Thursday, March 8, 2018

Latinas in the Entertainment Industry: Diversity, Intersectionality, and the Problem of Structural Whiteness / by RLivier

“Latinas in the Entertainment Industry: Diversity, Intersectionality, and the Problem of Structural Whiteness”
            When I am asked, “how did you go from being an actress to… wait, what is it you’re studying?” I believe there may be layers of questions within that question that need unpacking, including: “What is the underlying logic that connects these two fields for you? What is Information Studies? Why study that? What is the relevance and/or significance of this perceived connection? Why does it matter?” And, depending on the context, it may also include, “Did you leave acting? Did you go back to school because you’re not working as an actress?” Now, it is possible that I may be identifying a lot of complexity here that may not have been intended by the person(s) asking, yet, as an artist, I have been trained to read between the lines and, as an immigrant and a Latina, navigating micro-aggressions is nothing out of the ordinary. In other words, in my intersectional experience, deciphering subtexts is almost a way of life. The goal of this paper is to address those more subtle, potential, (imagined?) questions in order have a deeper and more robust elevator pitch that answers the questions behind the question and to develop an engaging sound bite ready for when I, myself, need reminding of why exactly I am pausing an artistic career and attempting to overlap it, with an academic one, at this particular point in time. (Seriously, why?!)
The first question to address is: what is information studies? It is an umbrella term for an area of study that takes a critical look at information and what that means, including how knowledge is created, how it transverses time and cultures, and how it is stored and organized.[1] Secondly, what is information? While Jonathan Furner tells us that there is a whole body of literature that attempts to answer this question, he gives us a “taxonomy of common conceptions of information”[2] that includes information-as-particulars (utterances, thoughts, situations), information-as-action (communication), and information-as-universal (informativeness, relevance).[3] So, what does this have to do with acting? My job, as an actress, is to interpret the thoughts, ideas, points-of-view (information-as-particulars) that someone(s) has written down as a script (information-as-action), and interpret their story and characters and their subtexts by embodying a character and bringing it to life (information-as- action) with the goal of disseminating these thoughts and imaginings across space, time, and cultures.
I became an actress because I am interested in many of the same concerns I am now addressing from an academic angle in my doctoral program, including; issues of representation (both vertretung, political representation and darstellen, re-presentation)[4], issues of power, hegemony, oppression, whose voices are heard, whose voices are silenced, whose stories are told and by whom. As a Latina actress in Hollywood, I have had some opportunities to address these issues via my work, but they are wonderful exceptions of which I am both grateful and proud, they are not the rule. I am always left with the hope that, in between jobs that pay the bills, I will get another opportunity to participate in a project that has something meaningful and/or constructive to contribute to society. For Latinas, opportunities to work in traditional media have been disproportionately low.[5] We usually have to either be very good at “playing whiteness”[6] or at playing into someone’s thoughts about who they imagine us to be, as representatives of our demographic (stereotypes), not as complex and nuanced individuals. This experience is endemic of a business that has historically resisted ethnic and female inclusion and, as Kimberle Crenshaw identifies, the multidimensional experiences of ethnic females are additionally “distorted” when analyzed via a “single-axis” of either gender or race.[7] Under this rubric, Latinas, may be the most underrepresented group relative to our numbers in the U.S. Why has progress in more equitable representation in, so-called, liberal Hollywood been so slow?
Interrogating the structures that allow the exclusion of those of us who represent (darstellen) the majority world[8] is difficult when you lack the tools and the vocabulary with which to identify what is occurring on a structural level and when you have dutifully bought into your neoliberal indoctrination, (which seems to be a key component of an immigrant’s process of assimilation). Who gets to tell which stories in the entertainment industry matters because it has material and affective consequences for society as a whole. The stories that Hollywood tells are the information-as-action (communication) that global audiences receive and that participate in shaping our views and perceptions about each other. Yet, how, with so many diversity initiatives at the studios, networks, and even our actors’ union (SAG-AFTRA), could the problem be structural? Where is the evidence? The problem of structural whiteness is challenging because, as Hathcock identifies in her article, “the normativity of whiteness works insidiously, invisibly… and a major contributor to this invisibility is that whiteness has played such a fundamental role in the profession from the start.”[9]
To bring information studies back into the conversation, this area of study is equipping me with the theoretical and methodological tools with which to identify social, political, and institutional structures, the power dynamics that are embedded in them, and it is legitimizing my right to interrogate them. This information is empowering because it is arming me with the insights, tools, and vocabulary via which to understand how power operates, from which directions, and to what purpose(s). Critical Race theory (CRT) and Intersectionality are theoretical frameworks that support and corroborate life in the U.S., in the entertainment industry, and in academia, as I experience it. With these theoretical and methodological tools, I can, for example, begin to pushback against SAG-AFTRA’s claim of neutrality and inclusion. Hathcock’s article could almost be re-subtitled: “Diversity Initiatives at SAG-AFTRA.” Appropriating her brief, I could easily state, “Whiteness… has permeated every aspect of [the actors’ union] extending even to the initiatives we claim are committed to increasing diversity.”[10] What we need are radical transformations not diffusion mechanisms, which are strategically employed to diffuse tension and give the illusion of change.[11] This keeps those of us who are under-represented (both vertretung and darstellen) perpetually holding on to hope, since true change, as defined by CRT, only comes with convergence; when the interests of the hegemony converge with the interests of the majority world, and with those of us, who, in the entertainment field, represent it.
So, back to the original question, “How did you go from being an actress to… wait, what is it you’re studying?” My elevator response might go something like, “I’m studying Information Studies because, among other things, I needed to understand how and why Hollywood is exclusionary on a structural level and this meta-field provides me with the tools with which to interrogate power and point to evidence that corroborates that this exclusion is constructed and can therefore be disrupted. And, here’s one way we can begin this process of interrogation and disruption, which might bring us closer to a more equitable distribution of work…”

[1] Gilliland lecture, October 9, 2017.
[2] Furner, Jonathan. 2004. “Information Studies without Information.” 438.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” As reprinted in The Post- Colonial
Studies Reader, Bill Ashcroft et al, eds. New York: Routledge, 1995, 28-37.
[5] Negrón-Muntaner, Frances. The Latino Media Gap: A report on the state of Latino in
U.S. Media. Columbia University, 2014. Online.
[6] April Hathcock, “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS,” October 2015,
[7] Kimberle Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist
Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” The
University of Chicago Legal Forum 140 (1989): 139-167.
[8] Hudson, David J., and Kathleen Lowrey. 2016. “On Dark Continents and Digital Divides: Information Inequality and the Reproduction of Racial Otherness in Library and Information Studies/Response to Hudson.” Journal of Information Ethics 25 (1): 65.
[9] Hathcock.
[10] Hathcock, April. “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS.”
[11] Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. 2001. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. Critical America. New York: New York University Press.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent scholarship. It would be interesting to know why and how the Mexican National film and TV industry is conveniently situallationally ambivalent and complicit in the under utilization of fully acculturated English dominant Latina artists.