In the Crosshairs

Alex Nogales strikes the perfect balance of charm and authority. When he speaks, Hollywood listens.

As the president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), a media advocacy and civil rights organization headquartered in Pasadena, Nogales was able to persuade the heads of entertainment at the four major TV networks to speak on the issue of diversity at their MediaCon keynote luncheon this past March---a first in Hollywood history. After nearly thirty years of NHMC organizing boycotts, filing over 50 petitions with the FCC to deny licenses to networks and radio stations, and consistently holding these entities accountable for negative stereotypes, lack of representation and hiring practices, the bigshots are now finally ready to listen. Why?

Nogales put it quite candidly, “First of all we have been insistent for so long. But other things have come together.The last census showed that we were 16 ½ (now 17%) of the population with a consumer power that by next year will reach $1.3 trillion.  And the Latino vote elected President Obama to a second term.”  It’s not about doing the “right thing” for the networks, Nogales told LATINO, it’s all about business.  In the end, what it really came down to was, “They don’t want to be in the crosshairs of the NHMC and our allies.”

The mission of the NHMC is to create opportunities for Latinos in front of and behind the camera; to do away with negative images that harm the Latino community; and to advocate for telecommunication policies that affect Latinos and other communities of color.  But to be effective, it takes an insider who understands how Hollywood works, a person who knows the issues and what buttons need to be pushed to get Hollywood’s attention.

Nogales is that insider, having been in the entertainment business close to 40 years. Graduating magna cum laude from UCLA with a degree in film and television, Nogales started off as a writer for the educational TV show Villa Alegre.  He was then hired as a producer at KCBS Television in Los Angeles.  Thirteen years and three Emmy awards later, he realized he had hit the glass ceiling---there would be no more promotions for him, despite his qualifications.  He left his six-figure job to focus on addressing the lack of opportunities for Latino in the industry.  In 1986 he co-founded the NHMC along with Armando Duron and Esther Renteria.

One of the first issues the NHMC addressed was the lack of Latino anchors in KCBS-TV’s news.  The following year, NHMC reached affirmative action agreements with both KCBS-TV Channel 2 and KABC-TV Channel 7. In 1999, the NHMC helped create the National Latino Media Council (NLMC), a coalition comprised of 16 of the largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organizations in the country. Together they staged a “Brownout” against the major broadcast networks for failing to employ any Latinos, or any person of color in primary or secondary roles in the 26 new TV shows that premiered that fall.

As a direct result of the Brownout, Fox flew their Senior VP to New York to interview actors of “every ethnicity” for the following year’s shows; NBC removed a slanderous remark from their TV show Will & Grace; ABC and NBC added more people of color to their schedule; CBS announced a Latino-themed show; and TV Guide launched a 16-page color insert in Spanish. In 2003 NHMC and NLMC started the first Writers Program, an intensive TV scriptwritering workshop for Latinos.  Through this program many Latinos have been placed on the writing staffs of current TV shows.

In 2008, NHMC opened up an office in Washington D.C. The following year they announced their campaign against hate speech, and begin actively lobbying for the Internet for Everyone (IFE) Campaign and immigration reform. Recently, NHMC has been working on the issue of net neutrality. If Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Verizon grow too powerful, it could mean higher prices for Latinos to access the internet. This is an issue that NHMC has been tracking since bringing on board two staff attorneys, Michael Scurato and Jessica Gonzalez, who together have over 15 years combined of telecommunications law under their belts.

“Hollywood deals in the million of dollars, but the real game is really in D.C. where they deal in the billions of dollars,” Nogales explains.

Bel Hernandez