Commentary: Pedro Pascal and Jenna Ortega signal shift in how Latinos are portrayed on screen

Jenna Ortega and Pedro Pascal
Jenna Ortega and Pedro Pascal made history with their Emmy nominations.
(Illustration by Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / De Los; photos by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP and Getty)

Jenna Ortega and Pedro Pascal made history Wednesday with their lead acting Emmy nominations in the comedy and drama categories, respectively. This is the first time in over a decade that Latino actors have been recognized in the lead acting category.

It also marks the first time two Latino actors have been nominated in the lead acting category in the same year.

Ortega is nominated for lead actress in a comedy series for her role as Wednesday Addams in the Netflix series “Wednesday.” Prior to Ortega’s nomination, America Ferrera won in the same category for her work in “Ugly Betty” in 2007, and Rita Moreno for “9 to 5” in 1983.

Pascal is nominated for lead actor in a drama series for his role as Joel Miller in the HBO series “The Last of Us.” Jimmy Smits previously won in the same category in 1999 for his work on “NYPD Blue.” Pascal is also nominated for guest actor in a comedy series for hosting “Saturday Night Live,” and narrator for CNN’s “Patagonia: Life on the Edge of the World.”


Here’s what you need to know about the nominations for the 75th Emmy Awards, which were announced Wednesday morning.

July 12, 2023

Ortega, Pascal and Aubrey Plaza, who was nominated in the supporting actress category for her work in “White Lotus,” are recognized for roles that present unique character arcs that dive deeper than most Latino representation on television.

“There were no long, cliche soliloquies about being their ancestors’ wildest dreams,” De Los editorial director Fidel Martinez wrote of “Wednesday” in his Latinx newsletter. “Instead, we got a sardonic niña dark with a healthy love of the macabre, great taste in music (Chavela Vargas on the soundtrack? You love to hear it!) and a terse and complicated relationship with her mother.”

“The Last of Us” was adapted from a video game of the same name. Miller’s cultural background is never discussed in the game or the show. Seeing Miller argue with his brother about “What is communism?” is about as close to a Latino conversation we get in the show.

Scene from the video game The Last of Us
Joel Miller in “The Last of Us” video game.

A multifaceted character with a gray moral compass played by a Latino should not be a blue moon performance, but in 2023, it still is.

Despite Wednesday’s character as canonically Latina, with her dad Gomez of Latine descent, the character had never been played by a Latina character.


Christina Ricci played Wednesday Addams in the 1990s, and Lisa Loring in the 1960s.

In Ortega’s version of Wednesday, the character needs no follow-up explanation in the dialog for why she exists as she does in the show. She likes the music that she does and there is no sidebar discussion about it.

“The deadpan Latina is neither the foil nor the answer to the fiery Latina,” De Los columnist Suzy Exposito wrote in the Latinx Files newsletter. “Instead, her weirdness bolsters the dimensionality of what it means to be us.”

A woman dancing
Jenna Ortega in “Wednesday.”

So, what does that signify for the future of Latino stories on screen?

A key aspect of real representation is when you can see yourself on screen, but this has been difficult in Hollywood, given the tropes of the spicy Latina or the Hot Cheetos girl. There is something compelling about seeing a different perspective on the screen that doesn’t feel like stereotyping.

Seeing characters exist as they come, like Ortega as Wednesday, that need not require further justification or explanation for their existence in the storyline is a needed positive step. Another typical Hollywood trope is the random Spanish monologues or words that actors are forced to say in order to further prove they are Latino (think Carlos in “High School Musical the Musical the Series,” or Olivia from “On My Block” who isn’t even played by a Latina actress).

With Ortega and Pascal leading the charge with roles that are not perceived as Latino in their original adaptations, it may finally be time for Hollywood to move away from their caricature concepts of Latinidad and lean into the subtle sublime aspects that make us who we are without question.