A myth fostered by the entertainment industry, said writer/director Luis Valdez, is that Latinos "only exist in the Southwest, behind adobe walls and under tile roofs."
In an effort to combat such stereotypical portrayals, Valdez and officials from the Hispanic Academy of Media Arts and Sciences and Nosotros--organizations that represent Latinos in the entertainment industry--on Wednesday announced at the Los Angeles Press Club the formation of the Latino Writers Group, designed to increase wages and improve employment opportunities for Latino writers.
"The embryo is the screenplay," said Valdez, who wrote "Zoot Suit" and "La Bamba." "The embryo, in fact, is what is written on the page. This is where you begin to tell the difference between a stereotype and reality."
Reality for many Latino writers appears bleak as far as employment opportunities are concerned, Valdez said. The intent of the Latino Writers Group is to ameliorate conditions for those "who feel themselves invisible, alienated and divorced from the practical decision-making of the entertainment industry," he said.
The writers group was formed in reaction to a sweeping study of employment practices in Hollywood commissioned by the Writers Guild of America West and released in June. The study, called the Bielby Report, revealed that job opportunities and pay scales for minorities and women have remained stagnant or grown worse in the 1980s.
Starting in September, the Latino Writers Group will hold regular workshops and seminars for struggling screenwriters and will form a political action arm to pressure studios to produce scripts written by Latinos. It will also attempt to raise money to develop, fund and market Latino projects, Valdez said.
"We will reach back to the communities we came from and ferret out new, young, talented writers; we will reach up into the existing pool of talented Latino writers and we will reach out to the entertainment industry," said Jose Tirado, co-chairman of the newly formed organization. "In an industry as incestuously insulated as it is, we're here to bring in new blood, new genes and new possibilities."
The 200-page Bielby Report, entitled "The 1989 Hollywood Writers' Report: Unequal Access, Unequal Pay," compiled by sociologists William and Denise Bielby, was based on information supplied to the Writers Guild by its members from 1982-87. It found that there were only 185 minority members of the Writers Guild, out of a total membership of about 6,400 writers. Of those 185, only 43 were Latinos--29 men and 14 women, the study showed.
The relative median income for all ethnic minority writers was 63 cents on the dollar earned by white male writers, according to the study. It said tht the five companies that hired the fewest minority writers were Orion, MGM Film, Disney Film, Universal Film and Disney Television.
"With the efforts of the Latino Writers Group, the industry will be put on notice that we will no longer tolerate being ignored," said Alma Beltran, first vice president of Nosotros. "There is anger, but there is also hope. There is frustration, but there is also optimism."
Said Valdez: "I long for the day when we can look up at the marquees, at the movie posters and on our TV screens and see Hispanic names like Fernandez and Martinez alongside the Stallones and De Niros."