable, broadcast and streaming platforms. He also notes that nearly a quarter of viewers surveyed think the portrayal is inaccurate.
This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Stacie, what surprises you most about the latest report in the Nielsen Diverse Intelligence series?
Stacie de Armas: How amazing is Spanish language television for providing great intersectional representation of Afro-Latinos and LGBTQ Latinos, as well as gender representation. The other side of the coin is that we don’t see much on television in English. These are two different stories. I don’t want to minimize the importance of either.
When you look at the report as a whole, you see that big number in broadcast TV, right? Wow, 22% [share of screen among the top 10 recurring cast members]. This is remarkable. But when you peel off the layers, it looks a little different. Representation on television broadcast in English is around 6%. This is disappointing, because we Latinos make up nearly 20% of the American population.
Does the presence of Spanish-language media allow mainstream television to get by?
Stacie de Armas: I do not think so. They are discreet and different. On Spanish language television you have this wonderful genre representation and great genre coverage. If you think about how people are portrayed, you can be anything – a news anchor, an action hero, a doctor, or a lawyer. Because the environment is entirely in Spanish, you tend to have Latinos. The East still room for better representation among Afro or Asian Latinos.
But English-language television, still the most watched, is so limited. You don’t see those big roles where Latinos educate the public, help solve this crime, or show who we can be and deserve to find love and get married.
Even with the inclusion of Spanish content, overall [Hispanic/Latinx] representation is about 10%. It’s still dramatically low. This gives you an idea of how dismal the representation is on all TVs, regardless of where you get your content.
Robin, you have been acting for over 20 years. How did it go for you as a creative?
Robin of Jesus: The thing that makes me most humbled – and repeatedly shocking – is how white supremacy presents itself in different ways. You come to a point in your career, and you think, ‘Oh, I beat that’ and then you walk into another room. Most of my early work was with people of color. Norwalk, Connecticut, my hometown, had a large Latino community. I grew up in a place where “we all help each other”. I knew community was important, but I didn’t know it was a choice.
When I came to New York and started working with black and brown people, I was so happy. Then the career improved, strengthened. I have more work. Rooms became larger, less diverse and predominantly white. In my 20s, I found myself shrinking. Now in my thirties, it took me a while to unpack all that stuff. I had to connect with my mental, spiritual and physical health to really understand things.
It’s interesting to observe the conversations we have, as if they were new. As if, when I came here 20 years ago, people in the business weren’t saying to me, “Oh, this is such a good time for you, as a person of color. There’s been an increase in representation, obviously, but I keep walking into a room that looks different, but is the same.
Do these new distribution avenues like Apple TV, Hulu, Peacock and Paramount present more opportunities?
Stacie de Armas: There are absolutely more opportunities. We find that inclusive creative content itself is a draw. Because there are more platforms, more content is going green. Let me be clear on Robin’s point. There are still huge obstacles, but there are more opportunities. Data nerds connect the dots. Representation on screen is delivering an audience. We can see that people are attracted to more diverse content. With numbers, we can point out the revenue potential that content can bring. That’s what makes things change. I hate to say that not everyone is doing it for the right reason, because of course that’s what we want. But what we try to do at Nielsen is connect the dots between diverse content and what people really want. Often we think of data as a tool for investing and making money. But it can also be a tool for change.
Robin of Jesus: The other interesting thing that’s happened in the industry over the last two years has been the actor-centering, which has become an avoidance as to what’s happening on the creative side. The numbers are worse behind the camera. Jumping to the actor is like skipping steps.
Stacie de Armas: You are absolutely right Robin. All the big year-end news stories are about screen representation. But this is only part and it is a very visible solution. Behind the screen are the creations that often make representation on camera possible.
The Nielsen study indicates that 3.8 million Americans – or 6% of the total Hispanic population in the United States and nearly 8% of the entire black population – identify as Afro-Latinos. 1.1 million, or nearly 2% of all American Hispanics, consider themselves Asian Latinos. How to ensure that these groups are visible on television?
Stacie de Armas: Afro-Latino representation on cable is still below 1%. I can tell you what we can do on our end at Nielsen, which is to continue to share this data. The more we make this visible, the more people will know what the representation looks like, what the community looks like and the gap between them. It’s our part. Then we hope to inspire not only industry, but also advocacy groups and others to continue to carry this message.
Last year there was a huge narrative about the importance of visibility for Afro Latinos – one of the first times I can remember it was this loud. It inspired us to look at our data and see how we can offer support with a story. But this is much more important than a few data points. This is about America realizing how much bigger we are as a people when we present stories from all of our different intersectional backgrounds.
Robin of Jesus: Data science is storytelling. It’s just a different perspective. I love language very much because words cast spells. When we talk about Afro Latinos, it’s interesting how this word is dissected.
I am Afro-Latin. But I also have a very close proximity to whiteness. My father is a Puerto Rican with red hair and freckles. My grandparents were black, and everything is organic. I’m quarter black, but I look white. We keep talking about Afro-Latino representation, but the conversation is actually about colorism. It is about darkness. Because if you want to talk about the representation of Afro Latinos, well, here I am. So it’s not precise enough. A lot of people miss that. We have to be really, really specific when we talk about Latinos — and when we talk about black people and demographics — that we go out of our way to say non-black Latinos or black Latinos. There is so much confusion and so much frustration.
Stacie de Armas: There is so little content for our community, to represent our 40 different countries, or to represent Afro Latinos and Asian Latinos. There is so little content written by, produced by and about us that the pressure of all representation is on one piece of content. The problem isn’t one piece of content, it’s that there needs to be more.
Stacie de Armas and Robin de Jesús continue the conversation on a moderated panel by founding executive director of the New York Latino Film Festival, Calixto Chinchilla.
Listen to the full episode of the Revolución podcast featuring Stacie de Armas and Robin de Jesús with co-hosts Kathryn Garcia Castro, Diego Lastra and Court Stroud, on Apple podcast, iHeartMedia, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Podcastsor by click here.