A panel of Hollywood notables took the stage with immigration advocates at The Paley Center for Media, 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 (CHIRLA); 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 and greater diversity, too, in the writers, directors, and producers in Hollywood.
But combating those stereotypes is sometimes a 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.
On the other hand, Angelica Salas of CHIRLA, focused on how difficult it can be to present complex ideas in television, citing the scene in Ugly Betty where the character Ignacio Suarez wears an immigration enforcement ankle bracelet. In real life, Salas argued, this is a very dehumanizing and often painful situation but on television it is often portrayed as a simple inconvenience. It is important to challenge false ideas promoted through TV, but also to work with Hollywood to elevate real stories.
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—that members of the creative community can become more visible and vocal, galvanizing the media and fans to become more engaged on immigration reform and fighting new divisive legislation in Arizona.
“There are 50 million Latinos in this country,” said Villalobos, “and not one Latino show on network television. That has to change.”
The Immigration Arts + Culture Initiative is ongoing.
The Opportunity Agenda
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