Television and film are more diverse than ever in 2019. Shows like Insecure, Queen of the South, When They See Us, Orange Is the New Black, and Black-ish showcase story lines and cultural perspectives rarely seen onscreen before this decade. But working actors, directors, and producers in the industry acknowledge there's still a long way to go to attain parity in onscreen representation.
HBO has taken an active role in moving beyond the lack of diversity on its flagship television shows such as Girls and Sex and the City. The network now provides a platform for writer-performers like Insecure's Issa Rae and, most recently, Robin Thede on A Black Lady Sketch Show.
But many audiences still struggle to see themselves on the big and little screens. With this in mind, HBO Latino launched its "Marquesina Sessions" in Miami Thursday night. With two more events to follow, in New York and Los Angeles, the Marquesina ("marquee" in Spanish) Sessions revolve around panel discussions on the need for increased Latinx talent in media.
Thursday's panel was moderated by former Miami Herald film critic Rene Rodriguez and featured panelists Carmen Pelaez (director, playwright, and winner of the HBO New York Latino Film Festival Shorts Competition), Diana Cadavid (associate director of programming and industry at the Miami Film Festival), and Marcella Ochoa (director of My Name Is Maria De Jesus).
Pelaez dismissed the notion that diversifying television shows somehow makes Latinx-focused media "niche." "The more specific you get, the more universal the world is,” she said, adding that being more honest in her art has led viewers to recognize themselves, their relatives, and characters from their own environment on film.
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Latinx representation is still a struggle on the big screen, however.
“Hollywood moves at a snail’s pace when it comes to Latinos,” said Ochoa, adding that studios are still hesitant to financially support Latinx films, fearing they won't be successful outside the community.
Cadavid, who is an industry gatekeeper in her role at the Miami Film Festival, sees a potential to diversify voices within the Latinx community. "Latino" doesn't have a set-in-stone definition, she said. "It’s a very vague term... it’s been questioned for decades.” She argued that this provides the opportunity to showcase stories from the perspective of Latinx people growing up in the U.S. as well as stories from the Caribbean and Latin America.
After discussing the increased, yet insufficient number of Latinx stories in TV and film, HBO's Marquesina Sessions is heading to two other melting pot American cities, New York and Los Angeles. Panel guests have yet to be announced, but the New York event will focus on Latinx representation in music, while the LA session is billed as a celebration of Latinx comedy.