How I Got to Talk About Latine Representation in Hollywood on the TEDx Stage

Since I was a young kid, I wanted to be a writer. I spent my summers reading, lying on my bedroom floor with my glasses slipping down my nose. But despite my fascination with storytelling, pursuing a career in writing never seemed realistic. Instead, I majored in English and embarked on a somewhat related career in cause-based communications and marketing.

At those jobs, I met a lot of women who were creating art that was meaningful to them and their communities. They weren’t household names, but they showed me that I’d been wrong. They proved to me that writers who look like me or grew up with similar experiences deserve a shot at getting our stories out there.

At the same time, I decided to finally go for it and pursue a career as a professional writer. I couldn’t help but note the number of organizations that were embracing Latina storytelling. But back then there weren’t as many folks working on the criticism side and no one was focusing on encouraging Latinas like me to be critics. So I cofounded the indie publication LatinaMedia.Co, along with another Latina, Nicola Schulze, to give others the boost I needed – the explicit invitation to become a published critic.

Make no mistake, film criticism is broken. According to USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative, white guys write 65.7 percent of movie reviews. Meanwhile, they make up 30 percent of the population. Way on the other side, Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Latina women combined write just 3.7 percent of movie reviews, despite making up around 20 percent of the population. I suppose they don’t break it out by group because the numbers would be so small.

And it’s not just film criticism. Journalism as a whole is too white, with Pew Research reporting that only 25 percent of reporters are people of color (and only eight percent are Hispanic, despite us being nearly 20 percent of the population). In Hollywood, the problem stretches all around the camera, with too few women-of-color executives, stars, creators, directors, and writers. Many believe that all those pledges to increase diversity and inclusion were just PR stints with not much changing in story-making fields.

Stories matter. They help us make meaning of the world. They allow us to understand ourselves and others. But the lack of representation in the books I read growing up made me feel like my stories didn’t matter. Still, it’s funny how things work out. When I was working in nonprofits and meeting all these women storytellers, I also met a lot of activists who’d given TEDx Talks (some of them were the same lady artists). I looked at their examples and thought, I want to do that. Giving a TEDx Talk became a bucket list item for me, something I promised myself I’d be ready for someday.

That day came last year, five years after cofounding LatinaMedia.Co and embarking on a career in entertainment journalism. From my activist circles, I knew Tabby Biddle, a TEDx speaker and coach who, among other things, leads classes to encourage more women to give TED Talks. Because yes, TED is another one of those institutions that is historically exclusionary. While they’ve made some progress over the years, 56.2 percent of their speakers are still white men. Biddle saw my work and thought I might know some Latinas interested in the scholarship she was offering. I did happen to know someone, and that someone was me.

As the class was winding down, Tabby warned that it could take a year or more, along with multiple applications, to get on stage. I was relieved. Giving a TEDx Talk, where you share both ideas and yourself, was scary. I still struggle with that nagging voice inside of me that says, “I’m not good enough.” Still, I started a spreadsheet of potential events, sent out some initial feelers, and applied to one event.

And they picked me. The good people at TEDx Cherry Creek, a nonprofit staffed by volunteers and founded by current Colorado State Senator Dafna Michaelson Jenet working to get more women on the TED stage (see a trend here), selected me. Based on the super-quick video I submitted (it had to be 40 seconds or less!) and a handful of short essays, the event organizers selected me and 17 other women out of the 175 people who applied. I was thrilled, shocked, and nervous.

I then had three months to work with them and my cohort of truly impressive women to put together the talk that I had dreamed of giving, the one where I tell my story and make the case for more diversity in media criticism.

I argued that TV and movies hold a special place in our culture, influencing how we see ourselves and how we see others, which in turn affects how we build our systems and institutions. If we want this world to be for everyone, everyone needs a chance to tell stories and evaluate them – that was my thesis. But I didn’t stop there. I used myself as a test case for how this influence can be damaging, telling my story of losing and finding my voice again. I went on to explain how I’m paying it forward with LatinaMedia.Co. Then I ended the talk by inviting the audience to join me, giving everyone a three-step plan on how to change the face of media criticism and, from there, the world.

To get ready, I practiced every day. I conscripted friends and family members to listen. I guest spoke at a class at a community college for practice. When the day came, I was still scared. But I wasn’t nervous about my performance. I was anxious about standing in front of the world without armor, sharing my truth. I did it anyway. I cried for a moment once I got off stage, relieved and exhausted. I hugged my parents and husband, who’d traveled to hear me speak. And then I had to wait.

The event organizers had to edit the video, the TEDx people had to approve and post it. When it finally came out, I felt relieved and nervous all over again, this time about sharing it with the world.

Now here I am, a long way from the pink carpet of my childhood bedroom. And I’m here not because I’m some fearless shero. I’m here because I had so many examples of women seeing the hard thing and still going for it. I strive to be one of them. I think with this talk, with LatinaMedia.Co, with this article and the others I tap out, I’m doing my part to show my community that we belong anywhere we want to go. Because if I’ve learned anything over my years of working with Latina writers and thinkers, it’s that we’re just getting started.

Cristina Escobar is a POPSUGAR contributor who writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. She’s the cofounder and editor in chief of LatinaMedia.Co, a digital publication uplifting Latina and gender-nonconforming Latine perspectives in media.