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America Ferrera and Eva Longoria’s Globes skit was no joke

13 Jan 2016

Three days after the Golden Globes aired, Eva Longoria and America Ferrera’s ‘skit’ before they presented an award is still being shared. In it, they highlighted that Hollywood often gets Latina actresses’ names mixed up. Despite the audience’s laughter, their short introduction was hard-hitting and particularly topical considering recent cases of mistaken identity in Britain and America. The only problem? Their ‘skit’ was no joke. Especially not one their predominantly white audience should have laughed at.

The 20-second clip (around the 00:38 mark, above) shows the two introducing themselves with casual references to actresses they have been confused with. Eva Longoria starts, tacking on “not Eva Mendes”, while America Ferrera continues, with a “not Gina Rodriguez” – referring to the Golden Globes’ own mistake in December, which I’ll come back to later. They finish by jokingly referring to each other as “Salma”, referring to Salma Hayek, and “Charo”, the Spanish classical guitarist and reality TV star, respectively.

Even so, these are established actresses; surely they needn’t be offended by being addressed by the wrong name?

Let’s consider the facts. In 2013, Latinos bought 25 percent of all US movie tickets and made up 32 percent of frequent movie-goers. In 2014, approximately 17 percent of the population were Latino. Despite this, their representation on screen has been appallingly disproportionate at 4.9 percent of all roles. Not even all leading roles. All roles. Given such little representation, the fact that Hollywood cannot differentiate between them is ridiculous. What makes this representation worse, though, is that many of these roles are riddled with stereotypes, especially for Latinas; they have been portrayed as hot and spicy and partially dressed a disgusting 37.5 percent of the time, not to mention that 69 percent of media maids in film and TV, since 1996, have been Latina. Even Jennifer Lopez played a maid, in Maid in Manhattan.

What starts off as a seemingly innocuous slip of the tongue then is an indication of Hollywood’s wider problem of Latina representation. Because these roles are so similar – not to mention that the portrayal of them is so sexualised – it is clear Hollywood has moulded Latinas into a homogeneous group with no appreciation for their varied experiences. After all, Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez is from Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island, while Superstore‘s America Ferrera is from Honduras, a Central American country, which undoubtedly have differences. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the varying experiences of these two wonderful actresses. By conflating these two entirely different Latina actresses, Hollywood is excusing the homogenising stereotypes it uses and further reinforcing the idea that all Latina women are the same to anticipate more of the same tired roles.

Though America Ferrera and Eva Longoria’s calling out of Hollywood may have seemed a light joke to many of the audience, what they did was expose the institutional racism which governs it, brilliantly. Even through the laughter, their faces said it all: people of colour will not stand for this anymore.

As innocent as getting a name wrong sounds, it is a testament to the greater ways in which Hollywood perceives and presents people of colour as homogeneous beings. It is a testament to the institutional racism of Hollywood in how it casts and characterises people of colour. This is not okay. The fact that the Golden Globes hired America Ferrera to present and then confused her with Gina Rodriguez (who wasn’t presenting at all) is even more of a testament to just how little value is placed in these women. The ultimate message delivered by this mistake is that people of colour, particularly women of colour are replaceable in their roles. I’m glad that Longoria and Ferrera brought attention to this and made it clear they’re fighting back.

Though the focus thus far has been on Latina women, for good reason, recent events in Britain have made it clear that this is more than just a problem for Hollywood. In fact, given ITV’s ‘gaffe’ when it confused comedian and co-founder of Comic Relief, Sir Lenny Henry, with TV cook Ainsley Harriot (think Ready, Steady Cook), it’s clear that the casual but frequent mistakes made about people of colour’s identity is part of a deeper institutional racism. This is the same racism which enables governments and police to see certain people and act on misguided assumptions of them based on stereotypes, whether they be perceived as thug, terrorist or more.

As well as this, such cases of mistaken identity or confusing people with each other doesn’t just happen to famous people. It happens to people of colour in daily life; in secondary school, I was often confused with a friend of mine in my year simply because we both wore the hijab. This, despite the fact that we looked nothing alike and, if they actually paid attention, they’d realise our hijab styles were entirely different too.

Overwhelmingly, the consistent lack of recognition of our differences screams that who we are doesn’t matter and only how we look does. This is not okay.

No matter the ignorant laughter that followed America Ferrera and Eva Longoria’s words, I am thankful that they stood up in front of Hollywood and millions of viewers to make that point. They are fearless, wonderful women and, hopefully, their words will mark the advent of more representation for Latina women and people of colour on a wider scale.