Eva Longoria delivered a powerful and moving keynote at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit in Los Angeles on Friday, saying that people in Hollywood are “largely responsible for much of the unconscious bias that is against people of color” and that “Latinas are the last to find their voices amplified in this industry.”
“What studies show is that we are being erased,” Longoria told a room of 2,000 attendees. “This goes beyond underrepresentation. When you aren’t on screen in the media, you are being erased. you don’t exist. And the stories from Hollywood don’t come close to representing the complexity of our community. This is a problem — the demographics of America are changing and it’s changing in a very Latin way, and this cultural shift is freaking people out.”
She added: “We in this room have contributed to these negative portrayals and images we’ve seen in the media. We here in Hollywood are largely responsible for much of the unconscious bias that is against people of color. People of color are depicted in very narrow ways on screen and unconscious bias come from those repeated images that come across as a threat. So when you see young black men in movies that are deemed dangerous, or you see young Latino men in movies who are deemed sketchy, you begin to form an opinion, especially when you don’t have interaction with these communities… It’s those repeated images that normalize the words ‘criminal,’ ‘illegal,’ ‘dangerous,’ which in turn become synonymous with the broader term ‘Latino.'”
Longoria began her keynote speech by telling the audience a story about when she was 8 years old and was getting on the school bus to go to a new, superior school in a “rich” neighborhood. She remembered her mother making her a bean taco for breakfast and her getting on the school bus to receive looks from the other kids eating pop tarts.
“I took my seat next to a blonde girl, and I was holding my bean taco and she was holding her pop tart, and I asked, ‘what’s that?’ all excited and engaged and she’s like, ‘what’s THAT?'” Longoria explained. “I heard someone on the bus whisper, ‘she’s Mexican.’ It was apparently a fact that explained me. I remember thinking, ‘what’s a Mexican?’ Even though I didn’t know what it meant, I could feel it wasn’t a good thing.”
All Longoria wanted was to eat pop tarts like the other kids, but her mother told her: “‘Never shy away from who you are. You never forget where you came from.’ My mom is a gangster!” She continued, adding that if those kids on the bus saw Latino families on their television screens and on commercials, maybe they would have seen Longoria as the inspiration and wanted her bean taco more than those pop tarts.
“Things haven’t really changed much in the three decades since I’ve been a kid,” Longoria said. “Two months ago, the Annenberg study came out, and it said that Latinos are 18% of the population of this nation, but we are only 4% represented in film. I don’t know why it’s like this or why it persists.”
During her opening remarks, TheWrap CEO and Editor in Chief Sharon Waxman said that more women have risen in leadership roles and more inclusion has been achieved behind the camera and in front of it.
“Hollywood has a tendency to pat itself on the back every time they have the smallest gain of diversity, they’re like, ‘We had TWO women direct a movie!'” Longoria said. “Even that word, ‘diversity,’ is so hip. It falls out of every executive’s mouth… We should see how many times that word comes up at this summit — we should make it a drinking game!”
Longoria explained that the images the media puts forward about people of color, and women, is important and we must change the narratives portrayed on screen.
“Images can actually transform what we believe,” she said. “What we put out there can change the minds of people. Once we change the minds of people, we can change the policy that affect those people. A great example of this is when the films ‘Hunger Games’ and ‘Brave’ came out there was some popularity with archery with girls… When ‘CSI’ came out, there was a surge in forensic studies across the nation because of a TV show.”
She went on: “Little girls who feel inadequate — that’s on us. People of color who are disenfranchised — that’s on us in this room. Women who are constantly underrepresented, underpaid, under-protected — that’s on us to do something. Children are in cages right now in this country at this moment, and that is on us. It is up to us and only us to change that. We have the power in Hollywood to do something about this. I’m asking you to help me change the way people see my community, people of color, my brothers and sisters, me, how people are going to see my son. Because I was that little girl on the bus where people had to whisper that I’m Mexican like it was something horrible. I don’t want my son to grow up in that world. If you want something done, ask a busy woman to do it. Change isn’t going to be given to us — we have to make it. This is the room where it happens!”
WrapWomen’s Power Women Summit, held at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica Oct. 24-25, brought together 2,000 of the most influential women from the entertainment, media and technology industries, making it the largest gathering of its kind. With the theme of “Toward 50/50,” the event highlights women of achievement, encourages discussion on topics of impact and creates a lasting community of powerful women. The summit will provide two days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking.
Additional speakers for the summit include Chrissy Metz, Nicole Richie, Gigi Gorgeous, Rachel Zoe, Sophia Bush, Erin Andrews, Gina Torres, Stephanie Beatriz, Diane Guerrero and Jenna Dewan.