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Edward James Olmos Reflects on His Legacy and Diversity in Entertainment

Photo: Courtesy of Olmos Productions, Inc.

Edward James Olmos would like to see more Latinos and people of color in front of and behind the camera. 

According to the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report, only 2.7 percent of films roles go to Latinos. Other minority groups, including Black, Asian and Native Americans, were underrepresented as well.  

Currently Latinos represent 18 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly a quarter of Latinos go to the moviesat least once a month, yet they’re significantly underrepresented in the industry. 

“It’s one of the most difficult realizations I’ve ever had in my life,” says Olmos. “I understand it for what it is — this is the entertainment business.”

He continues, “I’m very grateful that we’ve been able to do the movies we’ve been able to do in our lifetime, but I will say it’s been a really difficult time to understand why more Latino-led stories have not been produced.” 

Building character 

One of most influential Mexican-American actors of his time, Olmos was the first Mexican-American to ever receive an Academy Award nomination, a best actor nomination for 1988’s “Stand and Deliver.”

He cried watching a 30th anniversary screening of the film recently at the Panama International Film Festival.

“The feeling was an incredible amount of gratefulness that we were given the opportunity to make that film,” he says, noting it stands the test of time.

Whenever he’s cast in a project, he asks for full creative control of his character, including his role of William Adama in the re-imagined “Battlestar Galactica.” He likes to shape the characters, especially when they’re Latino, so he can ensure they’re authentic.

Advocacy

Throughout his career, Olmos has helped found and supported many nonprofit organizations aimed to help Latinos tell stories in the media. He received an award from The National Hispanic Media Coalition for his advocacy.

He encourages Latinos to create their own production companies. For example, he’s been impressed by Lin-Manuel Miranda: “He’s the future. You’ve got to be able to write it, produce it, direct it and star in it.”

Olmos advises Latinos to never give up pursuing their Hollywood dreams.“They must continue and not let the industry and the way things are at the present time stop them from trying to tell their stories and use their voice.”

Kristen Castillo, [email protected]

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