Powerful Latinas in Hollywood Discuss the Wave of Visibility and Diversity on Screens Big and Small at CHICA’s “La Ola Latina” Panel
People En Español brought its 50 Most Beautiful party to Los Angeles for the first time, and to open the celebration, our executive digital editor Shirley Velásquez presented our People CHICA panel La Ola Latina. “This year, we decided to kick off our Bellos theme with a new topic and a new theme called ‘La Ola Latina' or the Latino Wave that is washing over the important sectors of American life,” said Velásquez as she introduced the panel. “More than ever American Latino men and women hold stations of power and influence, and they are in a position to bring attention to the positive contributions that our people are making to their communities and to the nation at large. At People en Español we are committed to finding these changemakers and sharing their stories far and wide. Nowhere is the land more fertile than here in L.A.”
The panel united powerful female voices to discuss the issues of visibility, diversity and inclusion in the film and television industries. Victoria Alonso (EVP of Production for Marvel Studios), actresses Roselyn Sánchez and Lisa Vidal, and Rachel Miller (founding partner of Haven Entertainment and founder of Film2Future) tackled these important topics.
Alonso arrived to the United States at the age of 19 from Buenos Aires and worked her way up in the film industry from a production assistant and visual effects specialist before getting to the top of her competitive field. “I did every job that nobody wanted to do, but I also made sure that I was doing the job that I wanted to do,” she said, adding some valuable career advice: “Don't do everything they want you to do, if it's not who you are.”
Roselyn Sánchez, the star of the new series Grand Hotel, said about her debut as an actress: “I moved here when I was 22 years old, I grew up in Puerto Rico and I was very blessed to have a mom that was very strong and, to a point, almost like a stage mom. She molded me. She wanted me to be in the business so badly. She did say to me: ‘You are very gifted, and God touches a few people with talent so take advantage of that.'” She said those words were inspiration when she encountered people in positions of power saying no. She recalls moving to New York knowing very little English and always hearing “this little voice saying, ‘But you're special, it doesn't matter” when she got turned down at auditions. Believing in herself kept Sánchez going: “It sounds cliché and it sounds ridiculous, but to me it was instrumental.”
Miller, introduced as “an honorary Latina” talked about her organization Film2Future, which gives underserved youth access to education and employment in the film industry, saying it was inspired by her own love of art as a young student. “I was a complete screw-up in high school. I did not have supportive parents,” said the entrepreneur, who started her own company at 23. “I stumbled into film, and it saved my life,” she admitted. She also said she taught at a public school in order to pay for her college and now mentors students.
Alonso added that it was important for film students to see that there are so many fascinating jobs available in the film industry that have nothing to do with acting and are important behind-the-scenes positions. Alonso talked about her new film Captain Marvel, the first to have a female superhero in the lead role. “Captain Marvel was a movie that they told us wouldn't be done, people didn't want to see it, they wouldn't buy it, they wouldn't show up, women don't open, you don't want to see stories about girls, girls in power, superheroes that are female. I can go on. I can probably tell you 1.3 billion reasons why we did not hear it,” she said proudly. “You know what I want to tell them? Watch me. What you will do will redefine how this industry sees us.”
The Argentinian filmmaker said Captain Marvel was a perfect example of how barriers can be broken. She also looks forward to having the first Latino superhero sometime in the future.
Sánchez said, “There is a mandate for every network to be more inclusive and to bring Latino projects,” however they don't always get green-lighted. “I think there is still some kind of fear or confusion about: ‘Are they going to support?' What if they don't?'” Sánchez added about the segregation that exists within the varied multi-cultured Latinx community. “We need to break that habit or way of thinking in order to support.” The actress recognized there are a lot more shows and movies with Latino casts than when she started two decades ago. “Doors are opening a 100 percent and we need to support the doors that are opening,” she emphasized.
Vidal, who stars in The Baker and The Beauty, agreed that Latino roles also have more depth now. “We are getting to play something other than the prostitute on the corner or whatever stereotype,” she said. The Puerto Rican actress added that it's crucial for people to realize Latinos come in many different shades. “It's so important for us to educate the public about how different Latinos look. There is an array! I have cousins with green eyes, blond hair, and I have cousins that are black with major curl hair. We come in an array of colors, and that's the beauty of us.”
Rather than blend in, the panelists agreed that Latinos need to make our voices heard and celebrate our uniqueness. “What we need to learn is that our voice matters, and if we don't voice who we are, they will never learn who we are,” Alonso said. “In order to blend in, some of us have been quiet about where we come from. Your voice is your tool and if you don't have a voice, you will poison your soul. So I recommend that you start talking!”