During Hispanic Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy, and pride. We are highlighting Hispanic and Latino trailblazers and rising voices. TODAY will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos, and specials throughout the month of September and October. For more, head here.
“Are you looking to check a box, or are you looking to tell a story?” Angel Bismark Curiel says, reflecting on the persistent lack of roles for and stories about Latino people. “Everyone has a story to tell, and it’s unfair to put everyone in a narrow and stereotypical box.”
Even with a sustained spotlight and laser-focused microscope on the issues of diversity in film and television, statistics on Latino representation and on-screen visibility show little improvement, despite Hispanics being one of the fastest-growing communities in the United States.
In 2020, a Nielsen study on diversity and inclusion on TV found that though Latinos make up nearly 19% of the nation’s population, their overall representation on television was 5.5% in 2019. Stacie de Armas, senior vice president of diverse consumer insights and initiatives for Nielson, told NBC News last year that “Latinos were significantly underrepresented on every platform, every genre, and in total.”
Curiel rose to fame virtually overnight by starring as Lil Papi Evangelista on the groundbreaking FX series “Pose,” which was celebrated for boasting the largest transgender cast for a scripted series made up of Latino and Black actors in recurring roles.
Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals, the critically acclaimed series about New York City's Latino and Black LGBTQ ball scene in the 1980s and 1990s ran from 2018 to 2021.
Besides breaking ground with its on-screen representation, its stars made history.
Afro-Puerto Rican actor Mj Rodriguez became the first transgender performer to land an Emmy nomination in one of the lead actor categories this year for her role on the show. And in 2019, Billy Porter became the first openly gay Black man to take home an Emmy in the lead actor category for his role.
Curiel, who is Afro-Dominican, says Rodriguez’s nomination and Porter’s win are significant because it shows Hollywood executives, as well as Hispanic and Latino viewers at home, what’s possible.
“So much of the Latinx diaspora doesn’t get the representation or visibility because the people making the decisions, making the shows, doing the writing and doing the casting, they aren’t of the culture and they don’t see us,” he says. “They don’t see us in their day-to-day lives and haven’t seen us in celebrated, successful shows and beloved characters before. ‘Pose’ changed that.”
He continued, “And people watching at home — either the show, or the awards, or reading about the characters or actors — didn’t really see us before either, which means they didn’t see themselves working, living, loving, thriving. Especially in places where we haven’t thrived before. ‘Pose’ changed that, too.”
The 25-year-old actor from Miami says one of the keys to changing Hollywood’s never-ending diversity problem is to pay attention to who’s behind the screen in addition to who’s visible on screen.
“The people in the boardrooms and in the casting meetings, they play a big part in what makes it to your screen and how the show is marketed and even how enjoyable it is to watch,” Curiel says.
But when it comes to the stories and characters, Curiel says it’s also important that the storytelling is fair and balanced.
“We have to get away from the stereotypes,” he says. “We’re not just Dominicans with accents, and a lot of people who make the decisions don’t even know how our accents even sound half the time. There’s so much life in Hispanic and Latinx people in New York or Puerto Rico or Miami or anywhere on this planet. We’re not all the same. We don’t all sound the same. We don’t all think the same. And we don’t all have the same experiences, needs, hopes or dreams.”
Curiel says his role on “Pose” led to an outpouring of love from viewers because of its diverse cast and storylines.
“Anytime anyone comes to me to talk about the show, the character, the love story involving a transgender woman, it comes from a beautiful place,” he says. “We’re all walking around trying to make sense of life and that’s one of the most beautiful things about the show. It helped so many people make sense of life and how they see themselves in this world. I always receive that love and generosity because this show meant so much to so many people.”
For more of our Hispanic Heritage Month coverage, tune into TODAY All Day’s special, “Come with Us: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month,” hosted by Tom Llamas. Watch Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 12:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. EST at TODAY.com/allday.