Hollywood has been on a five-year siesta when it comes to casting more Hispanic actors and actresses in major films, a new study found.
Overall, Hispanic actors accounted for only 4.9% of speaking roles in the top 100 grossing movies of 2013, the survey by the University of Southern California's Annenberg school said.
That's the same level recorded in 2008, even though the country's Hispanic population has surged in recent years.
Latinas, meanwhile, are more likely than women of any other ethnicity to appear partially or totally naked on the silver screen.
The findings make Latinos the most marginalized group among American moviegoers because they represent 16% of the U.S. population and purchase a quarter of all movie tickets, the researchers said.
“Sadly, I’m not surprised. This has been a constant for some time now,” Brooklyn-bred actor Esai Morales told the Daily News on Monday.
Famous for his role in the 1987 biopic "La Bamba," Morales played Lt. Tony Rodriguez on TV's "NYPD Blue" and recently was cast in the upcoming HBO comedy series "The Brink" alongside stars Jack Black and Tim Robbins.
"Part of the problem is conditioning. When you hear the names De Niro or Pacino, you automatically know it's an American movie. But the minute you have a Nunez or a Vasquez as the lead, people wonder if it's a foreign-language film with subtitles. That worries people," he said. "It's a mindset that's very accepted in Hollywood. It's about categories that are easily identified."
Washington Heights moviegoers said they've noticed the problem.
"Hispanic women are always portrayed as hoochie mamas," said Maria Espin, 38, a senior buyer for a clothing company. "They're stereo-typical prostitutes, drug addicts, cleaning ladies, maids, and I feel insulted most of the time."
Mexican actor Demian Bichir, who played Tijuana's corrupt mayor in Showtime's "Weeds" and had roles in Oliver Stone's "Savages" as well as last year's hit comedy "The Heat," said Hispanic audiences need to do their homework and skip a few blockbusters in favor of smaller flicks like his 2011 drama "A Better Life."
That movie, which centered on a hardworking single dad trying to make it as an illegal immigrant in Los Angeles, was critically acclaimed but has yet to recoup its $10 million production budget.
"You would think that with Hispanics being so powerful in terms of spending that there would be a Latin superhero by now. You'd think Marvel would say, 'Super Charro is here! Come see him fight against the bad guys!' But in terms of superheroes or spectacular films like 'Transformers," the Hispanic community already is packing the theaters, so it's not necessary," he said.
"I think the only way we can have more meaningful representation is to write those characters and produce those films. Then as an audience, we need to support them," he said.
Some Hispanic stars who did grace the big screen last year were Dominican Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Into Darkness), Bronx bombshell Jennifer Lopez (Parker), Michelle Rodriguez (Fast & Furious 6) and John Leguizamo (Kick-Ass 2).
The Annenberg study found that about 74% of the actors in the top movies last year were white, compared with a U.S. population that's 63% non-Hispanic white.
About 14% of the characters examined were black, compared with America's 13% black population, the study found. But nearly a fifth of all films in the sample did not have a single black speaking role, and half had a smaller percentage than the population, suggesting a few movies with predominantly black casts skewed the results.
Indeed, the study found that while 2013 included many top-grossing films with black directors and predominantly black casts — including Lee Daniels' "The Butler," Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave," and Tyler Perry's "A Madea Christmas" — there has been "no meaningful change" in the frequency of any racial or ethnic group in popular films between 2007 and 2013.
Morales, 51, said the Tyler Perry model of making hit movies outside of mainstream Hollywood isn't even an option for Hispanic directors and actors.
"The African American experience is a unifying tale. No one was left out of that shared history with slavery. But when you see stories about Cesar Chavez or the Cuban Revolution, some Latinos feel left out. We're not a homogenous community," he said.