Professor aims to put the history of Mexicans in Los Angeles at your fingertips

Marissa López’s app, ‘Picturing Mexican America,’ will display 19th-century images connected to the user’s location

By Max Gordy

“Zoot Suit” cast dancing at the Mark Taper Forum. Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

“Zoot Suit” cast dancing at the Mark Taper Forum. Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

 

When a lot of people look at maps they see objective facts: the black lines depicting borders, a blue line tracing the path of a river, and locations of mountains, cities and lakes.

Marissa López, professor in the departments of English and Chicana and Chicano and Central American studies, sees a story, one written from the perspective of the mapmaker. That kind of control over the narrative U.S. history has usually rested in the hands of white men. The result has been a history that omits the stories, contributions and perspectives of people of color. In Southern California, that’s meant the erasure of our region’s Mexican roots, and also the history of its indigenous people.

Now, in partnership with Los Angeles Public Library, López is committing to illuminating that long Mexican history of Los Angeles through Picturing Mexican America, a series of digital humanities projects centered around a mobile app. The app, which is currently in development, will display archival images of 19th-century Mexican Los Angeles related to the current location of the user. López and Picturing Mexican America recently collaborated with the 826LA, a nonprofit that teaches and promotes the value of writing, to create a summer workshop where middle and high school students had the opportunity to write and create art based on the history and future of Los Angeles.

The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

What can you tell me about the origins of Picturing Mexican America and your motivations behind starting it?

I’ve always loved history. If there’s any kind of plaque anywhere, I will always read it and it drives my family nuts. My husband is from Kentucky and while we were vacationing there, a friend of his showed me an app called Explore Kentucky History. It pulls data from Kentucky historical markers and it maps them. If you’re near one, it’ll pop up and you can read about the history of where you are. I thought, “Oh, this is awesome. Someone should make something like this for California.”

Around this same time I was finishing up my second book and thinking, as I have been ever since receiving tenure in 2013, about what it means to make knowledge, to be a culture worker, and what it meant to be a professor. I wondered what other avenues of knowledge making, besides writing books and teaching, could be available to me.

Serendipitously, this was when the American Council of Learned Societies created their Scholars and Society Fellowship, which pairs doctoral faculty with public facing institutions to design collaborative research projects in the humanities. I saw that as the perfect opportunity to work on this app. I was very lucky that the Los Angeles Public Library agreed to collaborate with me as a partner institution, and I started working at the library while on sabbatical in 2019. It was so exciting learning about how people at the library understand the work they do and the library’s role in the city.

Through my work and conversations at the library I was connected with Hack for L.A, a local chapter of the national Hack for America, made up of tech professionals looking for projects that serve the public good. Their volunteers helped me move forward with thinking about what this app could really look like and what it could accomplish.

What does an app as a medium allow you to accomplish that other more traditional methods of knowledge spreading might not?

I was already thinking about creating an app after being inspired by Explore Kentucky History, but being in the library made me start to envision the app as a method of liberating the archive and putting this unfettered historical knowledge in the hands of the public. The library puts people first — before ideas — which is different than what a lot of educational institutions do. There’s a power in that, a power to catalyze social change that is very exciting to me, and I think the aligning of my goals for the app with that vision is part of why the project was appealing to the Los Angeles Public Library.

That was how I put it to them: What horizons of possibility do we open up when we just throw a bunch of information at the wall and allow people to look at it?

For instance, so many people do not even know that California used to be Mexico. Even if they know it as historical fact, people just don’t really think about it. All of UCLA used to be someone’s ranch; there were Mexican people that lived and loved and died on this land. That was land that they had stolen from the Tongva, which is a whole other thorny layer to sort through, but what would it mean for people, Latinos and non-Latinos alike, to really have to experience the fact that this land used to be Mexican.

Then, when you think about how it still is really Mexican, and will continue to be Mexican, how does that change conversations? Conversations that we have about belonging, and who has a right to be where, who has a right to participate in political processes, how do those conversations change when we start to have to really see the past for what it truly was?

Mike Mario at Rancho Los Cerritos

Adelbert Bartlett papers (Collection 1300)/UCLA Library Special Collections
Miguel Murillo (known historically as Mike Mario), worked on Jonathan Temple’s 27,054-acre Rancho Los Cerritos, part of the original 300,000-acre land grant that would become part of modern Long Beach, California. Archival evidence suggests that Murillo, who was part Cuahuila Indian and would live to 116, worked for Temple and lived in an adobe house on the ranch.

 

How will the visual and interactive aspects of the app facilitate that process of rediscovery and discussion?

As a professor and a writer, I do a lot of telling people things, through lectures and books. I saw the app as a way of doing something else, of altering people’s experience of space, and I knew that I could incorporate images. Having a visual element was important to me, because the way that we process and experience images is very different than reading something.

Also, of the Latinx population that accesses the internet, a significant majority do so through their mobile phones. Putting these typically quite guarded and protected archives, these powerful images, into people’s pockets and giving them historical and geographic context can allow for voices and cultures that have been erased over the years to understand their past and express their reactions to it.

How have Mexican voices and culture been erased over the years?

First, it’s done by erasing the history of the land. All the massive ranches that used to be here were carved up and sold. Then, there is a narrative that was crafted, saying that Mexicans lost their land because they didn’t understand business or because they were lazy. That narrative gets taught to schoolchildren very early on, and the continued telling of that story is a primary way that Mexican voices have been erased.

The reality is much more nuanced. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican American War in 1848, contained provisions for Mexican property owners to retain ownership of property that used to be in Mexico but was now in the United States. After the war, the U.S. government established the California Land Commission in 1851 to ascertain titles.

Basically, the land commission created a very complicated legal system that people had to navigate in order to keep their land, and through all of these rules, through mortgages to pay legal fees, and inequitable taxation schemes, Mexicans lost their land. Of course, in some instances people did just make poor decisions, but effectively, it was death by a thousand legal paper cuts for Mexican Californians and the colonial violence of land theft was hidden behind the abstraction of law.

Rudecinda Sepulveda de Dodson

C.C. Pierce Collection of Photographs, The Huntington Library
Rudecinda Sepulveda de Dodson was a devout Catholic and active in her community, donating land to her church, to build the San Pedro Women’s Club building, to the Salvation Army, the American Legion and the San Pedro Elks club, deeding, in addition, more land for official city use, including Plaza Park where the original city hall was built.

 

This was a very complex process that I’m simplifying, but it’s still hard to understand. It is, however, the sort of thing that you can grasp at a basic level when you see these images. There are these diseños, which literally means drawing, but that’s the word for these hand drawn maps of the ranchos. There is one of Rancho San José de Buenos Ayres, which is what UCLA used to be called, and you can see that the way the land is rendered visually is very different.

When you see these depictions, you can understand that a lot of things like maps masquerade as objective, when really a map is just a way of telling a story about land. There are the legalistic means of erasing Mexican voices and culture, but there is also this process where we just come in and tell radically different stories about the history of this land.

In the late 19th century, Los Angeles begins transforming into a metropolis. Wealthy white men like David Burbank, Jonathan Temple and Abbot Kinney bought up a lot of the land on which they now needed people to live, so you get an extended period of Anglo boosterism. There is this creation of a Californian mythology because there is an emerging tourism industry that relies on an entirely invented history of this land. Scholars call it the “fantasy Spanish heritage.”

In essence, we just start telling these stories about the Spanish dons and doñas, who wandered around playing guitar and wearing mantillas, and it’s completely made up. This a process that’s continuing to happen today as well.

What made you decide to work with K-12 students with 826LA?

At first, I didn’t start out thinking that I needed to design K-12 programming. I don’t have that kind of training or background, plus I wanted to avoid the widespread tendency to contextualize diversity-oriented work like this as being “for the children.”

That move ­— something we see all too often with the careers of Black, Indigenous and people of color writers — suggests that children need to learn certain things that adults already know. It also, in my field, works as a subtle, if entirely unjust, devaluation, a way of saying, “Have a seat at the kids’ table while the grownups talk.” I didn’t want that to happen to me, and so that was a bit of a chip that I had on my shoulder about working with kids.

But, I’ve realized one of the great joys in reaching the rank of full professor, to which I was promoted in 2020, is that I really don’t have to care about such nonsense anymore. I control my own professional narrative, and right now I want to tell a story about how wonderful it is to work with K-12 writers! They’re incredibly enthusiastic and imaginative; my UCLA undergrads are just as creative, but a little more jaded and outcomes driven. The K-12 students I’ve been honored to work with are so unfettered in the classroom.

My goal, in all my work but with them especially, is to seed narrative without crafting or controlling it, to give people the tools to engage with the material on their own. K-12 writers don’t know yet about all the people who want to wrest narrative control from them, who want to tell them what to think about themselves.  These kids were all about telling their own stories, about shaping a better tomorrow, and they were just awesome.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Transfer Student Program zoom class for English 2 - Math and Science Cohort with Ms. Poston

New students get a head start at Freshman Transfer Summer Program

By Robin Migdol

 

Transfer Student Program zoom class for English 2 - Math and Science Cohort with Ms. Poston

Transfer Student Program students in zoom class (English 2 – Math and Science Cohort with Ms. Poston)

Going into his freshman year at UCLA, Daniel Juarez ’19 freely admits, “I had no idea what I was doing.”

The first member of his family to go to college, Juarez had fulfilled every requirement to get into UCLA, but he was lost when it came to the next steps like choosing which classes to take, navigating the campus and utilizing resources and extracurricular programs. An upperclassman from his high school in Moreno Valley told him about a summer program at UCLA that would help him acclimate to campus life. Juarez was sold.

“That was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made,” Juarez said. “FTSP [Freshman Transfer Summer Program] really provided me with the foundation that I needed in order to excel [not only] academically at UCLA … but also in terms of networking and seeking opportunities. Were it not for that program, I would not have been introduced to various other programs that allowed me to enrich my undergraduate academic experience.”

UCLA’s Academic Advancement Program (AAP), now celebrating its 50th anniversary, launched FTSP to help incoming students from underrepresented and first-generation backgrounds transition to life at UCLA and feel a sense of belonging. The program for freshmen has been around since 1976; for transfers, it started in 1978.

“Oftentimes students gain entry into the university but don’t necessarily either feel welcomed or prepared, or it takes a while … to establish a sense of community,” said Dr. Jonli Tunstall ‘05, AAP’s director of pre-college and summer programs and an alumna of FTSP. “So the goals of the program are to make sure students are academically prepared for the challenge of UCLA, but also to ensure they can build community before the quarter even starts.”

FTSP, offered only for incoming freshman and transfer students who qualify for AAP membership, begins eight weeks before fall quarter starts. While some students commute, most live in the residence halls for the duration of the program. About 500 students participate each year.

Students are required to take three courses including a writing course; freshmen can choose either a science intensive track or writing intensive track. Transfers must also take a research course. Students also have the opportunity to take some of their courses for Honors credit.

For each course they take during FTSP, participants have access to an AAP peer learning facilitator, an undergraduate tutor who works with students in small groups. They also learn about campus resources, student groups, research programs and other opportunities that await them at UCLA.

While Juarez was at FTSP, Professor Tracy Johnson, currently UCLA College’s dean of life sciences and holder of the Keith and Cecilia Terasaki Presidential Endowed Chair, spoke to students about an undergraduate research program called Pathways To Success, which Juarez jumped at the chance to join. He was later able to parlay that experience into a position doing research in the lab of renowned Parkinson’s disease researcher Dr. Jeff Bronstein. A biology major and global health minor, Juarez also participated in AAP’s High AIMS (Achievement in Math and Science) program, which provides academic, career and mentoring support to AAP students interested in gaining admission to medical, dental or nursing school.

This fall Juarez is beginning his first year at the UCLA School of Dentistry. He credits the foundation he received at FTSP with getting him where he is today.

“I realized, oh wow [dentistry] is my calling. This is something I want to do as a career,” Juarez said. “All this was only possible because I did a program at the start of my undergraduate career. I was introduced to so many resources as an undergrad and I was able to take advantage of them … and get into these programs.”

For 2013 anthropology alumna Alexandra de la Torre, learning about AAP and FTSP on Bruin Day (for admitted students) solidified her decision to attend UCLA. Although she grew up in North Hollywood just 30 minutes from campus, she thought of UCLA as “daunting.”  The idea of being part of a   community of peers who were also first-generation students from underrepresented backgrounds reassured her that she would be comfortable and supported.

“I didn’t really have mentors in my life … who had been to college, and I was really scared, [because] obviously UCLA is hard,” de la Torre said. “At Bruin Day, everyone from AAP was so nice. Students from previous years were … telling us their perspective on how much they got out of the program and how it helped them to get on the right foot coming into UCLA.”

De la Torre noted that by starting their first year in the summer, FTSP students have extra time to adjust to the fast-paced quarter system, learn their way around campus and figure out how to balance their social lives and academics.

For the past two summers, FTSP has been offered virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although students couldn’t live and study together in person, FTSP staff put groups of students together into virtual dorm “floors” to help them build relationships. FTSP has focused on supporting students’ socio-emotional wellness through sessions with UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Rise Center (Resilience in Your Student Experience). Staff have also facilitated meetings with UCLA staff from other offices and programs who are eager to meet the new students.

De la Torre is now a veterinarian in Culver City. As it did for Juarez, FTSP paved the way for her academic and professional success as well as her sense of belonging and community at UCLA. She continued to return to AAP for peer counseling and tutoring as an undergraduate and also worked in the new student programs office and, after graduation, as a residence director for FTSP.

“Throughout FTSP and then throughout my years at UCLA, with AAP and all that they gave me, I always felt like someone had my back,” she said. “I think the program is really amazing because it gives students a sense of community and a lot of support. It really sets the students up for success.”

 

 

From right, Alexandra Dell, Jada Hart, Donald Dell and Jada's father Nathan Hart at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

UCLA’s Arthur Ashe Legacy Fund Launches Ashe Internship at SPORTFIVE Agency

By Robin Migdol

Jada Hart on the occasion of her graduation from UCLA

Jada Hart on the occasion of her graduation from UCLA

Arthur Ashe‘s legacy will live on at UCLA in a new form with the debut of a summer internship offered to one UCLA student or recent graduate each year, supported by UCLA’s Arthur Ashe Legacy Fund.

Jada Hart ’20, M.Ed. ’21 completed the inaugural Arthur Ashe Internship this summer at SPORTFIVE, a global sports marketing agency. Hart is a professional tennis player and Bruin who received her bachelor’s in political science and master’s in transformative coaching and leadership.

Hart’s manager at SPORTFIVE was Alexandra Dell, senior vice president of media. She shares a personal connection with Ashe; Dell’s father Donald Dell was Ashe’s agent, and Ashe was her godfather. 

Dell said that an internship at SPORTFIVE honoring Ashe has been in the works ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. SPORTFIVE wanted to find a way to help students and contribute to the Arthur Ashe Legacy Fund beyond making a donation.

“Giving college kids or graduates the opportunity to see what our industry is all about with the idea of doing an internship and maybe one day hiring them would be the best of both worlds,” Dell said. “It opens us up to a new pool of young, smart, great students and also gives them the opportunity to learn about the business and where they want to be.”

Hart has played tennis competitively since the age of seven and trained with the USTA to one day go pro. After suffering injuries in high school, her tennis career took a backseat to college, where she became interested in sports media and management.

From right, Alexandra Dell, Jada Hart, Donald Dell and Jada's father Nathan Hart at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

From right, Alexandra Dell, Jada Hart, Donald Dell and Jada’s father Nathan Hart at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

“I thought this internship would be a great opportunity to get experience in both the media side and also athlete representation which is potentially something that I want to do, so I was really excited to hear about the internship, and to get it,” Hart said.

At SPORTFIVE, Hart worked on a variety of projects. She researched current sports films, documentaries, TV shows and companies the agency could partner with. One of her main tasks was to assist Dell on an upcoming documentary about tennis great Novak Djokovic. Hart’s background as a tennis player came in handy as she reviewed footage and gave notes for the producers. She also worked at the Hall of Fame Open in Rhode Island and the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

Hart said she appreciated getting to experience many different aspects of the sports entertainment and management industry, and the internship cemented her plans to pursue a career in the industry once she officially retires from professional tennis.

“Before this internship, I knew I wanted to stay in sports, but since working at SPORTFIVE, being involved in TV productions and also meeting some incredible people in the company along the way, I’ve started to gain a good grasp of what goes on in the entertainment and media world. I’ve started to gain an interest in that field as well,” Hart said. “I’ve definitely had a great experience.”

Hart was a valuable and integral member of the SPORTFIVE team this summer, Dell said. Her potential was clear even from the interviewing stage. “She really embodied the values that we wanted in a person to not only represent the company but also to represent Arthur’s legacy, and she seemed like the perfect fit.”

Dell believes that offering access to the sports media and management industry to UCLA students who might not otherwise discover their passion for the industry or have an opportunity to intern there aligns with all that Ashe valued and with his pride in UCLA.

“[Ashe] was the quintessential scholar-athlete. Jada obviously embodies those values, and I think he would be really pleased to see this program and its connection with a school that he loved, fostering the kind of things he believed in,” Dell said.

Students of associate professor Lauren Lee McCarthy (seated, at left) — one of this year’s award recipients — will work closely with members of the disability community on issues of online design accessibility and disability justice.

5 professors receive 2021 Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research

By Jonathan Riggs

Students of associate professor Lauren Lee McCarthy (seated, at left) — one of this year’s award recipients — will work closely with members of the disability community on issues of online design accessibility and disability justice.

Students of associate professor Lauren Lee McCarthy (seated, at left) — one of this year’s award recipients — will work closely with members of the disability community on issues of online design accessibility and disability justice. Photo: Courtesy of Lauren Lee McCarthy

Five UCLA faculty members will create dynamic new courses for undergraduates thanks to the third annual Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research. The awards program, supported by the UCLA Center for Community Engagement and the Chancellor’s Office, provides recipients with individual grants of $10,000 for their projects.

The professors’ classes — in which students will conduct research addressing questions and needs identified in collaboration with community partners — will span a diverse range of subjects, from web accessibility and urban ecology to human rights violations and community wellness.

The 2021 award winners and their courses are:

Michelle Caswell head shot

Michelle Caswell | associate professor of information studies
“Digital Archives, Communities and Memory”

Working closely with community archives, students in Caswell’s course will learn the importance of communities shaping their own narratives about the past to better envision a collective future. (Caswell is also an affiliated member of the Asian American Studies department.) “I hope students gain a deeper appreciation for memory work, particularly the creation and maintenance of digital archives, as a form of activism against ongoing oppressions.”

 

Lauren McCarthy head shot

Lauren Lee McCarthy | associate professor of design media arts
“Design, Disability and the Web”

In this studio-based course, students will engage in collaborative research with the disability community, with a focus on universal design, assistive technology and disability justice. “What I’ve learned from the disability community is the way questions of accessibility can open interesting, creative conversations around what it means to be present, to be accountable and to build online spaces with care.”

 

Nick Shapiro head shot

Nick Shapiro | assistant professor of human biology and society
“Biomedicine, Mass Incarceration and Accountability”

Students in Shapiro’s class will work alongside human rights organizations, analyzing medical data on the deaths of incarcerated individuals for the purpose of identifying human rights violations. “I hope a takeaway from this class is that the students can both better account for the missteps of science and have a grasp on more equitable methods to engage with, support and advance communities as they identify their most pressing questions.”

 

David Shorter | professor of world arts and cultures/dance
“Healing, Ritual and Transformation”

As part of Shorter’s course, students will collaborate with healing practitioners and community-based wellness organizations, researching aspects of community wellness and cross-cultural perceptions of health, including structural inequalities in health care and the history of medicinal development. “One of my central aims remains having students be in service to those on the front line of health care outside of allopathic and pharmaceutical approaches. There, students learn about health and healing beyond textbooks and classrooms.”

 

Pamela Yeah head shotPamela Yeh | associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology
Urban Ecology and Evolution”

Yeh’s class will allow students to explore cities as ecosystems and to study how plants and animals have survived — and in some cases thrived — in urban areas. They will work together with nonprofits in low-income communities of color to create opportunities for long-term avian population monitoring and scientific research. “We live and work in one of the world’s major metropolitan areas, so right in our backyard, we have a fantastic place to do this teaching and research. I hope our students will come to view the community they live in as both a rich resource for advice, help and support in their work, as well as an important obligation and opportunity to give back.”

The faculty members will spend the 2021–22 academic year developing their courses and will begin offering them to undergraduates in 2022–23 or 2023–24.

Although they span many disciplines, the courses are united by a common thread, according to Shalom Staub, director of the UCLA Center for Community Engagement.

“Rooted in impeccable scholarship, each of these courses will empower our students and faculty to take active roles in making the world a better, more just, more inclusive place,” Staub said. “It is deeply inspiring to see UCLA partnering in such creative ways with such a variety of community groups and organizations. Our students will learn tremendously from the expertise residing in these communities and will be able to bring rigorous research to address community-driven questions.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Why is progress so slow for Latinos in Hollywood?

After “One Day at a Time” was canceled by Netflix in 2019, fans launched a campaign to save the show, which follows a Cuban-American family. The program was later picked up by ViacomCBS and carried on Pop TV and TVLand. (Photo Credit: Costco)

Although minorities overall are becoming better represented in the entertainment industry, that progress largely hasn’t touched Latino actors, writers, directors and executives.

An open letter from 270 Latino TV and film writers and creators, published Oct. 15 in the Los Angeles Times, laid bare the growing frustration with that phenomenon. And the statistics in the 2020 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report back it up.

Despite making up nearly 17% of the U.S. populace, Latinos are underrepresented in nearly every critical job category tracked by the report, the latest of which was published today.

Chon Noriega, director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, said decades of attempts at media reform and market-based arguments haven’t yielded significant gains for Latinos in film and TV.

“The approach to media reform over the last 50-some years has always been either the carrot or the stick,” said Noriega, a media scholar who teaches in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “Initially, it was the stick — the laws and regulations around equal employment opportunity. And because Latinos go to more movies than any group and watch more TV than any group, the carrot was, ‘Here are things you can do and these things will enhance your ability to make money.’”

Advocates and activists haven’t yet come up with a method or message that has led to tangible improvements, he said.

For minorities overall, the most progress has come in acting roles, but the numbers remain stubbornly stagnant for Latino actors.

► Related: Read more about the Hollywood Diversity Report’s analysis of jobs in TV

According to the latest Hollywood Diversity Report, Latinos’ share of lead acting roles was 6.6% on scripted broadcast shows, 5.5% in cable and 4.0% in digital in 2018–19. Among all TV acting roles in the past two years, Latinos’ best representation was in broadcast shows during the 2017–18 season, but even then, they made up just 6.4% of casts.

That’s scant progress since the 2012–13 television season, when Latino actors claimed 4.0% of acting roles in broadcast shows, 3.0% on cable and 12.0% on digital.

And all minority groups, including Latinos, are underrepresented in TV writing, directing and show creator jobs, according to the recent report.

Noriega said the rationale for improving Latinos’ representation on TV is tied to media’s critical role in fostering understanding across racial and ethnic groups.

“If you’re in California, how do you know anything about the Midwest or the South?” he asked. “How do you know that the people there are kind of like you in certain ways? You can travel there, and spend time and learn firsthand. Or you can watch movies, the nightly news, sitcoms and documentaries. You can look at things that come into your home that represent other parts of the world beyond where you live.”

For example, he said, Puerto Ricans are rarely depicted in film and on TV — which likely contributes to many Americans’ lack of understanding that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory or that its residents are U.S. citizens who nevertheless lack the full rights of citizenship.

Today’s analysis of the television industry is the second installment of the 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report; part one, focusing on movies, was published in February.

That report found that Latinos held 4.6% of movie acting roles in 2019. Of the 145 top-grossing films in 2019, Latinos had writing credits on just 2.8% and directing credits on only 2.7%. Although both figures were higher than they were for the top-grossing films of 2018, the percentages are still far short of Latinos’ overall share of the population.

Noriega said the lack of representation in some cases — and the way in which minorities are portrayed on screen in others — is especially concerning because of how media shapes people’s impressions.

“There are more portrayals of African-Americans as a percentage than in society,” he said. “But it has been largely negative representation. It’s largely about crime, both in the news and in entertainment.

“And you will rarely see Latinos in the media; you’ll rarely read about them in newspaper. They don’t exist. That makes it a lot easier for a government to decide that they are going to put small children from that group in cages.”

This article, written by Jessica Wolf, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

A still from the Netflix limited series “When they See Us.”

Diversity improves among TV actors, but executives still overwhelmingly white and male

A still from the Netflix limited series “When they See Us.”

The Netflix limited series “When they See Us” was one of the top-rated digital programs of the 2018–19 season. (Photo Credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix)

-An analysis by researchers at the UCLA College found that women hold only 32.0% of studio chair and CEO jobs; minorities just 8.0%.

-Across broadcast, cable and digital, only 24.0% of credited writers are minorities and only 21.8% of episodes were directed by minorities in 2018–19.

-Representation of women and minorities in acting roles has improved since last year’s report.

-Ratings and social media engagement data show that audiences respond to diversity.


When it comes to gender and racial diversity in television industry jobs, the playing field continues to level for women and minorities, but there’s stubborn structural gridlock at the highest ranks and behind the camera.

Those are among the findings of the second part of the 2020 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, which focuses on broadcast, cable and digital programming for the past two television seasons. Part one, which was published in February, analyzed diversity in the movie business, and the authors concluded that the industry’s narrative on diversity was a tale of two Hollywoods. They write that the same is true in TV.

Women and minorities made gains in nearly all of the 13 television employment categories tracked by the report. But both groups still are not represented proportionately to their share of the U.S. population overall, even though audiences continue to show interest in programs whose casts, directors and writers represent the nation’s diversity.

“There has been a lot of progress for women and people of color in front of the camera,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College and a co-author of the report. “Unfortunately, there has not been the same level of progress behind the camera. Most notably in the executive suite, there has been very little change since we began compiling data five years ago. That’s very telling, particularly in light of our current racial reckoning.”

The report, which is compiled and published by researchers in the UCLA College social sciences division, tracks two seasons of scripted broadcast, cable and digital programming — 453 shows in 2017–18 and 463 shows in 2018–19.

In 2018–19, minority actors were almost proportionally represented (35.0%) among lead roles in scripted cable shows. (Minorities represent 40.2% of the population overall.) Women actors achieved parity in lead roles for of digital scripted shows (49.4%) and almost did so among lead roles in scripted cable shows (44.8%).

In all other job categories reviewed in the report, men hold almost twice as many jobs as women and whites hold at least twice as many as minorities. Still, there are signs of continued, albeit slow, improvement. Of all lead acting slots on broadcast shows in 2018–19, people of color held 24.0%, almost a fivefold increase from 2011–12 when it was 5.1%.

The analysis found that the greatest racial and gender disparities are in behind-the-camera jobs such as show creator, writer and director:

  • Among digital programs, just 10.3% of show creators were minorities; in broadcast, 10.7%; and for cable, 14.7%.
  • Women held 28.6% of show creator titles for digital programs, 28.1% for broadcast and 22.4% for cable.
  • In 2018–19, only 24.0% of credited writers were minorities and only 21.8% of all episodes airing or streaming were directed by minorities, on average, across broadcast, cable, and digital platforms.

And white men still dominate the high-level TV executive jobs. As of 2020, chair/CEO positions were overwhelmingly held by white people (92.0%) and men (68.0%); and the statistics were similar for of senior executives (84.0% white, 60.0% male) and unit heads (87.0% white, 54.0% male).

“Just as with film, it’s those at the top of the television industry who have the most power to foster talent and invest in programming,” said Ana-Christina Ramon, a co-author of the report and director of research and civic engagement in the UCLA division of social sciences.

“The underrepresentation of people of color in the executive suite, and as creators, writers and directors is problematic, even if there are more people of color in acting roles. When people of color do not control their own narrative, their characters’ storylines may lack authenticity, may be written stereotypically or their characters may even be depicted as ‘raceless.’”

Now, Hunt said, a big question is whether the nation’s current racial reckoning will have a significant effect on the industry’s hiring practices in a way that will be apparent in next year’s report.

The report’s authors have tracked film and television diversity data since 2014, making the study the most comprehensive record of the industry’s progress on diversity hiring.

► Related: UCLA report outlines strategy toward diversity in Hollywood

Each Hollywood Diversity Report has further established that audiences value and respond to diversity.

Among Black households, all 10 of the top-rated broadcast TV shows in 2018–19 featured casts that were at least 21% minority. But the phenomenon held among white households, too: eight of the top 10 broadcast scripted shows among white viewers had casts that were at least 21% minority.

Social media engagement tends to be strong when casts are more diverse, too. Judging viewers’ activity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter activity around scripted cable TV shows, figures spiked when the shows had majority-minority casts.

Among other findings in the report:

-Black actors reached proportional representation (12.9%) among lead actors in cable scripted shows in 2017–18 and lead actors in cable scripted programs (14.1%) in 2018–19. Black actors were also overrepresented in total cast diversity for broadcast (18.0%) and cable shows (18.2%) in 2018–19. The U.S. population is about 13% Black.

-Latinos and Asian Americans remain significantly underrepresented in nearly all industry positions.

-There is minimal presence in any job category for people of Middle Eastern and North African descent, and virtually zero representation for Native Americans.

“Over time, work has been done to improve representation among certain groups — like Black actors in particular — but the near absence of Native Americans in these jobs is potent evidence that systems of racial erasure continue to exist,” Hunt said.

This article, written by Jessica Wolf, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Images from the four episodes of Earth Focus

Faculty, students co-produce documentary on bipartisan environmental solutions

Images from the four episodes of Earth Focus

Earth Focus Collage
Images from the four episodes of Earth Focus. Top Left: “The New West and the Politics of the Environment,” image courtesy of KCET and LENS at UCLA; remaining images courtesy of Thomson Reuters Foundation. (Photos Courtesy of KCET, LENS and Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Anew documentary exploring environmental politics, which was researched, reported and produced by UCLA faculty and students in conjunction with the Southern California public media channel KCET, is slated to air in September as part of the locally produced environmental series “Earth Focus.”

This is the third season of “Earth Focus” that UCLA’s Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies has worked on. LENS advised on three of the episodes in this year’s series and co-produced the fourth, a feature-length documentary. Launched in 2007, the series is the longest-running investigative environmental news program on U.S. television and features reports about the changing environment and how it affects people around the world.

The 90-minute documentary, “The New West and the Politics of the Environment,” focuses on Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s work on sustainability. The film looks at topics like bipartisan solutions to water wars and land conservation, compromises between progressive urban areas and conservative rural areas, and equitable energy transitions from coal to renewable energy.

LENS co-founder Jon Christensen, a UCLA adjunct assistant professor and member of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, served as executive producer on the documentary. In collaboration with the filmmaking team at KCET, Christensen’s work included researching and shaping the story, interviewing subjects, and overseeing UCLA students working as researchers, reporters and writers on the series.

UCLA fourth-year political science student Lucas Holtz investigated environmental initiatives emerging in the western United States, while Spencer Robins, a graduate student in English, delved into Reid’s archived congressional papers, many of which were fortunately digitized before the pandemic quarantine.

Shouhei Tanaka, also a graduate student in English, researched the history of California’s reliance on coal and fossil fuels and turned it into an online article that will run with an “Earth Focus” episode about coal mining in South Africa. Geography grad student Alexandria Herr researched and wrote an article for the website about the environmental legacy of mercury used in the California gold rush, which will run as a companion piece to an episode about illegal gold mines in Peru.

“In a political season that’s as polarized as we’ve ever seen, we want to tell these stories showing that environmental politics are complicated and nuanced, and there are different paths being forged on the ground,” Christensen said. “Even among politicians who are opposed to funding climate change research, in the Midwest for example, there are many who care deeply about how changing weather patterns, drought and flooding affect farming.”

KCET partnered with the Thomson Reuters Foundation for the international filmmaking. While LENS’ work focused on the feature-length documentary, all the partners gathered for weekly calls on story development, providing Christensen and the UCLA students a voice in the development of the other three episodes in the series.

“Earth Focus” airs on KCET and Link TV beginning on Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. with “The Youth Climate Movement around the World,” and culminates with “The New West and the Politics of the Environment” on Sept. 29.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of two N95 respirators.

Single-use N95 respirators can be decontaminated and used again, study finds

A photo of two N95 respirators.

N95 respirators reduce exposure to airborne infectious agents, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (Photo Credit: CDC/Debora Cartagena)

N95 respirators, which are widely worn by health care workers treating patients with COVID-19 and are designed to be used only once, can be decontaminated effectively and used up to three times, according to research by UCLA scientists and colleagues.

An early-release version of their study has been published online, with the full study to appear in September in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

N95 respirators reduce exposure to airborne infectious agents, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are one of the key pieces of personal protective equipment used by clinical workers in preventing the spread of the virus. Critical shortages of these masks have driven efforts to find new decontamination methods that can extend their use.

“Although N95 respirators are designed for just one use before disposal, in times of shortage, N95 respirators can be decontaminated and reused up to three times,” said James Lloyd-Smith, a co-author of the study and a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “But the integrity of the respirator’s fit and seal must be maintained.”

In a controlled laboratory setting, the researchers tested several decontamination methods on small sections of N95 filter fabric that had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. The methods included vaporized hydrogen peroxide, dry heat at 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit), ultraviolet light and a 70% ethanol spray. All four methods eliminated detectable viable virus traces from the N95 fabric test samples.

The investigators then treated fully intact, clean respirators with the same decontamination methods to test their reuse durability. Employees with the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana volunteered to wear the masks for two hours to determine if they maintained a proper fit and seal over the face. The scientists decontaminated each mask three times, using the same procedure with each.

The masks treated with vaporized hydrogen peroxide experienced no failures, suggesting they potentially could be reused three times, Lloyd-Smith said. Those treated with ultraviolet light and dry heat began showing fit and seal problems after three decontaminations, suggesting these respirators potentially could be reused twice.

The study authors concluded that vaporized hydrogen peroxide was the most effective method because no traces of the virus could be detected after only a 10-minute treatment. They found that ultraviolet light and dry heat are also acceptable decontamination procedures, as long as the methods are applied for at least 60 minutes.

The ethanol spray, the scientists discovered, damaged the integrity of the respirator’s fit and seal after two sessions, and they do not recommend it for decontaminating N95 respirators.

The researchers stressed that anyone decontaminating an N95 respirator should closely check the fit and seal over the face before each reuse.

Co-authors of the study include Amandine Gamble, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher in Lloyd-Smith’s laboratory, as well as researchers with Rocky Mountain Laboratories, part of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Funding sources included the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Science Foundation.

In a widely cited study, Lloyd-Smith and colleagues reported in March that the virus that causes COVID-19 remains for several hours to days on surfaces and in aerosols.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

 

A photo of Lynn Vavreck and Miguel García-Garibay.

Two elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

A photo of Lynn Vavreck and Miguel García-Garibay.

From left: Lynn Vavreck, Miguel García-Garibay

Six exceptional UCLA professors and leaders — including the UCLA College’s Physical Sciences Dean Miguel García-Garibay and Political Science Professor Lynn Vavreck — were elected April 23 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies. The other honorees include School of Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin, Education Professor Pedro Noguera, environmental champion Mary Nichols and Hammer Museum Director Ann Philbin.

“I am delighted to congratulate each of this year’s UCLA inductees, who are all deserving of this wonderful honor,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “Election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is a testament to the exceptional work of our scholars and leaders. The entire campus community can take pride in this news and their many accomplishments.”

A total of 276 artists, scholars, scientists and leaders in the public, nonprofit and private sectors who were elected to the Academy today. More about UCLA’s honorees:

Miguel García-Garibay, dean of the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has earned worldwide recognition in the fields of artificial molecular machines, organic photochemistry, solid-state organic chemistry and physical organic chemistry. He studies the interaction of light and molecules in crystals. Light can have enough energy to break and make bonds in molecules, and García-Garibay’s research team has shown that crystals offer an opportunity to control the outcome of these chemical reactions.

His research has applications for green chemistry — the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances — and it could lead to the production of specialty chemicals that would be very difficult to produce using traditional methods. Among his many honors, he was elected a fellow of the American Chemical Society in 2019.

Lynn Vavreck is UCLA’s Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy, a contributing columnist to the Upshot at the New York Times, and a recipient of many awards and honors, including the Andrew F. Carnegie Prize in the Humanities and Social Sciences. She is the author of five books, including “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America” and “The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election,” which has been described as the “definitive account” of that election.

Consultants in both political parties refer to her work on political messaging in “The Message Matters” as required reading for presidential candidates. “Identity Crisis” was awarded the 2019 Richard E. Neustadt Prize for the Best Book on Executive Politics by the Presidents and Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

Vavreck’s 2020 election project, Nationscape, is the largest study of presidential elections ever conducted in the United States. Interviewing more than 6,000 people a week, Nationscape will complete 500,000 interviews before next January’s inauguration.

► Read more about the Nationscape election project.

“The members of the class of 2020 have excelled in laboratories and lecture halls, they have amazed on concert stages and in surgical suites, and they have led in board rooms and courtrooms,” said David Oxtoby, president of the Academy. “With [the] election announcement, these new members are united by a place in history and by an opportunity to shape the future through the Academy’s work to advance the public good.”

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals. Previous fellows have included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

It also is an independent policy research center that undertakes studies of complex and emerging problems. Current academy members represent today’s innovative thinkers in many fields and professions, including more than 250 Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.