A panel of Hollywood notables recently took the stage with immigration advocates, at The Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles, to discuss the challenges in telling accurate, compelling immigrant stories in movies and television.
The event featured conversations with Bruce Evans, Senior Vice President of Drama Programming, NBC; Jesse Garcia, Actor, Quinceañera; Leon Ichasa, Screenwriter and Director; Alan Jenkins, Executive Director, The Opportunity Agenda; Nick Schenk, Writer, Gran Torino; Angelica Salas, Executive Director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles; Bee Vang, Actor, Gran Torino; and Ligiah Villalobos, Screenwriter, Under the Same Moon. Professor and film critic Emanuel Levy moderated the discussion.
The panelists all cited a need for a greater diversity of immigrant stories in popular media – simply depicting someone as “Asian” doesn’t distinguish between Japanese or Hmong, and “Latino” is used to describe people from widely differing cultures. Using catch-all terms too often inhibits true understanding.
But combating those stereotypes sometimes presents challenge for an industry that depends on entertaining its audience. Evans noted that many Americans, after coming home from a long day at work, simply want to unwind in front of the television and not confront complex issues. “If they feel like that box is lecturing them,” they’ll simply turn it off, he said.
Vang said he sees first-hand how difficult it can be for viewers to accept someone as “American” if they don’t look a certain way. When asked where he is from, he tells people, “I was born in Fresno.” But many are confused by that answer until he tells them where his parents immigrated from, to which they respond, “Oh, that makes more sense.”
All agreed that Hollywood has a vital role to play in changing the perceptions of immigration, and telling stories that stress the inclusion of immigrants into the American fabric.
“There are 50 million Latinos in this country,” said Villalobos, “and not one Latino show on television. That has to change.”
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