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Universal Takes First Steps Towards Authentic Latinx Onscreen Representation

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It seems that the big film industries have finally understood that recognition begins with words.

According to a press release from the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, the film giant will implement a spell-checking resource “to help support increased authentic Latinx onscreen representation and casting opportunities.”

In collaboration with Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender in Media and USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, Universal has underscored its commitment “to invest in and support innovative strategies to progress diversity and inclusion,” through an initial one-year partnership with both institutes and to close the representation gap in film and television.

In October 2019, Davis announced that her institute had developed “a new machine-learning tool that can analyze scripts and reveal unconscious biases,” according to The Guardian at the time.

During the Power of Inclusion event in New Zealand, the actress described the tool as “an intervention tool to infuse diversity and inclusion in entertainment and media,” designed to determine percentages around gender, race, sexual preference and identity, and disabilities, in order to put artificial intelligence to work in the fight against discrimination.

This disparity is no secret to anyone.

From campaigns such as #OscarsSoWhite to Joaquin Phoenix’s speech at the 2020 Academy Awards, the issue of equal representation on the small and large screen remains.

“I’m so thrilled that NBCUniversal has committed to working with us on this pilot program,” said Davis about their new partnership. “Their support will be extremely valuable in developing the tool to address the sparse and underdeveloped portrayals of the Latinx community which our upcoming study underscores. I believe our Spellcheck for Bias is going to be the biggest game changer of all in creating onscreen inclusion and will help NBCUniversal and other studios identify opportunities to dramatically increase Latinx representations in their content, to counteract the conscious and unconscious bias in all of us.”

“As our studio and family of filmmakers continue to make strides throughout the production process towards more inclusive storytelling for all underrepresented groups, identifying additional resources to help improve and increase Latinx portrayals onscreen is one of our top priorities,” said Peter Cramer, President, Universal Pictures. “With this pilot, we hope to create a reference of data points for our creative partners and industry at large to use during early stages of script development.”

The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative revealed in a recent study that “31 of the 100 top-grossing films from 2019 cast a non-white person in a starring or co-starring acting role,” according to CNN. “That is a 14% increase from 2018 and a 138% increase from the 13 minority-led films put out during the diversity initiative’s inaugural year in 2007.”

However, and according to the analysis of the media, the 2020 Oscar nominations seemed to be a return to previous standards where the heteronormative white character still prevails.

Perhaps now, with the necessary tools, technology can finally achieve what years of struggle have failed to create: true equality of representation.

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