Yesterday, HuffPost Live host Marc Lamont Hill had Raúl De Molina of El Gordo y la Flaca (you know, that show with all those women in sexy bikinis) to discuss diversity in media. Considering the fact that Spanish-language television in the United States is perhaps one of the biggest perpetuators of the “hot Latina stereotype,” the irony of the segment did not escape us one bit.
The segment in question starts at around the 8:20 mark. Besides having El Gordo on the show, other guests were columnist Juan Vidal (who wrote a rather comprehensive piece for NPR last week about Sofía Vergara’s Emmy controversy) Charles Ramírez Berg and Buzzfeed’s Alex Alvarez, whose piece, “What Sofia Vergara’s Emmys Sketch Means For Latinas,” went viral.
Although we applaud Hill and HPL for covering this issue, the segment never really got to the real matter at hand: how the notion of a real “Latino media gap” and an over-representation of tired and stale stereotypes are a product of the very same programming De Molina actively promotes.
Interestingly enough, there were two very clear moments in the segment where such a discussion could have occurred—when Vidal raised the issue that sexualization has been engrained in communities for decades, and when Alvarez said this about a study showing that Latinas are more apt to be the ones taking off their clothes on camera (full study here):
I think it’s a prevalent stereotype and it’s a social construct that exists both in mainstream media and also within Latino media, within Spanish-language media. We’ll see TV shows where men are wearing suits and women are dancing in bikinis for no reason. It exists, and that’s what people are used to seeing. It doesn’t mean it’s correct. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s down with it, but it’s what exists and it’s kind of the easy thing to do. If something exists, it’s easy to keep doing it.
What Alvarez said was never tossed back to De Molina, who is one of those men who wears the suit while women dance in bikinis near him “no reason.” Instead, when the conversation finally got back to De Molina (after Ramírez Berg gave a more optimistic view of Latinos in Hollywood), De Molina said this:
I think we have as many Latinos as we have in the 1950s with Ricky Ricardo and Ricardo Montalbán on TV that were doing great… The Ed Sullivan show in the 1960s would bring acts from Latin America to be on TV. I don’t think we have that much now. Ricardo Montalbán and Ricky Ricardo were probably some of the top performers in the 1950s and now, you know, Jennifer López, Sofía Vergara, but it really hasn’t changed that much. They are only a few that have made it big in Hollywood.
And one thing I like to tell also, for example, in the month of July, Univision was #1 in prime time in the ratings sweeps. And this has to tell something to the major American networks. Look, Latinos are going to the Spanish networks because you guys don’t have Latinos working here.
Earlier in the segment, when Vidal made his point about Latinos’ “sexualized environment,” De Molina said this (after Ramírez Berg made his salient point about how Latinos are under-represented in TV and films):
I like to mention Sofía Vergara because I know her well, she worked along me at Univision for years, and people are criticizing Sofía for what happened the other day at the Emmys, right? And I am going to tell you one thing: I talked to the manager of Sofía, who is also my manager, who happens to be my manager… and he told me… for the Emmys they gave her five different ideas to do, and she chose to do that one. And people are criticizing her… nothing, there’s nothing wrong with what she did. I mean, this is what she does on TV every single day. She’s a sexy woman, she is having fun and this was not degrading to women or anything else. This was exactly she does on the show and she was having fun doing it. And she decided to do this, and I think it was great. Also, Sofía Vergara for the third year in a row, it just came out in Forbes magazine, as the highest paid celebrity on TV. With endorsements, this last year, she made close to $40 million. So she’s laughing all the way to the bank.
At that point, Hill asks De Molina, “Do you ever worry about stereotypes, though, of Latinos in media?”
El Gordo’s response:
I don’t have a problem with that. I do think that there should be more Latinos on TV. And I am going to tell you this thing: Univision has huge ratings. Telemudo also has very big ratings and they do very well. Both Spanish networks do very well, and these are people who are watching these networks that also speak English. But they prefer to come to Univision, for example, to watch “Despierta, América,” which is the morning show, to watch “El Gordo y La Flaca,” to watch the national news. Because they are not people who can associate with them on ABC, CBS or NBC.
Then De Molina added this:
And also, when [English-language networks] choose someone to work on the American market, I don’t know who is the one really who is advising the networks, but the people that they choose are not very well-known in the Latino market. These are people that sometimes they don’t even speak Spanish. It’s almost saying like, ‘well they’re Latinos but they don’t speak… they are very well known in the American market… you’re trying to get your audience from the Spanish market that over 50 million people live in this country and you get someone that no one knows in the Spanish market
Throughout De Molina’s pontifications, which by the way tries to present U.S. Latinos as a monolithic linguistic and cultural group (maybe he should read up on his Pew), Hill barely takes the chance to dig deeper into the comments. He never gives the guests an oppportunity to chime in as well and challenge some very dangerous generalizations. Little is said about the fact that second- and third-generations Latinos (at least the ones we interact with online consistently) have a much more nuanced view of diversity when it comes to Latinos on mainstream TV and Spanish-language TV. Or that your “Latinoness” is not lessened because Spanish is not your dominant language. That’s just wrong.
Instead of a real conversation about these cultural complexities, we get a glossed-over promotion of programming that does little to chip away at the stereotypes many U.S. Latinos are trying to remove. We would argue that as much as De Molina thinks that he is more well-known by Spanish-speaking U.S. Latinos, it is more a generational thing. Our own world and the people we interact with every day in the digital space think of De Molina as a celebrity our parents and grandparents watch. The guy who dances with women in bikinis in a hot tub. Younger voices spend more time discussing the issue that programming such as De Molina’s show do little to advance the real cause here: how to open up the representation of Latinos in media and how we as a community say little about how Spanish-language networks push of oversexualizaton. Defending it and saying it does not bother De Molina because such content leads to monetary success is exactly the point Alvarez raised later in the segment. That is the conversation we should be having, but it looks like HPL and Hill wanted to play it safe. Don’t rock the boat because we have a legend on the set.
In the end, the segment failed for that very same reason. A topic that is worthy of much discussion is still being treated with kid gloves because quite frankly, outlets like HPL lack the real diversity needed to bring those issues under a larger microscope. Imagine, for example, if HPL had (crazy thought) an actual Latino host who could gave weeded through the narratives being presented (or promoted in De Molina’s case) and produced an honest and necessarily uncomfortable conversation.
That is what needed to happen on that segment, and since it didn’t happen there, it will happen here (like it always does) and on other outlets who reflect more varied opinions about the root causes of why Latinos haven’t progressed since “Ricky Ricardo and Ricardo Montalbán.”
When the diverse tapestry that is the U.S. Latino community begins to have these real discussions, only then will change truly happen. Apparently, the other three HPL guests were ready to have that conversation yesterday on the segment. But HPL and DeMolina were not.
Nonetheless, as we were preparing this piece, our founder tweeted out his disappointment with Hill and DeMolina’s Twitter account rewteeted it:
— Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) September 5, 2014
Are they truly listening to people or is it just a way to promote programming that has does more harm to Latino stereotypes than help diffuse them?
UPDATE: Hill tweeted on Saturday morning to our founder, basically agreeing with our critique and how he didn’t challenge De Molina enough.
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) September 6, 2014
@julito77 point taken. i agree. I should have pushed harder..
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) September 6, 2014