By Justina Bonilla
In the last few years, audiences have made a substantial call for content from major and independent studios to include ethnic talent in front of and behind the camera. While there is a positive increase in Black talent and content such as Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Judas and the Black Messiah, representation for Latinos is greatly underrepresented.
In response to the persistent lack of Latinos directing film and TV projects, directors Alberto Belli (The House of Flowers), Joel Novoa (Arrow) and Diego Velasco (Orange Is the New Black) and Aurora Guerrero (Gentefied) took matters into their own hands. They created the online database Latinx Directors. Launched last summer, the website’s goal is to offer studios, agencies and others an easy-to-search online resource to find Latino directors for their projects.
Currently, the database lists over 200 talents organized in a dozen genres, from action, comedy and documentary to drama, live events and science fiction. Visitors can filter the roster by the length of experience in television and filmmakers’ participation in diversity programs.
Latinx Directors is a valuable tool needed in the entertainment industry to address the lack of Latino talent hired for films, streaming programs, television shows and commercials. Latinos represent 18.5 percent of the U.S. population.
The 2019 USC study Latinos in Film: Erasure On-Screen & Behind the Camera Across 1,200 Popular Movies found that only 4 percent of all directors were Latinos. The survey evaluated films released from 2007 through 2018. It was conducted by USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, National Association of Latino Independent Producers and Wise Entertainment.
Among the talent featured in Latinx Director’s database are the TV directors/showrunners Tanya Saracho (Vida) and Gloria Calderon Kellet (One Day at a Time), as well as film director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead 2013 and Don’t Breathe).
In our exclusive interview with Velasco, he shares the development of Latinx Directors, their current goals, and hopes for the future.
JUSTINA BONILLA: What was the genesis of Latinx Directors?
DIEGO VELASCO: We’re all directors and part of the Latino Committee at DGA [Directors Guild of America]. We were all separate, [but] hearing, “Oh, I’m looking for a Latin director, but I just don’t know where there’s any.” There are all these shows that have Latin characters and Latin stories, but it was just white guys directing it.
My wife is a writer, and she did [a list], called the Untitled Latinx Project, which is a bunch of female writers who got together and started creating a list to share names. Anytime they would have meetings with executives and studios, they would hear about projects and [asked if they] could send them the list. And [the executives would ask], “You mean you want to send a list of people competing for your job?” They wanted it to go to a Latinx person. [They’d] rather it go to one of us. If [they] don’t get it, then give it to someone whose [on the list].
I thought that was really inspiring. We should be doing the same as directors. We’ll have one place where these producers have a place to find Latinx directors.
JB: How do you qualify to be a part of Latinx Directors?
DV: [Potential members] have to have qualifications to be accepted. They have directed a feature that has been in a recognized in a festival; we have a list of festivals. Or, you have to have done a television episode that is streaming or on a network.
We want to help everyone and be able to lift everyone. But at the same time, we can’t put somebody in a situation that they might not be ready for. We set standards, so if any one of them gets hired, we feel confident that they can do a great job.
JB: How does your database work?
DV: You can [use] filters. We have self-identification, LGBT, or you can do cultural identity or heritage. And you can combine all the ones you want. Plus, you can do film experience, TV experience, union, or not union. It’s the only searchable database for Latinx directors that allows you to do all those things.
JB: What is the overall goal for Latinx Directors?
DV: Our motto is, “No more stories about us without us.” And then, don’t box us into just one category. There are Latinx directors that are incredible in genre, incredible in sci-fi. Just because you are Mexican or your Salvadorian doesn’t mean you can’t [direct] Star Wars.
We just want to be authentic to our culture and to share our unique points of view.
JB: Apart from promoting Latinx Directors, what is your key aspiration?
Velasco: If people who are not familiar with Latin culture, to not fear it. It’s okay to not know all the answers. It’s okay to be intimidated by it. But, if they give themselves a chance to work with Latinx directors, you might be surprised that everybody who is on that list wants to go above and beyond and wants to do the best job they can. So, you really get a level of commitment that I would encourage everybody to try.