Author

Cristina Escobar

“Someone Great” is the Romantic Comedy We Need

When I was pre-teen and teenager, the women dancing in their underwear on screen were white and super thin. Think Cameron Diaz and Kirsten Dunst. They had this carefree cuteness, this unquestionable right to be fearless, sexy, and the center of attention. All of us wanted to be them, as unattainable as that was for the vast majority of us.

Fast forward to 2019 and I’m watching Gina Rodriguez jam out in her choneys on Netflix’s Someone Great. This film is the updated romantic comedy we need, following Jenny, the 29-year-old music critic who’s T-shirt declares she’s “Latina AF.” She’s brown and proud, regularly using Spanish. And she’s just as plucky and beautiful as her white predecessors. The camera spends some quality time on her thighs and I am here for it. She’s talented and driven, landing a new job that will move her to San Francisco from New York and give her a full staff to supervise at the ripe-old-age of 29. She’s not as squeaky clean as her earlier, romantic comedy counterparts (or even Gina Rodriguez’s other alter ego Jane Villanueva), doing a wide variety of drugs on the sidewalk. But she’s still romantic, seeing her love story as star crossed and using her power as a writer to express her feelings poetically in voiceover.

And like all excellent romantic comedies, Someone Great features fabulous outfit after fabulous outfit. Throughout the day we spend with Jenny in New York, people keep remarking on her clothes like she looks ridiculous. But I’m here wondering how I can get her whole dated, grunge, barrio clothes now. And of course, the same goes for her friends, who manage to look stunning in every shot, including the obligatory getting-dressed-to-go-out montage.

In fact, in addition to Brittany Snow and DeWanda Wise as the best friends, Someone Great also delivers on the romantic comedy classic of the cameo. There’s Ru Paul as the over-the-top and top-end drug dealer. There’s Rosario Dawson as the boyfriend’s cousin who works at Vogue and manages to both sympathize and condescend to Jenny simultaneously. And as a nod and much-needed update to Sex in the City, Girls, etc., there’s New York itself, another romantic comedy staple, appearing browner but just as glamours as always.

Yes, seeing a brown-skinned, black-haired Latina get the full romantic comedy treatment — dance breaks, wardrobe changes, fantastic female friends — is so satisfying. Much of the tone of Someone Great is not joyful though, it’s sad. The film brilliantly portrays the late-twenties angst of Millenials. It is hard to be at the stage where you’re transitioning from all-night benders to farmers’ markets, from screwing the wrong person to declaring your love, from post-college bacchanal to full-fledged adulthood.

But usually, TV and film only allow male characters the kind of transgressive, lost, and sympathetic coming-to-age stories that Jenny and her friends get. Think of the era of the man-child film, embodied by Knocked Up. That was in 2007. Before even the flashbacks of Jenny and her crew. There were so many of those films. Meanwhile, unmarried women’s existence past 30 was only just getting to be fun and not tragic on screen, thanks to Sex and the City. TV’s made some great strides since then. But it’s taking romantic comedies a long time to catch up or include brown people.

Something Great fulfills and advances the promise of earlier, feminist shows, giving us a new set of women that better reflect what the world and New York actually look like. And Something Great has the courage so many of its predecessors do not — it’s happy ending does not include a relationship. Jenny doesn’t get back together with her boyfriend. No new love interest appears to save her from her broken heart. She doesn’t even have bone it out as DeWanda Wise’s Erin helpfully suggests. No the “Someone Great” of this film is Jenny herself, choosing and finding herself. This is the romantic comedy of my dreams. Enjoy.

FacebookTwitter
Why the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Finale was So Satisfying

“Romantic love is not an ending.” So says Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch in her mic-drop moment of the final episode of Crazy Ex-GirlfriendNo, she doesn’t literally drop the mic, but she may as well — staring straight into the camera and letting all us viewers know that this lesson is for us.

After four seasons of critiquing the stories we tell about romantic love, the show delivers on its feminist principles, showing how a man will not complete Rebecca no matter how handsome, rich, or well-matched with her. In fact, we spend the opening sequence of the final episode in a Christmas Carol-esque dream sequence in which Rebecca sees her future with each love interest. In them, she gets what she always wanted — becoming a pretty bride, having a happy pregnancy, being the matriarch of a loving family — but in none of them is she truly happy. Greg, Nathaniel, and Josh each fail to complete her.

Because frankly, that’s not how relationships work. No partner will fulfill allyour needs. Yes, they can help you grow and be a source of great satisfaction but they will not fill the holes inside of you. Only you can do that — no matter what romantic comedies tell you. That’s the conclusion Rebecca and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reach — and I couldn’t agree more.

While in some ways, this ending was predictable (the show has always been clear about its feminist point of view), in other ways it was quite a surprise. After all, much of the final season focused on getting Rebecca and Greg back together. He moves back to West Covina, they get back together, break up, and seem to have the most real relationship. In the penultimate episode, Rebecca goes on a date with each of her three main suitors a la The Bachelor, the idea being that she’ll be able to choose afterward. Josh and Nathaniel pull out all the stops, creating beautiful, romantic moments. Greg originally plans to just hang out for his date but he gets spooked by all the fanfare his rivals dream up. He makes arrangements for a romantic balloon-ride (with Weird Al, no less), but his plans get ruined when his car breaks down. So Rebecca and he end up just hanging out, playing games while they wait for the mechanic. In this decidedly unromantic setting, he tells her “you’re the love of my life” and at that moment, they seem fated to be together. Just like in the actual Bachelor, the sign of real love is not who you can get carried away with but who you can find magic within everyday interactions. Despite being firmly team Nathaniel, after that episode, I figured Rebecca would end up with Greg.

And in most shows, she would have. Trailblazer and general feminist badass Mindy Kaling ended the Mindy Projectby reuniting Mindy Lahiri with her first love — Chris Messina’s Daniel Castellano — a guy who belittled her about her weight, demanded she quit the job she loved (while he worked the same one), and generally gave her hell. And this was a show that started with an explicit critique of romantic comedies and continued in that vein by making Mindy more vapid and problematic as it went on.

Sex and the City famously reunited Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw and Chris Noth’s Mr. Big in an ending. He literally goes to save her from an abusive partner! With all those relationships, sexual escapades, and heartbreak, the morale of Sex and the City seemed to be that friendship is as important as romantic love. The foursome of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte is the show’s one constant. Aren’t you more invested in Carrie and Miranda’s relationship than any other on the show? And yet, the ending didn’t back that up. Carrie needs a man for her story to end — whether you count the ill-conceived movies or not.

In most stories, feminist or not, leading ladies end up with their first, often forsaken love — Mr. Big, Daniel Castellano, etc. That’s why I expected Rebecca to pick Greg and the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s creators did everything to lead me in that direction, from bringing him back to leaving Greg to be the last to be turned down. But despite the misdirection and the universe seemingly pulling another way, Rebecca picks herself.

Earlier in the fourth season, she realizes the law doesn’t make her happy, but she hasn’t yet found what will. The pretzel shop is fun but it’s not (spiritually) fulfilling. Instead, she has to find her true calling and who helps her do that? Not Josh, Nathaniel, or Greg. Paula. It’s through talking to her best friend that Rebecca sets out on her real adventure — telling her story through song-writing. In the intervening year, it is Paula, Heather, and Valencia who encourage her, giving her the support she needs to overcome her self doubt. This is a show that values women’s friendships, demonstrating their real value from beginning to end.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend concludes the moment before Rebecca publicly performs for the first time. In true Rebecca-fashion, she has a long wind-up, recounting her journey since moving to West Covina and what’s she learned since turning down each of primary suitors. She says “When I’m telling my own story for the first time in my life, I am truly happy. It’s like I just met myself. Like I just met Rebecca. I came to this town to find love, and I did… And now, for the first time in my life, I can say that maybe I’m finally ready for the other kind of love… But whoever it’s with, it won’t be ‘ending up’ with someone, because romantic love is not an ending, not for me or for anyone else here. It’s just a part of your story, a part of who you are.”

It’s such a satisfying conclusion. It doesn’t preclude the possibility of romantic love, but it does knock romantic love off its pedestal. Yes, we may talk about that type of love more but it’s not the most important type of love. Committing to a partner is not an “ending” but a stop along the journey. The door is still open for Rebecca to marry and have kids with Nathaniel or Greg (Josh, thankfully, has found his happiness somewhere else) but whether she builds a relationship with one of them, someone else, or no one at all, that choice doesn’t define Rebecca. It doesn’t define any of us. Instead, our stories are really about who we are, what we do, and how we manage to love ourselves.

FacebookTwitter
The Good Fight: Delightful, Problematic, Unflinching

The Good Fight is delightful. Taking place in the Chicago law-and-politics universe of The Good Wife, the show focuses on Christine Baranski’s standout character, the fiercely calm Diane Lockhart. The first episode starts with Trump’s inauguration and follows Diane as she loses her life’s savings in a Murdoch-like-scam. Forced out of retirement, she lands on her feet at a traditionally black firm, Reddick, Boseman.

Diane’s new status as an outsider — both within her own firm and as a representative of that firm in the larger legal community — matches Diane’s status in the new world order. The ridiculous of the news, the backsliding on issues Diane cares about, and the general sense of chaos, overwhelm her. She sleeps with a violent extremist, starts microdosing hallucinogens, and keeps a gun at her desk (covered in beautiful, silk scarves, naturally). She’s no longer in charge and doesn’t know how to handle it.

Of course, Diane Lockhart isn’t powerless. She still has that perfectly coiffed hair, a rolodex of high profile clients, and her fine legal mind. And she still has her whiteness — a particularly glaring privilege as the only white partner at a black firm.

Much of the drama on The Good Fight touches on issues of race with a recent episode, “The One With Lucca Becoming a Meme,” focusing entirely on the issue. This is a black and white world where Latinx and Asian people don’t seem to exist (despite Latinos overtaking blacks as Chicago’s largest “minority” group years ago). So we’ve seen racism on the show as police brutalizing black civilians, snide comments said to Cush Jumbo’s black Lucca Quinn as she dates (and has the child of) one of Chicago’s golden white boys, and of course, the need for a black law firm at all.

But this episode was different — this time, we are looking inside Reddick, Boseman and the results are not pretty. Nyambi Nyambi’s Jay DiPersia, the firm’s senior investigator, sends out salary data to the entire firm, revealing that even at Reddick, Boseman, the white people are making more. Managing partner, Delroy Lindo’s Adrian Boseman, explains the disparity in two ways. One: times are changing. With Trump and associates in power, the no-bid system that awards contracts to minority-owned and -led companies may be going away. Hence, the need for all those white faces to begin with. Two: the market. Specifically, the idea that the firm must pay men and white attorneys more because they could leave and find hiring paying jobs elsewhere.

Times may be changing but the marketplace argument sucks in this show and in the real world. It takes no responsibility for fostering (let alone reinforcing) discriminatory pay practises, forever favoring the status quo. It also assumes a zero-sum game where men and white attorneys get paid less rather than women and black people getting paid more. In this argument, diversity doesn’t bring better results (as study after study shows) but rather is just a way to score cheap labor. Yet, Boseman is in charge and so his ideas, along with the implicit bias of the rest of the partners, set the rules. Watching his explanation go unchallenged, I had to wonder if the show’s creators believed it.

You see The Good Fight is rare because ALL the main characters are women or people of color. And due to the fact it is set in a black firm, most of the extras and smaller parts are too. Yet, of the four principles — Diane Lockhart, Lucca Quinn, Rose Leslie’s Maia Rindell, and Sarah Steele’s Marissa Gold — three are white women.

We see life outside Reddick, Boseman but only through Dianne, Marissa, Maia, and Lucca’s eyes — leaving Lucca in the odd position of being the sole representative of what it feels like to experience racism as a woman of color. In this episode, a white woman in the park accuses her of abducting her lighter skinned baby, going so far as to call the police. Lucca, of course, defends herself and the result ends up making her a meme: mothering while black. Yet, at Reddick, Boseman, Lucca is regularly the lightest skinned woman in the room. As such, she’s probably less likely to experience the effects of racism than her darker-skinned peers (although she would not be free of them). I’m not trying to take away from Lucca — she’s an amazing character who manages to be smart, wry, and fatal with the slightest of facial expressions — but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the primary black character is light skinned.

This dynamic of focusing on white women and one, light-skinned black woman in a sea of black talent makes me uncomfortable. That’s why I’m so glad Adrian got those great arcs in season two with his past student accusing him of sexual favoritism and his media-damning turn as a pundit. The episode about Jay’s immigration status was amazing on so many levels — the driving-while-black trope, the atypical face of immigration, the celebration of his artistic talent (in particular when compared to Melania Trump’s). And Liz is FINALLY getting more to do in season three with the heart-wrenching revelations about her father, the changes in her personal life, and her decision to join Diane’s resistance group.

With these subplots, The Good Fight seem to try to right its wrongs. In the episode where Reddick, Bozeman confronts its pay disparities, the white characters do not get off the hook. Maia is straight up fired, which I’m into, since she’s been smashing windows and generally being difficult around the office. In a great scene, Diane, Marissa, Quinn, Adrian, Jay, and a handful of other Reddick, Bozeman attorneys are all sitting at a conference table. As they discuss police brutality, Lucca notices that only the black people know the names of police shootings victims. Diane says she doesn’t think that’s true so Lucca tests her theory. It turns out the white people can’t name Laquan McDonald, but all the black people can. Reverse for Matthew Shepard. Ouch. Diane responds by returning to her desk and trying to memorize the names, Marissa asks Lucca if she thinks she’s racist while Liz and Boseman talk about tribalism.

It’s the type of lesson that could fall flat — yes, racism is complicated — but doesn’t because of The Good Fight’s unflinching gaze. This is a show that is willing to kill its heroes. Black-led doesn’t mean racism-free. Women-centered doesn’t mean kinder or softer. Losing the advantages of privilege is not unjust. Maya and Marissa will be fine. Indeed, where Jay didn’t manage to land another job after temporarily quitting Reddick, Boseman, Maya appears to get another gig right away. She can take her whiteness with her. So even while the show laments her firing, it allows for the possibility that it was the right thing to do — if such a thing exists.

So far, The Good Fight’s third season revolves around the changing nature of the firm’s identity. With the firm’s patriarch not only dead but disgraced, Riddick, Boseman no longer has a guiding light. Are they simply trying to make money? Trying to prove black excellence through economic success? Using their capital to fight for civil rights? They don’t know. And that ambiguity may mirror the show itself with its faults, insights, and humor. It’s a good fight, indeed.

FacebookTwitter
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” Valencia Is Who Latinas Need to See on TV

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend brought wit, perception, and whimsy to issues as varied as mental health, our culture’s obsession with romance, and, of course, gender norms. I’ll certainly miss it and I won’t be the only one. Of its many achievements, the show’s commitment to portraying the diversity of our communities is one of my favorites. I’ve frequented towns like West Covina and they are indeed comprised of a mix of races, ages, and body types. And in a media landscape where Latinas are the least represented group when compared to our actual numbers, it has been so refreshing to watch the evolution of Gabrielle Ruiz’s Valencia Perez across the show’s four seasons.

Valencia started off like so many Latina caricatures — the sexy other woman. She was the primary rival to Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch. The obstacle that was keeping her from finding happiness with Vincent Rodriguez III’s Josh Chan. And in many ways, Valencia was Rebecca’s opposite. She was the body-focused yoga instructor who placed a premium on looking hot even when that was not the most strategic thing to communicate (like at Thanksgiving with your boyfriend’s extended family). She wasn’t particularly book smart, failing to earn an invite to her prospective mother-in-law’s book club. And she’d lived her whole life West Covina, a hometown girl. In contrast, Rebecca’s a Harvard-educated, East Coast intellectual who has a whole bit about how much she like pretzels.

In most other TV shows, Rebecca and Valencia would be pitted against each other until one of them wins the man once and for all and the other exits the plotline. But in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, they become friends, both women loving and losing Josh and other paramours on their way to self-discovery. They become friends in Season Two’s “Why Is Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Eating Carbs?” which sees the former rivals both at a Burning Man-esque festival, accidentally taking psychedelics, getting overly hot and dirty, and bonding over their mutual disdain for Josh.

From there they become buddies, spying on Josh’s other girlfriends, yes, but also having their own adventures like forming a new girl squad with Vella Lovell’s Heather Davis, doing musical theater together, and even hosting a seance. The seance episode, Season Four’s “I Am Ashamed” was perhaps my favorite Valencia moment. In true bruja form (all of us Latinas are witches — didn’t you know?), Valencia is somewhat of an expert in the occult. That is until some spooky shit actually goes down. Then she’s begging Jesus for forgiveness. It was just so me, you, and every tia we know. Funny but warm. Playing up her Latinidad while staying true to the individual character. The type of thing that winks at the Latina audience while also making us feel seen. I loved it.

You see Valencia is a particular person. She’s not all Latinas. And over the course of the show, she grows. She doesn’t stay the vapid yoga instructor who’s got the man. She becomes a savvy businesswoman, starting her own party-planning firm and eventually moving it to New York. She gets over Josh and finds her next (and probably true) love in a woman, Emma Willmann’s Beth. Along the way, she struggles with her identity, trying to figure out who she is if she isn’t the girl who marries her high school sweetheart. In her last arc, Valencia is up to her old tricks, giving Beth an ultimatum: propose or she won’t return with her to New York. Except, Beth is not so easily manipulated as Josh. Beth rejects Valencia’s gambit, later reminding Valencia that she can propose. In that moment, you see the glee spread across her face: Valencia is in charge of her own destiny and she can get what she wants. You see, Valencia has grown but she’s still a romantic. She aspires to be a bride (even a Pirate bride if that’s her only choice) and sees a ring as a marker of success. However, her version of marriage doesn’t have to be patriarchal or limiting. She can have it all.

And that having it all is what makes Valencia and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend so great. The show plays with, exposes, and subverts the stereotypes were used to seeing of race, gender, and how they intersect. It’s a freeing vision of identity that allows us to celebrate and poke fun, be silly and fallible, represent our communities while also maintaining our individuality. I’ve loved hanging out with Valencia and crew and we deserve more characters like her. Networks take note.

FacebookTwitter
Why Michael Burnham is Great and “Star Trek: Discovery” is Not

It is rare to see women of color on screen. Across media, women get about a third of speaking roles with people of color only getting a third of that. That’s about 10%, significantly less than our percentage of the general population. And of course, women of color in lead roles in STEM-focused shows are even more scarce

For that reason alone, Star Trek: Discovery is worth watching as it follows the adventures of Michael Burnham, a black woman who breaks all sorts of stereotypes. Sonequa Martin-Green’s Burnham is not what we Trekkies (yes, I’m a nerd) have come to expect from a lead character.

For one, she’s not a captain. It may seem like a small shift to those who haven’t been watching pointy-eared people say “live and long and prosper” their whole life, but for those of us who have, it’s a big change. This shift allows us to get to know the life of more junior crew members, making at least one Ensign (Mary Wiseman’s excellent Sylvia Tilly) a major character (instead of just cannon fodder). It also allows us a look into what the life of the vast majority of the crew is like. The young crew members don’t know the captain’s intentions, lack insight on the reason for their mission, and are not part of the top-level decision-making process. With this limited knowledge, they must decide to follow orders (or not) in life-threatening scenarios. It’s quite a different experience from that of the captain.

And that’s just how Burnham breaks Star Trek conventions. There’s also her black woman-ness. Raised on Vulcan (by Spock’s parents no less), Burnham is hyper-rational, a human learning to accept her emotions. That’s classic Star Trek but it’s quite different from the “Angry Black Woman” we see so much in television and movies. It’s also hyper-relatable. As a Latina raised in a society that uplifts stoicism, I understand the pull towards suppressing emotions. It seems like life would be simpler without them, no? No one would label you as “emotional” and you could always be the calm one in an argument. Of course, you’d also miss out on all life’s joys, so… not worth it. Anyways, Burnham is on a journey to seeing her humanity as a strength and I relate.

Michael Burnham is also an awkward date-r, unsure of her own feelings, and how to assert herself. This is largely outside of how we see Black women portrayed as well. We’re used to seeing them more on the poles of sexuality, either as hyper-sexual or a-sexual, jezebel or mammy. Neither is true of course and shows like Insecure are breaking this trope. But it’s nice to see Star Trek, a leader in a completely different genre, do it too. And of course, I love seeing Star Trek ask its fans (of all genders and races) to take this journey through the lens of a Black woman who’s smart, flawed, and growing.

And Burnham isn’t the only character pushing representation issues on Discovery. There’s the unparalleled Michelle Yeoh as Captain/Emperor Philippa Georgiou. She’s deliciously evil as the Emperor, traipsing through the galaxy in multiple dimensions, exerting her will wherever she goes. And so as not to play into some sort of evil-Asian stereotype, we have her heroic Captain whose warmth and strength of character serve as a strong foil. We also have body diversity in Ensign Tilly (surprise, not everyone in space is a size two!) and a same-sex relationship between Anthony Rapp’s Paul Stamets and Wilson Cruz’s (aka Rickie) Dr. Hugh Culber, portrayed with the romance, care, and intrigue usually reserved for straight characters.

And all this is classic Star Trek. This is the franchise that had the first interracial kiss on television. That cast Avery Brooks, a Black man, as Captain Sisko in Deep Space Nine and Kate Mulgrew, a woman, as Captain Janeway in Voyager. That, thankfully, continues to push barriers today.

This purposeful diversity is part of Star Trek’s optimistic ethos. At the franchise’s core is the belief that humanity can be better than we are today. It’s an alternate vision to the dystopia all around us. A vision of the future where we’ve overthrown racism and sexism, eliminating poverty and crime as we go. Greed (or capitalism) is no longer society’s organizing force. Instead, in Star Trek, humanity is a race of peacemakers and explorers who are driven to learn and be better. It’s a glorious vision and one I’ve loved tuning into since I was a child.

Yet, despite its amazing cast, Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t quite embody this worldview. Yes, they talk about the “prime directive” (for those not in the know, that’s not interfering with other societies’ natural progression). And yes, the action takes place within the Federation of Planets, which consists of a variety of different species who’ve all come together in peace as scientists and explorers. But the show itself doesn’t seem to hold these values.

You see the first season is all about Star Fleet’s war with the Klingons. This war was the background for Kirk and crew and Discovery gives us new details. But while I know the Klingons will eventually spawn such strong, relatable characters as Worf and B’Elanna Torres, in Discovery, they’re an ugly, dark race hell-bent on war and destruction. Motivated by nothing other than to fight, they seem wholly evil, an enemy worthy of nothing but death. It’s a trope you see a lot in fantasy and sci-fi (see Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter,etc.) and it’d be fine to fantasize about such clear moral lines if we didn’t also see this same dehumanization used to excuse real-life violence. Look up the argument for using the Atomic Bomb against Japan for an atrocious example.

This lack of nuance fails Star Trek’s core values. Yes, the crew of Discovery (spoiler) ends up staying the Federation’s hand from committing its own atrocity. We even see Burnham give a rousing speech, celebrating Federation values. But the show hasn’t given Klingons the human treatment yet. Instead, it’s let them remain heartless and destruction-bent. I guess we’ll have to wait a century or two to see the beauty in their warrior culture and how they value honor and family above all us.

And that’s not the only example. In the current season, the show (not the characters) fails to have any real curiosity about the universe it’s exploring. In “An Obal for Charon,” the ship meets a 100,000+-year-old orb that is dying and trying to communicate the mysteries of the universe to the crew. However, instead of being interested in this orb’s subjectivity or experience, the show treats it as an obstacle, remaining doggedly fixed on the danger to the crew and mission. This is not Picard’s Enterprise. It’s just action sequence after action sequence, something you can see on countless other shows. It’s got none of the Star Trek sense of wonder at the great unknowns of the universe.

And I could go on. How easily the show moves past Saru forsaking the prime directive in “The Sound of Thunder,” making this literal prime directive into an obstacle too, not an actual moral dilemma. Or that the predator race, the Ba’ul, in that same episode looks like pure evil, a black, dripping, stooping menace, reminiscent of the girl in The Ring. These choices make the show too easy to watch. They keep Discovery from posing any intellectual or moral questions, asking nothing of its viewers but to be along for a ride.

I guess what I’m saying is that Star Trek: Discovery isn’t nerdy enough to be great. I so wish it was. Michael Burnham and crew deserve the complex universe of Picard, Janeway, and Sisco. The one we real people inhabit where choices are not always easy, you can’t tell a bad person from a good one by their appearance, and curiosity in others is not just a passing fancy. Discoveryis just in its second season and will hopefully find some depth soon. If not, there’s always the Michelle Yeoh as Emperor Philippa Georgiou spin-off to look forward to.

FacebookTwitter
The Hilarious and the Heart-Wrenching in “Workin’ Moms”

Women have whisper networks. We talk about handsy colleagues and compare paychecks. We discuss skin care routines and pass book titles back and forth. I learned about Netflix’s latest import (from Canada no less!), Workin’ Moms, through my network and immediately passed it on.

You see, Workin’ Moms hasn’t gotten the press coverage of Russian Doll or You. It’s more in the One Day At A Time bucket, forced to grow its own audience through the luck of the algorithm, assumed to only speak to a niche audience (like Latinos — 16.7% of the population, or working mothers — 12%, le sigh). And so, we real working moms are spreading the show amongst ourselves, relaying the fact that this comedy gets to some of the truths of early motherhood in ways we haven’t seen before.

Usually, early motherhood is skipped over entirely (look at this cute baby, now skip forward until they’re old enough to lead their own storylines), glossed over as a sacred and precious period (babies are adorable yes, but difficult to care for too), or portrayed in slapstick comedy form (dirty diapers are perhaps not so hilarious when part of your daily routine). Not so with Workin’ Moms.It’s about the good and the bad, the hilarious and the heart-wrenching of early motherhood. There’s the scene about trying to get your baby to latch. The one where you finally have good sex after the birth. The one where you realize you’re pregnant again and think, I cannot do this.

I’m particularly impressed with how the show presents motherhood as an affront to your identity. All the moms on the show deal with it. In the first season (the one on Netflix now — Canada’s on season three), Jessalyn Wanlim’s Jenny Matthews rebels against the role of motherhood, reverting to her college-aged self, wearing chokers, piercing her nipple, and flirting/hooking up with inappropriate men (aka not her husband, aka her boss and random younger men). Juno Rinaldi’s Frankie Coyne faces the chemical imbalance of motherhood with postpartum depression, unable to keep her job, her sense of self, and sometimes her grip on reality. Dani Kind’s Anne Carlson struggles to match her gruff personality with mothering, feeling jealous of her nanny’s easy connection with her prepubescent daughter and contemplating an abortion of her third pregnancy. Meanwhile, our lead, Catherine Reitman’s Kate Foster hides her promotion from her husband, a career advancement that would be a no-brainer without kids. Now it’s fraught and painful, a no-win situation that turns Kate’s professional dream turned into a nightmare when her son winds up in the hospital.

Throughout, we see the specter of motherhood, this role that is supposed to fulfill you but requires never-ending self-sacrifice, as what it is: really fucking hard. Society’s depiction of motherhood in movies and in the media doesn’t fit actual women with actual lives. So many of us mourn the life we had before kids, the one that allowed us more leeway to focus on ourselves, to grow our careers and interests. The one that included late night outs and bodily autonomy. The moms on the show and the ones I know in real life all want the best for their kids and are willing to work hard and sacrifice for them. But what if we sacrifice too much? When does it become counterproductive? Maybe older kids can recognize that their parents have needs outside of them, but babies and toddlers cannot. Their needs are endless and can consume you if you don’t create boundaries. It’s a pretty tough line to draw, made more so by a social narrative that says you’re supposed to give endlessly and like it.

Not that motherhood is all bad nor is the struggle to navigate its demands. On Workin’ Moms, we see Anne finally bond with her daughter and when they connect it manages to be satisfying, meaningful, and funny. When Kate gets her baby to latch and then later decides to stop struggling and switch to formula, I felt her success in my bones (really my nipples) and the bittersweet compromise in my soul. Each woman is becoming better, yet different people through the journey of motherhood. This show honestly portrays the growing pains of this weird, rewarding, and difficult transformation that is early motherhood.

Workin’ Moms captures much of what it is to be a new mother but it is not perfect. All the moms are relatively affluent, either paying for nannies or able to have one of the parents stay home. The racial dynamics are rough, focusing mostly on the white experience. Early on Kate (white) fires her Filipino nanny in a scene that made me cringe — it othered the brown woman while allowing the power dynamics to go unquestioned. In the show’s mother circle, the lone black woman is consistently played for laughs, made strange and unrelatable for no discernible reason. Yes, the show features two women of color, Jenny and Frankie’s partner Giselle, but neither of them takes as central of a role as the white women.

And then there’s the stay-at-home mom in the mother’s circle who’s made the villain, Katherine Barrell’s Alicia Rutherford. She has precious ideas about self-sacrifice and women’s role in the home. And the other women bond over belittling her. After all these years of mommy wars, it would have been refreshing to see a show that doesn’t pit one type of motherhood against another. We’re not actually in conflict with each other. We’re in conflict with a society that tells us we should find fulfillment in unpaid, undervalued work no matter our personality or predilections. Workin’ Moms generally rallies against this notion as do the real working mothers I know. Here’s to the next two season arriving in the US, hopefully not repeating some of the more tone-deaf moments, and continuing to show motherhood for what it is: beautiful, impossible, real. That’s a story worth telling.

FacebookTwitter
Godless in Trump’s America

Since the election of Donald Trump, it seems like our country has been in a never-ending debate about who we are and where we come from. There are so many places to look for answers but as a media critic, I, of course, look to TV. And in this moment of Bible-signing, border “crisis,” and macho, guns-out leadership, I find myself turning to Westerns for answers. They’re our own creation myth, the story of American exceptionalism, power, and whiteness.

Recently, there’s been some effort to update the Western with Netflix’s Godlessas the prime example. After all, it did win all those awards and premiere the same year as Trump’s presidency. I confess, my political leanings are such that I see some of Donald Trump in the show’s villain, Frank Griffin. The two men share a certain heaviness of body and jowls (sorry Jeff Daniels!). They also share a faux-Christianity that doesn’t require any respect for human life. And both of them are the type of leaders who collect crooks and lowlifes, seeing personal loyalty as the only meaningful virtue. I mean who would Michael Cohen et al. be in the old west but a band of gun-slinging outlaws? Am I right or am I right?

Of course, Frank Griffin and his men aren’t the only folks in Godless. The show’s marketing made quite the ado about its setting in a man-less town, positioning Godless as a feminist Western (which it is not). Certainly, there are strong women in the show. Michelle Dockery as Alice Fletcher is mesmerizing as the isolated widow with a good shot and mixed-race son. Her love life is central to the show, even as the creators betray in her a totally unnecessary and graphic rape scene. In it, we learn nothing new about the characters, already having learned that Alice has survived tough things. No, her rape is just an uncomfortable excuse to titillate the audience with Michelle Dockery’s breasts, combining violence with eroticism in a way that says MALE GAZE IS RAPE CULTURE in all caps.

And there’s my personal favorite, Merritt Wever as Mary Agnes, the town’s would-be leader who’s given up dresses and men as she holds her community together. Mary Agnes advocates for the women’s independence, urging her fellow townswomen not to make a business deal with partners who see their gender as weakness. In the finale, she organizes the women’s last stand, setting a strategy that will keep at least some of them alive. And along the way, we see her taking care of her brother’s kids and the hapless Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Whitey Winn. You see, Mary Agnes may have gone butch, even nabbing the richest, most beautiful and most experienced woman in town — Tess Frazer’s former sex-worker Callie Dunne — but the show takes great pains to let you know she’s still a nurturer and thereby a woman.

And these are the characters the show empathizes with — the white women of La Belle, New Mexico. Spoiler: People of color do much worse. Godless is clearly trying to rewrite the western to be less sexist and less white supremacist but when you’re counting degrees of racism, you’ve already lost. You see Godless relies on the same racist tropes that power the Westerns of the past, much of the media of today, and far too much of our politics, policies, and national conversation.

In Godless, we see a black town, literally called Blackdom, and its inhabitants as “others.” They’re introduced late (in episode three of seven) and portrayed as extremely violent in a violent world. You see the men of Blackdom (yes, I’m rolling my eyes each time I type the town’s name) are Buffalo Soldiers, black cavalry that fought with white, Anglo settlers in the Indian Wars. They weren’t guaranteed freedom from slavery even as they fought for white expansion — an interesting bit of history for sure. Yet, the show takes great pains to tell you these men were particularly ruthless and indeed we see the town’s leader beating his daughter with a switch. And that’s before all of the black characters are massacred in the wind-up to the real showdown: the white folks of La Belle vs the white folks in Frank Griffin’s gang. This is your typical racist use of black bodies and black stories.

Think that’s bad? Native American characters do not do better in Godless: they’re stuck in the magical sidekick trope, Native Americans who use their mystical powers to help the white people. There’s Duane Howard’s unnamed ”Shoshone brave” (his character name, not mine) who is maybe a ghost, maybe a vision, but either way exists to give Bill McNue encouragement and advice. And there’s Tantoo Cardinal’s Iyovi who uses her healing powers on the injured Roy Goode, who issues wise animal metaphors to guide her daughter-in-law Alice, and whose skills in hunting and other matters somehow serve as comic relief. Neither is what you’d call a humanizing portrayal.

Samuel Marty’s Truckee, the half Native American, half white, son of Alice only does a little better. He doesn’t have any magical skills or even propensity to “Indian” tasks like horseback riding. But he’s portrayed as a fish out of water, part of neither the white nor Native community, lost without a father or strong sense of identity. It’s the type of character that multiracial people have been rallying against for decades.

And last but not least is the show’s complete erasure of Latino characters. For a show set in New Mexico, it is odd that there is no one of mixed Spanish and Native descent. In fact, despite the action going to Taos and other Hispano centers in the area, we do not hear a word of Spanish, and there are no Latino characters. It’s a gross oversight that erases New Mexico’s past and present with a single casting decision. And in case you think the show reflects some actual moment in history — it does not. Godless takes place in the 1880s, a time when Anglo settlers were stealing land from Hispanos all over the state. None of that exists in Godless. We just see English-speaking White and Black people carving out a living in tough land, fighting with each other, and occasionally referencing offscreen Native Americans as menaces. It’s racist and completely inaccurate.

At the end of the day, the central conflict in Godless is between Jeff Daniels’ Frank Griffin and Jack O’Connell’s Roy Goode as they solve their differences with bullets, killing whole towns along the way. You see the women of La Belle, even the mighty Alice and Mary Agnes, are just the scenery for these two white men. So are the POC who manage to find their way on screen. And this is a Western trying to be progressive!

So when I look to Westerns to understand this moment in American history, it’s not for accuracy. The true story of the American West is a mix of germ warfare and white supremacy used to steal Native land first by Spaniards and then by Anglos. The heroes are not white guys with guns. They’re Native Americans fighting for their way of life. The villains aren’t white bandits. They’re white soldiers and lawmen who rigged the system and used their guns to ensure the existing population couldn’t overcome their cheating ways. But we don’t tell this story.

No, Westerns are not a view into our past but rather our present, how we got to the terrible place we’re in: centering white men, their experiences, and preoccupations to our peril. This false narrative about America and our birth in the West is hurting us all. It pushes the real story out of the frame, limits the personhood and agency of the vast majority of the population, and leads to seeing white toxic masculinity as the only viable model of leadership (looking at you Donald T).

Here’s hoping we can imagine a better past, present, and future. I’ll be reading the tea leaves, looking for a critically acclaimed Western that doesn’t center white men. Who knows? It could happen, but for now, I’m not holding my breath.

FacebookTwitter
The Case for Still Watching “Grey’s Anatomy”

It’s official. Grey’s Anatomy is now the longest running medical drama in TV history. With its 332nd episode, it surpassed the previous record holder, ER. I have watched every single episode, and some many times. I unabashadley love Grey’s Anatomy and no snark, hot take, or hip millennial opinion will get me to stop.

The show was wildly popular when it premiered with viewership peaking at over 25 million. Life was different then. Facebook was just for students, Twitter didn’t exist yet. George W. Bush was President. You get the picture. I was still in college, not a married professional with kids. The show spoke to my friends and me – the interns on Grey’s were who we wanted to be (but weren’t yet): brilliant, complicated, sexy, ambitious.

A lot has happened since 2005, both in the world of Grey’s Anatomy and (dimmer, less-just) real life. Along the way, people have stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy: its most recent season premiere had less than 7 million viewers. But, as one of the 7 million, nearly everyone I talk to has a Grey’s story. They remember the brilliant first few seasons and how they were transfixed with Meredith and Cristina’s love life. Perhaps they followed the on-set drama. They definitely have an opinion about Katherine Heigl. Regardless of when they stopped watching, these 14 million people still carry parts of the show and its worldview with them. And I’m here for that.

I’m not saying the show is perfect. There have been bad episodes, ridiculous arcs. Izzy’s sex-with-ghost plotline comes to mind. The episode when they first revealed Dr. Miranda Bailey’s mental health problem was not great. April Kepner’s introduction was rough between her awkward crush on Derek and how long it took for her to have an actual backstory.

I weathered these rough moments waiting for the more brilliant ones to shine through. And they do. Take the case of Dr. Miranda Bailey. She started the show off as so tough and exacting as to earn the nickname “The Nazi.” At first, we see her as her interns do – a slightly unknowable authority figure who expects the best of you. But as the show progress, we see more of her. We see her give birth in harrowing circumstances, losing her edge as her ability to control dissipates. We see that first mental health breakdown, the cost of always being strong and hyper-competent. And we see her take risks in her love life and as a mother – some that pay off and some that don’t. We’ve learned so much about her and the fascinating, complicated, strong woman that she is. That’s the type of nuance you get when you’ve stayed with characters for fourteen years, 330+ episodes.

Not that all the characters have stayed. Of the five original interns, only Meredith and Alex remain. Webber and Bailey are still there but that’s about it. Derek, Bourke, Addison, Callie, they’re all gone. I wasn’t sure the show could withstand the departure of Sandra Oh’s Cristina Yang. More than Meredith’s relationship with Derek, the Meredith and Cristina friendship was the central bond guiding so much of the early action. They coined “you’re my person.” They fought and reconciled and supported each other. Without that central relationship what would be the show’s heart? (Certainly not Meredith and Derek. Derek never compared…)

Luckily, the show’s ambitions were always greater than the five original interns. For example, did you know that Callie Torres is the longest running LGBTQ character in TV history? She was introduced in season two and left in season twelve leaving a string of broken hearts behind her (including mine for no longer getting to watch her). Or did you see the recent episode in which a trans character outs himself by revealing the great lengths he went to change his sex on his driver’s license? Or the compassion for Dr. Sam Bello when she faced deportation?

And less you think Grey’s is just a lefty fantasy writ large, the show also explores what it means to be a Christian in a largely secular world with the much-missed April Kepner. It explores veteran reentry issues with Dr. Owen Hunt, advocating for better medical care for veterans while valorizing their service.

You see at the heart of Grey’s Anatomy is not a single relationship or person. At its core, the show is about love and excellence, the ways these things sometimes compete and also drive each other. It’s about challenging us to love each other better and not be divided by race, class, sexuality, you name it, while also acknowledging and decrying the unjust structures that make those divisions so strong. It’s about what we can accomplish when people at all levels compete and contribute. It’s about a world where women, people of color, and particularly women of color have their talent and skill recognized.

It’s this radical vision of what humanity can be at its best that keeps me tuning in. And I’ll watch for another 300 episodes if they let me.

FacebookTwitter
Six Reasons Why “Russian Doll” is So Perfect (Warning: Spoilers)

If you haven’t binged Netflix’s Russian Doll yet, you should. The show is perfect. Pretty bold to say, I know, but in the world of prestige media, I challenge you to find something better.

Much has been made of Russian Doll’s use of all woman writers and directors and I, of course, love seeing women’s perspectives on screen. And what this woman-led creative team delivers is truly amazing. Here’s why the show is so perfect (spoilers ahead):

1. Natasha Lyonne is a National Treasure

Whether you’ve been watching her since she was in American Pie or just noticed her in Orange is the New Black, you know Lyonne’s raspy voice and wry sensibility manages to steal every scene she’s in. Seeing more of her is always a pleasure, but Russian Doll takes it to the next level by building the show’s entire universe around Lyonne’s unique presence. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lyonne’s Nadia is the ultimate cool girl with great clothes, artsy friends, creative job, big heart, sarcastic personality, and troubled love life that you’ve always wanted to see on screen. She’s aspirational while also being deeply troubled and deeply troubled without ever being pitiable. While I’m not sure if the show’s title refers to Nadia herself or the cascading structure of the experience she’s in, I do know that as I spent more time in her world, I never lost this strong sense of who Nadia is. There is no secret side to Nadia, no hidden truth that changes everything. Instead, the show reveals the tender inside of a tough woman we instinctively root for, showing the complicated nature of her existence. And it’s beautiful.


2. It Doesn’t Center Whiteness

Russian Doll is undeniably a vehicle for Natasha Lyonne, a white lady. And for the first three episodes, you can be excused for thinking it’s just an edgy mash up of Sex and the City and Groundhog’s Day. After all, we spend those first few episodes following Lyonne’s Nadia as she repeatedly celebrates (and dies on) her 36th birthday with her fabulous and fashionable friends, goes to her video-game design job, and contemplates all her past drug use. This is a rich and rarified New York with pretty, thin, 30-something women run amok.

Then the show pivots, spending its fourth episode entirely with Charlie Barnett’s Alan. Alan is the opposite of Nadia in so many ways – he’s uptight and fearful while she’s reckless and free. He’s isolated and struggling while she’s a badass with more friends than she knows what to do with. He’s also a tall, broad-shouldered black men while she’s a small, white, woman. They are different. But their differences do not privilege one over the other.

You see, Nadia and Alan are linked and equal in the show: They’re both stuck on the same death loop, reliving the same day and dying at the same time. And Alan’s been there the whole time, we, the audience, just haven’t been paying attention to him. It turns out Alan and Nadia need each other to face their past traumas, deal with the ongoing symptoms of those wounds, and get out of their Groundhog’s Day dilemma. They are different yes, but one is not more interesting, more human, or more pivotal than the other. Nadia’s white experience isn’t the only thing that matters here, it’s just one of multiple stories worth telling.

3. No One is a Stereotype

Too many shows use shortcuts for their characters: the emotional woman, the angry black man, the righteous white guy. Not Russian Doll. Here we see a diverse and vibrant New York populated by people whose personalities are not determined by stereotypes. Nadia’s East Village has rich and poor, young and old, black, white and brown people all living on the same block and interacting as fellow humans. Whether it’s the homeless Horse, the quirky Maxinne, or the wise Ruth, the show gives each of these characters dignity and humor, shattering the homogenous portrayals of the city so common in shows with white leads like Girls and Sex and the City.

Certainly Nadia and Alan defy expectations with Nadia avoiding the woman’s domains of emotional entanglements and motherhood while Alan demonstrates an obsessive need for tidiness and order that is almost never associated in TV’s limiting portrayal of blackness. But it’s not just the leads.

Nearly every character on Russian Doll defies stereotypes. Take for example Ritesh Rajan’s Farran. He’s Alan’s best friend who Nadia knows because he works the late-night shift at her local bodega. I know what you’re thinking a South Asian character as a store clerk? This is just another Apu. But no, Farran and Alan didn’t meet doing manual labor (as he fools Nadia and the audience into thinking for a second), but rather pledged the same fraternity in college. Farran’s writing a novel and has more emotional intelligence than either of our two leads. He’s not a faceless brown guy waiting to serve richer, more complex white people but rather an interesting human with his own set of challenges, goals, and aspirations.

Likewise, you could read Rebecca Henderson’s Lizzie as a stereotypical lesbian in overalls but you’d miss the importance of her character in the final episode and all the nuance and humor along the way. Or you could decide Dascha Polanco’s Beatrice is just the cruel, cheating woman there to inflict pain on the innocent, worthy man but you’d be falling into the same trap that leads Alan to commit suicide in the first place – seeing his love as an object to be possessed rather than a partner to learn and grow with.

4. Well, Almost No One

In fact, the only character who consistently conforms to type is Jeremy Bobb’s predatory professor Mike Kershaw. And I’m ok with that. Not just because in the #MeToo era, it’s necessary that we show these men for the villains they are. Or because he recognizes that he’s “the hole where the choice should be.” Or because there’s no chance white guys as a group will be stereotyped as a result of this single role.

I’m ok with Mike being a stereotype because he’s also a direct foil for Cuban American actor Yul Vazquez’s John. Both are men of a certain age who sleep with Nadia on different loops and as such present a clear contrast. Sleeping with lecherous, unethical Mike is clearly a mistake, whether it’s Nadia or one of the many women at her birthday party. He is rude and manipulative throughout the series, saying whatever he can to get whatever woman is in front of him into bed. He is a hole women fall into.

Meanwhile, John is a viable choice who Nadia dumps when the emotional commitment becomes too big for her. Throughout the series, John is kind and honorable, helping Nadia on her spiritual quest and demanding that she show up for him emotionally. Indeed, it is his insistence that she meet his daughter that gets Nadia to finally confront the trauma she experienced as a girl of John’s daughter’s age.

Comparing John and Mike reveals a choice for men how men who have achieved positions of status should act and how we should interact with them. It’s a clear choice but one that bears repeating.

5. It’s Just So Rich

There are a lot of ideas on Russian Doll, a lot of themes savvy viewers can delve into. Are you a gaming nut? You can see the whole series as treatise on gaming. There’s Nadia’s job as a game creator and expertise in code. There’s Alan’s take on crowning achievement – “You created an impossible game with a single character who has to solve everything entirely on her own” – as a metaphor for her entire predicament. There’s how the characters die and the timeline resets, effectively mirroring how so many video games work. And there’s Nadia understanding of what’s happening to them as a bug in the universe’s code.

But it’s not just video games. It’s addiction, trauma, religion – big stuff. You can see questions of life, love, and struggle explored explicitly and implicitly in the show whether it’s the song in the background, Alan looking to Catholicism to develop a theory of what’s happening (and Nadia going visiting a Rabbi to explore one of hers), or psychoanalytic theories of trauma underpinning the show’s repetitive structure. Interior design enthusiasts will even be satisfied with Nadia and Alan’s apartments both reflecting their interior states and turmoil. It’s really got something for everyone.

6. There’s A Moral to the Story

In the end, though, like all great stories, Russian Doll is more than the sum of its parts. All the richness in theme and theory doesn’t distract from the show’s central focus, the quest of Nadia and Alan to save themselves. Yes, of course they need to get out of their loops and stop dying. As the show goes on, the stakes rise – their worlds shrink and the whole universe is in jeopardy.

How do they do it? How do they break the cycle and bring back the world as we know it? They find salvation in helping each other. In recognizing their pain is keeping them from life’s most important calling: being of service to each other. Isn’t that beautiful idea? One might even call it perfect.

FacebookTwitter
“Roma” and the Pressure to Represent all of the Latinx Experience

“I’m Mexican.”

That’s something I say sometimes. Mostly to people who are (rudely) asking “where are you [really] from?” And sometimes to those who take my light skin as an invitation to say something racist. Every once in a while to a fellow Latinx person as we share experiences.

The thing is, though, I’m not really Mexican. I’m the descendant – the granddaughter to be precise – of people who immigrated from Mexico. When I go see my extended family, I go to Los Angeles. I don’t know a single relative who lives in Mexico. And even if I did, I’d be too embarrassed by my Spanish/Spanglish to really connect. So yeah, I’m not really “Mexican,” I’m more Mexican American/Chicana/Latinx, a product of a culture that systematically was forced to mix and assimilate.

All the same, I went into Roma expecting to see myself or at least my family reflected back to me. Latinas are the least represented group in US media when compared to our actual numbers and here is a ten-time Oscar nominee with two of Latinas as the stars! I couldn’t wait to watch it and get the rare glimpse of my identity on screen. After all, we do buy the most movie tickets every year AND have the highest rates of Netflix subscriptions.

Latinas are the least represented group in US media when compared to our actual numbers and here is a ten-time Oscar nominee with two of Latinas as the stars! I couldn’t wait to watch it and get the rare glimpse of my identity on screen.

Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleodegaria Gutiérrez, one of two indigenous maids and the primary caretaker of a white Mexican family, living in the upper-middle-class Mexico City neighborhood of Roma. The film follows Cleo through a year in her life, starting in 1970, during which big events shake her life and the broader world she lives in. This is the year the patriarch and Cleo’s employer leaves his family – his wife, four children, and extended household, never to return. It’s the year Cleo gets pregnant and experiences her own abandonment with the child’s father disavowing her. It’s also the year of El Halconazo or Corpus Christi Massacre, in which government forces kill around 120 people for participating in student demonstrations in DF. And it’s the year Luis Echeverría becomes President of Mexico, seizing land belonging to the likes of Cleo’s mother. Throughout these events, both personal and political, Cleo stands in the center with the male characters relegated to supporting roles.

Roma is a biography of sorts for writer, director, and cinematographer, Alfonso Cuarón. One of the leading voices in the Nuevo Cine Mexicano (along with Gonzalez Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro), Cuarón based Roma on his own memories of being one of the children in the aforementioned family. The film is shot in black and white and brings into focus the small details of Cleo’s life – where she puts the dishes before turning off the lights, the song she sings to wake up the children, the sounds it makes when she cleans up the dog shit.

In the film, the children are a gaggle of ill-behaved, loved, and loving creatures who Cleo manages and clearly adores. We also see the family’s mother Sofia, played by Marina de Tavira, alternate between cruel and kind to her children, herself, and particularly Cleo as she adjusts to her new position as a woman without a husband.

Roma is nominated for all the awards and I’m particularly excited to see Latinas finally breaking barriers in their categories. If Yalitza Aparicio wins for Best Actress, she’ll be the first Latina to do so and the first indigenous woman at that. Gabriela Rodriguez could be the first Latina to win a Best Picture Oscar and Marina de Tavira would be only the second Latina to ever win Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars (shout out to Rita Moreno for being the first)!

That’s who I come from. A mix of White and indigenous folks who left Mexico and got jumbled together because, even though colorism is real and dangerous in these Estados Unidos, once anyone from Latin America crosses the border, they become just another ‘dirty Mexican.’

At this moment, Roma is THE movie about the Latinx experience in the way that Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther represented those communities. And yet, as a Mexican American/Chicana/Latinx person who loved the film, cried watching it, and tries to catch everything Cuarón does, I didn’t see myself in it. You see, my family story is hard to square with the world of Roma. If we exist at all in the film’s universe, it’d have to be long before Cleo goes to work for Sofia. My family is more like if Cleo’s grandmother’s sister and Sofia’s grandfather’s cousin both migrated to the US separately, met and got married here, and started a whole other family. That’s who I come from. A mix of White and indigenous folks who left Mexico and got jumbled together because, even though colorism is real and dangerous in these Estados Unidos, once anyone from Latin America crosses the border, they become just another “dirty Mexican.”

I’m not saying the differences between White and Indigenous Latinos do not exist. Or are not substantial. In fact, I’d argue the opposite – the racial divide among Latinx people is often ignored in the US to our peril. Roma is telling an important story. It’s just not a story that includes large portions of the population, like me. And that would be fine except if Roma somehow becomes the end-all-be-all of how we understand the Latinx experience. Certainly, it’s the only movie about us that’s broken through this year. And when you look back at the record, it’s the only film about Latinas that’s EVER received this level of attention (remember how Rita Moreno is the only Latina to have won an acting Oscar? And for West Side Story way back in 1961 – a film that came out over 50 years ago and is arguably not about what it means to be Latina…).

The thing is, I don’t fault Roma for not including me. It’s not fair to expect any single piece of art to represent a group as vast as the Latinx community – we’re talking about more than a continent full of people here! But the pressure is still there, the hope, and the expectation.

The thing is, I don’t fault Roma for not including me.

Because I so rarely get the chance to see myself on screen, each time is fraught with more meaning than it should hold. It’s not like I’m a white guy who sees the complexity of my experience everywhere I go. As a Latina, we don’t have much. We have the commodification of Frida Kahlo. The emerging consensus that original EGOT-winner Rita Moreno deserves a lot of backdated respect. We have Jennifer Lopez in that green Versace dress now and forever. And we have Sofia Vergara’s paycheck. Note that none of them are Mexican American like me (even though we make up more than half the Latino/Hispanic population in the US).

I hope Roma wins all the awards. I also hope it leads to more representations of the Latinx experience. After all, it’s a beautiful story that centers Mexican women in a way you almost never see. It’s just not my story and that’s ok.

FacebookTwitter
Newer Posts