Ana Christina Ramón, director of research and civic engagement of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College, became interested in social and racial justice issues around the dinner table with her family, growing up in a multigenerational household in Los Angeles.
“My father is from Peru and my mother is from Mexico, and I’m proud to be the daughter of immigrants,” Ramón said. “When my parents became citizens they were very proud to vote, so we always sat down and talked politics. Just talking about policies and social issues with them from a young age made me really think about what I could do to help other people.”
At UCLA, Ramón is the co-founder and co-author of the annual Hollywood Diversity Report, which tracks key employment categories in the film and television industry for racial and gender diversity — and looks at how diverse films and programs perform with audiences. This year’s report on the film industry comes out April 22.
Ramón was recently named the inaugural Latino Film Institute Scholar, for which she was awarded $100,000 to be used over a two-year period for research including, but not limited to, the Hollywood Diversity Report, as well as a dedicated study on Latino representation in Hollywood and the Latino audience.
Ramón joined UCLA in 2005 as an assistant director at the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies after a short stint at a global research firm. She craved an opportunity to put her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan to use, albeit not as a professor.
In her role as the co-author of the Hollywood Diversity Report, she’s embraced the opportunity to be a mentor, working with UCLA students from across the social sciences and other disciplines as they gather and analyze data to extract insights around how and if Hollywood is reflecting the racial and ethnic makeup of America.
“I’ve lost count of how many students I’ve worked with over the years; I’ve been really proud of all of them,” she said. “Many of them are professors and nonacademic researchers now. It’s amazing to watch them grow and to be there for them as a support system and motivator.”
The first Hollywood Diversity Report launched in 2014, becoming the first comprehensive record of the industry’s progress and challenges around gender and racial diversity. With co-author Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences and a professor of sociology, Ramón’s role has been to construct an architecture around the data that ensures its racial categories are consistently labeled and organized. The data must be consistent over time, but also flexible enough to evolve as culture evolves around us — to respond to what people really want to know about representation, Ramón said.
That means continuing to seek out ways to tell stories not just about Latinos in Hollywood, but about Afro-Latino representation, or to highlight gains and losses for the Middle Eastern and North African communities that have long been excluded from major industry studies. Over the years, filmmakers and artists and industry groups have used information from the report to support their own specific project pitches and advocacy efforts, which is heartening, Ramón said.
Alongside that progress, other institutions and organizations have launched their own analysis of Hollywood’s diversity or lack thereof. Ramón prides herself on UCLA’s near-decade of data and expertise on the topic and is wary of industry trends toward relying on algorithms or formulas to inform creative decision-making at the greenlight phase.
“Using formulas as the primary tool to make creative decisions undercuts the decision-making power of executives. If a studio only invests in formulas and not in having a more diverse and inclusive executive suite, the status quo will remain,” she said.
It’s not just Hollywood that has diversity issues.
“Women of color scholars, particularly when they first start out working in academia, are sometimes undervalued or underestimated,” she said.
Reflecting on Women’s History Month, Ramón said it’s often been hard to be perceived as an authority or even credited properly for her work — even 15 years into it. But she benefitted from great mentors at UCLA who were trailblazers. Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, professor emerita and former UCLA vice chancellor for graduate studies, and M. Belinda Tucker, UCLA professor emerita of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and former UCLA vice provost of the Institute of American Cultures, both helped shape Ramón’s career as a researcher.
An increasingly competitive landscape in Hollywood diversity data analysis, a stubborn system that resists change, the challenges of being a working mom — none of that compares to what her grandmother did when she moved to America to make a better life for her kids, Ramón said.
“She was an amazing person,” Ramón said. “She passed away when I was 18 years old and is still my ultimate role model. I also feel that I am forever indebted to the Black, Indigenous, Latina, Asian and other women of color who have come before me, and who have helped open doors for me to earn a doctoral degree and to work in my position at UCLA. I hope that my work in equity and access can help open doors for others.”