Media representation, particularly of minority demographics, is a topic that has been discussed in popular culture over the years. Judging from the frequency and popularity of this conversation, it may be easy to write representation off as just another shallow buzzword, but this would be a mistake. Representation is undeniably important. Not only does the way an identity is portrayed influence how the general public perceives that identity, it influences how people who share that particular identity see themselves.
Latinx representation, particularly in American mainstream media, is abysmal. According to a 2015 study by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Latinx people are the most underrepresented ethnic group in film with a rate of 4.3% in the 100 top films of 2014. These numbers are clearly abysmal, but their implications are quite interesting. After all, the Latinx demographic is an incredibly diverse one. I began to wonder specifically about the Afro-Latina population and how much space they occupy in Latinx representation. I decided to explore this topic in this research project.
Overall, this project is an exploration of the quality of roles that Afro-Latinas play in contemporary film through the lens of the acting career of Rosario Dawson, a prominent Afro-Latina actress of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent. The objective is to critically consider the kinds of roles that Afro-Latina actresses play, how complex, three- dimensional Afro-Latina characters tend to be, and whether Afro-Latina actresses usually appear in leading or supporting roles. I picked Rosario Dawson because she is Afro-Latina, still has an active career, and has acted in more than 50 movies. Since she is, indeed, one of the most prominent Afro-Latina actors today, her career is a good example of case study. For this project, I will analyze three of her movies: Kids, RENT, and Cesar Chavez. I chose these movies in particular because they are movies that Dawson starred in at different points in her career, which will prove helpful to analyze whether the quality of her roles changed as she grew professionally. My hypothesis is that the quality of Dawson’s roles improved as her career progressed, but still these characters they will either not be well-rounded, three dimensional characters, or there will be no references made to her Afro-Latina heritage, leading to the erasure of this identity.