Author

Nicola Schulze

Queer Eye’s Deanna Munoz is a Tearful Portrait of What it Means to Be Latina Today

Queer Eye is delightful in its ability to make life look simple. A haircut, wardrobe refresh, and a new recipe can transform someone into the best version of themself.

But we all know life outside of reality television is not so simple. Our families are complicated. Our politics are complicated. Our country is complicated. And new apparel curated by the nearly perfect human that is Tan France and his beautiful silver hair can’t change that.

When the first Latina on Queer Eye was introduced, I saw a person I knew but whose story rarely gets the spotlight. Deanna Munoz is a hard-working, intelligent, family-centered Chicana creating a community for artists and creatives in Kansas City as the founder of the Latino Arts Festival.

As a second-generation Mexican-American and a woman balancing two cultures, many of Deanna’s insecurities matched my own. I immediately resonated with her as she explained how she feels in the kitchen with her mother in law — intimidated. These are the feelings I’ve dealt with as a Latina but are rarely addressed on TV, much less to a mainstream audience on Netflix.

Likewise, I resonated with Deanna’s embarrassment as she explained that she couldn’t speak Spanish because of her father’s desire to assimilate. When I was young, I remember hiding in the bathroom as my grandparents talked with their friends because I was so embarrassed I couldn’t speak Spanish.

As I watched Deanna update her wardrobe with Tan and get a new haircut from Jonathan, it was touching to watch someone who had given so much get time for herself too. And not just time for herself, but also a new space for her community. As I watched Bobby take Deanna through her new community center, I cried to see a woman’s dreams come true.

However it was Karamo’s segment that connected me back to reality. Deanna shared with Karamo that she didn’t feel accepted by her predominantly white neighborhood so he set up one of his infamous therapeutic sessions: having her go door to door to introduce herself and talk about the Latino Arts Festival.

Before the exercise, Deanna reveals some of her neighbors have been more than just cold. She tells Karamo when her husband was landscaping their own yard, one of her neighbors sent a message to her husband, mocking him with “the Mexicans were building their own wall.”

It was a difficult episode to watch. While I was happy that Queer Eye choose Deanna as one of their heroes, watching her knock on each neighbor’s door was heartbreaking. Because this is what most Latinos have to do today to connect beyond our own community: we have to make the case for existing.

Instead of just being welcomed in her community, Deanna had to prove to her neighbors that she was worthy of being included. It was particularly difficult in this political moment. The shooting in El Paso. Donald Trump telling Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — all US citizens — to “go back” to their countries. While violent racism is no longer a surprise, it is still very, very wrong. And I am tired of all the reminders that racist acts, even at their clearest and most pointed, are ignored and excused by everyone from the President to our neighbors.

This episode perfectly showed the limits of Queer Eye. I would love it if all of our conflicts could be solved in an hour montage full of empathy, joy, and understanding. But even a Jonathan haircut and a makeover with Tan cannot hide our country’s past and increasingly polarizing dynamic.

There is a reason that Jonathan suggests dialing her hair back to be more “polished” and why Tan suggests a more “sophisticated” work look. It’s because for many Mexican Americans, our culture has been written off as “not serious” or “working-class” instead of what it is — an expression of our identity and where we come from.

As immigrants, we still have to prove our humanity. We are forced to go door to door, neighbor to neighbor to ask for acceptance because we know people will not give us the benefit of the doubt. When Deana shares her difficult experiences, one neighbor sympathetically replies “I didn’t know you were feeling that way.” It’s this reality that many of us start with, that racism and exclusion is often the last thing a white family might think about. We have to share stories of our trauma, our families, and our hard work to been seen — something most white Americans can’t even fathom.

Deanna’s experience on Queer Eye is a reflection of how far our country still has to go. I dream of a day where we won’t have to share images of children crossing the border or huddling in detention centers or gunned down at Walmart. That just the mention of children or simply people in need would be enough. A time when Deanna doesn’t have to introduce herself to every neighbor on the block, a time where her neighbors come to her and welcome her as a member of their community. This is the ultimate American makeover I hope for but I know it’ll take time and more than just a little “zhuzhing.”

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Becoming Exceptional: What We Owe Michelle Obama and Beyoncé

I have been watching and rewatching the glory and salvation that is Beyoncé’s Homecoming. The over 2-hour film chronicles her historical performance as the first Black woman to headline Coachella. The film is everything and shows the strength and dedication of a woman who has reinvented so much of the music industry. Truly, there is nothing I can say about Beyoncé that hasn’t been said already, she is an icon, artist, visionary, activist, and the closest thing to a representation of God on Earth.

On the same day Homecoming came out, my mom and I saw Michelle Obama on her international Becoming tour in Amsterdam. I wore a graphic dark green dress with flowers cascading on the back and front. As we were leaving, my dad asked why I had chosen to wear such a nice outfit, “It’s not like Michelle Obama is going to see you.” I laughed and simply said, “It’s Michelle Obama.” The 17,000-person venue was filled to capacity with a majority non-Americans beaming eagerly to see a woman who stands as a symbol of hope.

Michelle Obama in the Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam. © ANP

Now, this might seem like just a coincidence — to have a single day where I was blessed with so much uplifting feminist centric content. But for me, it was as predictable as my morning coffee because Black women continue to be the chosen source of encouragement for millions, whether some admit it or not.

With our country at war with itself ideologically, Black women are consistently the ones creating poignant work consumed by the masses. Whether it’s Oprah, Michelle Obama, or Beyoncé, Black women are serving as the leaders we all look up to. I mean, how many think pieces did we read about Oprah running for president after just a short Golden Globes speech? These black women are without a doubt exceptional but we have to be careful. We can’t think of Black women as superheroes coming to save us. And we certainly can’t expect any one person to “save us” from this mess. (I’m looking at you white women)

Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming has already sold more than 10 million copies, quickly becoming one of the best selling in history. In her book, Obama details the difficulties of being a Black woman in the White House, a historic monument built by slaves. Watching her on stage, I was inspired but at the same time, I recognized the work and incredible restraint it must have taken her to be as successful as she was as First Lady.

Michelle Obama and Beyoncé are not just motivational, they’re financial powerhouses. Netflix paid Beyoncé 60 million dollars for a three-project deal and watching Homecoming, I think Netflix got a pretty good deal. And her bankability is particularly impressive because Beyoncé does not let the audience forget who she’s constructing masterpieces like Homecoming for: Black women. It’s obvious in her lyrics, dancers, musical interludes, attitudes, and themes. Suddenly finding myself with a more flexible income, I went to my first Beyoncé concert after graduating college. I wanted to see the woman who had kept me awake as I studied for finals and reignited the power of the word feminist. I’d never seen a performer who more perfectly speaks to this moment in time. She spoke of the past but appealed to our present.

As I reflect on both Michelle Obama’s work and Beyoncé’s art, I am reminded of something we should all acknowledge: we owe Black women a debt that can never be repaid. They are the ones driving and creating our popular culture, creating work and activism (cough Tarana Burke cough) that captivates not only Black women but all of us.

Their burden is heavy, one of exceptionalism and brilliance. It’s not a coincidence that Black women continue to rise to the top of our cultural zeitgeist, they’ve worked the hardest. In a country that has continually told black women they are not safe, very few have made it to the top echelons of our society. It is this lack of systemic privilege that makes their work even more spectacular.

Michelle Obama and Beyoncé are two of the few Black women who have overcome the barriers society put in front of them. Not only do Black women continue to make 61 cents on the white man’s dollar, Black women continue to face the highest rates of maternal deaths, disproportionate rates of violence, and few positions of power. In recent years, I’ve found myself turning more and more to Black women for inspiration, and it’s clear we must support Black women whether they are a billionaire, a leader of this nation, or an artist. It’s the least we can do.

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Killing Eve Presents the Terror of Male Entitlement

Everyone has a weakness, even our favorite female assassin. From the moment we met her, Villanelle has been nearly bulletproof. Able to anticipate and manipulate any situation, she’s maintained her confidence and dominance, until this week’s episode. For the first time since Killing Eve began, we see Villanelle like never before — scared and vulnerable.

After stealing a new, more age-appropriate wardrobe from a laundromat, a wounded Villanelle finds herself perusing the aisles of a supermarket contemplating her next move. As she enters the frozen food section, she appears desperate and frustrated until she sees a nondescript man by himself. From the moment she innocently smiles and he hesitantly smiles back, it’s clear he’s her next target. In classic Villanelle fashion, she constructs a story of a damsel in distress, searching for a rescuer, and the man, Julian, quickly comes to her aid offering her a ride and a place to stay.

What happens next is unexpected. A female assassin whose finally met her match in the human embodiment of toxic masculinity and fragility. The moment Villanelle enters his house, she is faced with a frighteningly extensive collection of dolls. And this doll collection perfectly foreshadows Julian’s relationship with women.

Dolls in and of themselves embody the worst (and most petrifying) stereotypes of women. They are meant to be aspirational versions of young girls that you can dress up and manipulate for your own enjoyment. With delicate porcelain faces and tiny adult clothes, dolls are collected with the intent to only be admired. Obviously, if you view real women like this, you have a problem.

With Villanelle, Julian seems to believe he’s found a doll of his own. Although he insists he wants to take care of her, he continuously ignores her. As she begs for ibuprofen, Julian dismisses her, saying she’s being ridiculous and that she merely has a cold, returning only with flu medicine. The more she voices her concerns and needs, the more frustrated and dismissive he gets. Villanelle is not a wallflower, but unfortunately, with Julian she learns her only way to remain safe is to play the harmless, victim female role. He implements a similar system on his mother who lives in the house with dementia, locking them both in their rooms “for their own good.”

What’s truly terrifying about this episode is that instead of a dangerous Russian prison, this episode more accurately reflects the obstacles, both mundane and horrific that many women face everyday.

Meanwhile, Eve has returned to work with some new team members, Jess and Hugo. Hugo is a cocky and entitled-Eton grad who constantly questions Eve and her work — whether it’s helping her with a slideshow or interrupting her mid-sentence. While obviously not the same situation as Villanelle, Eve is experiencing the hurdles that many women face in the workplace from (annoying/patronizing male colleges). In the end, it’s satisfying watching Eve prevail as she correctly identifies that this new victim wasn’t’ killed by Eve but a new female assassin.

Killing Eve continues to use the narrative of a spy thriller to undermine gender stereotypes and expand the genre. This episode is specifically poignant as we see an example of the horrors that many real women fall victim to: men’s need for control and dominance. In the end, Villanelle escapes Julian, making me smile for all womankind as she stabs him. Eve similarly triumphs and as an extra bonus to us lady viewers, we receive a new great skin care routine courtesy of our favorite boss Carolyn Marten. (Google’s pigs’ placenta mask)

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Why I Can’t (And Won’t) Stop Talking about Killing Eve

I admit it: I am a Killing Eve evangelist. I tell anyone who will listen — unsuspecting muni riders, friends, and dogs alike — this is the show we NEED in these times. At this point, getting every person I know to watch is my unsolicited quest. Who doesn’t want to see Sandra Oh (Eve) portray a MI5 spy chasing a female assassin Jodie Comer (Villanelle)? I mean seriously. Who? I’d like to take this time to apologize to the airpod-wearing tech worker who definitely just wanted to peruse their Instagram feed on her commute home — sorry for making you listen to my impassioned monologue on how this BBC show might be the greatest piece of resistance art in the Trumpian era.

Killing Eve is a deliciously violent, modern, and comedic twist on a will-they-won’t-they tale of killer and detective. At its core are two women, a bored MI5 agent, Eve, and a self aware assassin, Villanelle. Their ever-evolving relationship breaks the mold of women-centered drama, managing to exclude the three M’s: marriage, motherhood, and makeovers. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film’s 2018 Boxed in Study “female characters were more likely than male characters to play personal life-oriented roles such as wife and mother” — so definitely not a spy and an assassin.

While Eve is married, her relationship doesn’t drive her and in fact, takes a to her true passion — her job of overcoming Villanelle and the conspiracy she kills for. And while the thought of a female driven spy/assassin show might ring some alarm bells, Killing Eve rejects the traditional roles action films and television have left women. This is not Charlie’s Angels or another Bond film: neither character is defined by their sex appeal and neither of them are the sidekick to a problematic male figure. The only fatal attraction seems to be between the women themselves and their strange infatuation with each other.

In season one, the creators of Killing Eve took their time with each character giving Eve and Villanelle the time to develop complex narratives and motivations while separate from each other. Slowly the show reveals the threads that connect Eve and Villanelle, whether it’s their shared ability to dissociate (comically so) or a sudden exhilaration when they discover they are in the same room. Season one is dominated by Eve’s quest to find Villanelle as she chases her using her latest victims as bread crumbs.

Their obsessions culminates when Eve finally catches Villanelle in her apartment. The two share an electric moment, both overwhelmed by their infatuation with one another. The dialogue could be mistaken for a high school rom com as the two confess their love for one another. Suddenly, right as the audience (and Villanelle) think they are going to kiss, Eve stabs Villanelle. Confused and shocked by what she has just done, Eve first attempts to try to save Villanelle before an equally shocked Villanelle starts trying to shot her and both women escape.

This is where season two picks up (exactly thirty seconds later as the title cards hilariously tell us) as Eve struggles to come to grips what she has just done and what it might mean. Eve narrowly escapes Villanelle’s apartment building, struggling to even recognize her surrounding as she admits to murder in front of a newly engaged couple. Oh is hilariously entertaining as she settles into her new found place as a-maybe murderer. She goes to a candy store, overfilling a bag with a glutinous amount of jelly beans and gumdrops, and quite frankly I’m not surprised. If there is anything we learn as children, it’s that candy always tastes good. Even after an attempted murder. This scene gives us a quick visual cue that Eve might be more similar to Villanelle than she thinks. In the iconic first scene of Killing Eve season one, Villanelle spills ice cream on a young girl. While buying candy, Eve stops a young boy from taking on of her gumdrops. Is it a throwback to childhood pettiness or do they simply both dislike children.This complexity reinforces one of the themes of the show where the lines between purely good or bad are blurred. While Eve heads to the train station, Villanelle stumbles through the city eventually throwing herself in front of a cab to get a ride to the hospital. Forgetting she still has the knife she stabbed Villanelle with in her pocket, Eve quickly exits the security line, deciding to throw away the knife in the most “bloody” ironic place: a sanitary napkin trash can.

Killing Eve is so enthralling and new because it dramatizes traditional women roles, subverting them with darkness and humor. See the scene where Eve is preparing dinner when her husband reveals she forgot to even take the chicken out of the fridge. It’s watching Eve’s older boss Carolyn Martens sitting with a child who hilariously turns out to be a stranger. It’s watching Villanelle escape the hospital in a wheelchair after telling a well-meaning security guard that she’s just been diagnosed with a terrible illness and simply needs some time alone. Watching security guard fall fall into the societal narrative that women are harmless and must be protected, feels like righteous revenge. Women are the drivers of this show and none of them are purely good or bad. Each is meticulously crafted, disrupting the assumptions and stereotypes we’ve been taught. Who knew a spy story would be the perfect vehicle to bend gender stereotypes? But it is.?

This is the brilliance of Killing Eve, the ability to be equally terrifying, hilarious, and poignant at the same time. It’s feels good to have Villanelle and Eve back in our lives for a second season. And if there’s one thing I know, women aren’t predictable and neither is Killing Eve.

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It’s Time To Stop White-Casting Period Pieces

I’ll never forget when my mom showed me my first period piece. I was 10 years old and the film was The BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries (the best version of the Jane Austen classic, no other arguments will be considered) starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. From the moment my mom popped in the worn VHS tape, I was hooked. But it wasn’t just the romance, it was the characters Austen had created, specifically Elizabeth Bennett. She was smart, witty, loved reading, and the only female character not interested in getting married. As a 10-year-old, I quickly labeled her as my 18th-century heroine of choice. I mean boys? Gross. What were they even good for?

After watching Pride and Prejudice, I quickly moved on to Austen’s other creations in both film and book form. PersuasionEmmaSense and SensibilityNorthanger AbbeyMansfield Park, all were tales of female heroines falling in love, exchanging only the wittiest of remarks in flawless British accents. I held these movies (and mostly the BBC itself) as the gold standard for romance, one that I continued to hold up and revisit time and time again.

But there’s something I haven’t mentioned yet, something I ignored the majority of my life — these women, these strong 18th century ladies are something I will never be. White. Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, both Jennifer Ehle and Keira Knightley all (lovely) white ladies. When I was younger, I accepted this telling myself “oh, of course, they’re all white it’s wealthy 18th-century England, that’s all they have.” Yes, spiritually I had identified with Elizabeth Bennet. But when I closed my eyes, whether I was 10 or 21, the media had taught me to see one thing, a woman I could never be.

Then I saw Mr. Malcolm’s List, a short film directed by Emma Holly Jones for Refinery29’s ShatterboxShatterbox is an anthology of women-directed short films with the goal to get more women behind the camera. This 8-minute film starring Gemma Chan from Crazy Rich Asians and Freida Pintofrom Slumdog Millionaire casts people of color in a traditional period piece a la Jane Austen.

The story surrounds Mr. Malcolm, an elusive bachelor, played by Sope Dirisu. Following him is a long list of desperate debutantes and their matchmaking mothers. What these women don’t know is he has a particular list of qualifications for his future bride. One woman, Julia played by Gemma Chan, is determined to capture his heart but perhaps she needs a little help.

In 8-minutes, Mr. Malcolm’s List proves that traditional, all-white cast is simply weak and lazy. People of color should be cast in these period pieces not only because it’s time we have media that represents everyone, but because people of color existed in the 18th century.

Mr. Malcom’s List allows people of color to see themselves in a genre that we’ve been taught was off limits (unless we were willing to play a sidekick or follow an exploitative storyline). To see Gemma Chan and Freida Pinto here is not just groundbreaking it’s necessary. Luckily several film studios agreed: according to Deadline, Mr. Malcolm’s List is going to be made into a feature-length film and I can’t wait. It’s essential for the next generation of young women and girls to see themselves reflected in film, regardless of the genre or time period. I hope this is just the beginning. Because personally, I’m waiting for the ultimate remake of Pride and Prejudice starring John Cho and Lupita Nyong’o.

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The Fantastic Terror of Lupita Nyong’o in “Us”

Women have depth. We are multidimensional and valuable for more than just what we look like. But you wouldn’t know that from watching TV or movies today. If life was like film and TV, we’d all mostly be straight white cis ladies who all wear a size zero and are only allowed to talk about the men in our lives who coincidentally are also straight and white.

In Jordan Peele’s Us, Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o gives a masterclass performance while breaking all the stereotypes of what it means to be a woman, especially a black woman in film. The characters she plays not only have their own agency, but the duality of those roles show the depth and expanse of Nyong’o’s talent. It’s not a coincidence that a man of color, Peele created this world for Nyong’o to thrive, giving her the space to develop characters that are rarely shown in film. Us proves that when women and people of color get to tell their own stories, they are simply better.

From 12 Years a Slave to Black Panther, Nyong’o’s talent is undeniable. Which makes it even harder to believe that Us is the first major film where Nyong’o has the lead role. And it’s already breaking records. Us not only had the largest debut for an original horror film, with $70.3 million at the box office, it also had the largest opening weekend for a film headlined by a Black woman.

Us is about a family’s vacation gone wrong — with the family’s “evil” doppelgängers finding and terrorizing them. Winston Duke plays the lovable and slightly dorky dad Gabe, and Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex playing the daughter and son, Zora and Jason. Nyong’o plays the mother, Adelaide, who is determined to keep her family safe. And in a surprising twist, Adelaide’s double, Red, who shares one of her earliest and most traumatizing childhood memories.

What’s so impressive about Nyong’o’s performance is the distinct character she creates for both Adelaide and Red. Too often horror movies only give women sexy-scream-run-die roles. These are the roles that mostly involve being scared, making stupid decisions, dying almost always a gruesome death — all the while highlighting the woman’s sexuality. We all know there are many films that spend more camera time on a woman’s cleavage than on actually developing her character. In horror films misogyny is even more terrifying, when oftentimes female characters experience violence and brutality at the hands of male antagonists creating a cultural narrative that conflates sex with violence. And in old horror slasher movies, it’s even worse for black women who often die first if they’re present at all. (Spoiler: white people die first in this movie)

In Us, Nyong’o breaks gender and racial stereotypes, giving us characters with full narratives that Hollywood has historically denied Black women the opportunity to create. Nyong’o depicts Adelaide as a woman with a history of fear and darkness she has kept from her family. This background gives Adelaide the room to build a narrative distinct from her role as a mother and wife. I mean how many times have we seen mothers in movies that are given the freedom to have meaningful, separate life experiences from marriage and children? Adelaide is the leader of her family and guides them through the darkness as they become dependent on her for survival. Then there’s Red, Adelaide’s double that Nyong’o creates as a twitching-unsettling figure with wide enveloping eyes who was previously relegated to Adelaide’s nightmares. Red’s voice, ticks, and eyes look as if they were constructed by Adelaide’s subconscious to show the scariest version of herself.

How Nyong’o builds the relationship between Red and Adelaide is most impressive. Building off childhood memories and flashbacks, the audience is slowly able to connect the dots between the two characters as Nyong’o uses facial cues to bring the audience with her. Nyong’o transforms a character who might be a terrifying zombie-like-figure looking for revenge into something more terrifying — a deep look into one’s self and subconscious. Together, Red and Adelaide show us that sometimes the greatest thing we should fear is looking in the mirror.

Us is a masterpiece thanks to Nyong’o filling the canvas — she leaves you haunted by the depth and nuance of the characters she portrays. She’s the rare woman on screen who’s scared and terrifying, strong and weak, emotional and stoic — unable to fit in any of the boxes society has tried to put her in. These are the characters women, especially women of color, deserve to play. Through Nyong’o, we are taken on a journey of one women’s life, one that doesn’t start at marriage or when she becomes a mother, but is rooted in her personhood. It’s a terrifying journey, and one that will not only make the audience look inward, but also ask why we waited so long for a woman-centered film like this. In Us, Lupita Nyong’o gives women, on screen and off, permission to be scary. Because if there’s one thing I know about women: “If you want to get crazy. We can get crazy.”

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White Men and the Media: A Love Story

On Friday, Gallup released a report on the favorability ratings of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The article was entitled “Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Better Known, but Image Skews Negative.” After I read the headline, I was disappointed believing that the hype around the new congresswoman was dissipating. Then I actually looked at the numbers. It’s true she is growing unfavorably among three audiences: men, white people, and people older than 55. However Ocasio’s popularity is increasing with women, people of color, and people ages 18–35.

Last time I checked women are still 50% of the population and white people only make up a little more than half of the population. This headline and the surrounding conversation shows how the media considers white men the default. Since the beginning of modern times, mostly white men have controlled the world’s power, just look at 44 of our last presidents. The assumption Gallup was making is not new. Because men and white people are finding Ocasio-Cortez less appealing, her image must be considered overall negative. The white guys set the narrative. Because in the media’s eyes, without men and white people, a politician could never stand a chance.Apparently, only certain opinions matter, only their experiences define normal. As we near the 2020 election, I feel uneasy with media coverage that continuously and overwhelmingly favors white male candidates.

Last Thursday, Beto O’Rourke, currently the candidate with the least experience and whose claim to fame is his narrow loss to Ted Cruz, announced his intention to run for president. Now let me be clear — I have nothing against Robert “call me Beto” O’Rourke, however the way he has been embraced by the media with little to no criticism compared to the other candidates confirms my fears for this election.

Consider how Amy Klobuchar’s announcement was greeted. Immediately stories about her reputation from being a difficult boss emerged. And while I don’t admit I know what it’s like to work for Klobuchar, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that no male senators have had New York Times exposes citing their workplaces as difficult. Or when Kamala Harris launched her campaign in Oakland and and estimated at 20,000 people came, where were the headlines?

Prior to his announcement, O’Rourke was given the star treatment — an artsy spread in Vanity Fair complete with photos taken by Annie Leibovitz. The fact is none of the women in the race or people of color (Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar) got the same media attention that Beto has.

Particularly glaring for me is the contrast between O’Rourke and Julián Castro. I single out Castro because of their natural similarities. First, obviously, they are both straight men from Texas. Yes, despite Beto’s claim that “There’s one candidate who’s there who can talk about the profoundly positive impact that immigrants have had on our safety and our security, as well as our success and our strength,” he is not the only one. Castro not only comes from an immigrant family but was born and raised in San Antonio. San Antonio is not only the home of the Alamo, historically it was a part of Mexico, and currently over 60% of the population is Hispanic or Latino. At the age of 26, Castro became the youngest city councilman to serve in San Antonio’s history. In 2009, he became the youngest mayor of a top-50 American city and was named Time magazine’s 40 under 40 list for America’s up and coming political leaders.

Yet, time and time again, white men continue to get the upper hand in the name of charisma, wide appeal, and a “fresh perspective.” It seems that Beto, unlike some of the other candidates, has the option to lean and run on personality rather than a list of detailed policy plans and decisions. This week, it was released that O’Rourke raised $6.1 million online in the first 24 hours of him campaign according to The New York Times. This officially surpassed Bernie Sanders for the most money raised in one-day by a Democratic candidate. It seems every news outlet across the country plastered this headline over and over. However, while this statistic shows promise it definitely isn’t indicative of who will win, or who should win, particularly when considering gender. According to The Center for Responsive Politics, while women make up half of the population, they donate less than 30% of all campaign contributions. Last year, NPR discovered that democratic men running for congress out-raise democratic female candidates on average by 500,000 dollars. The fact is that mostly men hold the purse strings to political money in this country and to use the amount of money raised as an indication of success is not accurate. So yes, O’Rourke raised an outrageous amount of money, but he did so without a detailed policy plan or outline of what he was running on.

Not only is O’Rourke one of the least experienced, according to Vox, his voting record is actually more conservative than the average Democrat. In the 113th U.S. Congress, from January 2013 to January 2015, O’Rourke voted more conservative than 76 percent of Democrats. And in the 114th Congress, he was more conservative than 79 percent of Democrats. And in the 115th Congress, he was more conservative than 77 percent of Democrats. This is more conservative on average than Harris, Booker, Gillibrand, and Warren. So the idea that O’Rourke is somehow a liberal breath of fresh air to the Democratic party is built on personality, not substance.

In this upcoming election, the coverage and hype factor has consistently favored white men. Whether it’s the young newcomer from Texas, Beto O’Rourke or two veteran politicians like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, candidates who are people of color or women are not given the benefit of the doubt. Instead they are consistently expected to politely step aside and wait in line. Too often political coverage is gendered. Too often female candidates receive coverage for their clothes, makeup choices, or a lip syncing breakfast club style music video. Too often people of color are criticized for using divisive language or have to endure coded racist descriptions. Too often women of color are dismissed or worse forced to endure racist actions from their own constituents. Too often men receive the benefit of the doubt, leaving policy decisions in the background while reporters anoint them with labels like charisma and electability.

I hope in 2020 we do not repeat the mistakes of the past — that our media covers and outlines policies instead of personalities. Elizabeth Warren has already released a plan to end Washington corruption. Kamala Harris has released her plan to fight inequality with LIFT the Middle Class Act, while Julián Castro has called for universal health care and reparations. These are the issues that reporters have a responsibility to cover. We cannot have another election where an escalator ride receives more coverage than a comprehensive plan for criminal justice reform. We cannot have another election where the media plays right into the hands of a racist and sexist President. America might not survive it.

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Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago Are My Favorite Things on Television

When it premiered in 2013, Brooklyn 99 seemed to be like any other cop show centered around a white male police officer named Jake Peralta. In this case, the known star is Andy Samberg of SNL and Lonely Island fame. And while I liked Andy Samberg, I wasn’t about to make time to watch a slapstick cop comedy. But I gave it a shot, figuring what’s 20 minutes in this post-Netflix world? And let’s be honest, I had just graduated from college, and was still enamored with the concept of there being no homework or trips to the library after dinner. With these low expectations, imagine my disbelief upon seeing Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) in the intro.

Diaz and Santiago represent many of the hopes I have for how Latinas will be represented on television and in media in the future. Not only is salsa music never in the background when they’re on-screen, neither of the two characters represent the stereotypical roles I usually see Latinas play. Neither of them are ever described as “spicy,” made fun of because of their accent, or fit the two roles that TV has largely cast Latina women in: the sexy hypersexualized love interest or the janitor/gardener/maid.

Detective Rosa Diaz is the toughest cop in Brooklyn 99 by far. Let’s not forget the episode that is completely dedicated to her coworkers’ challenge to get her to smile. She also insists that people simply share too much stating in one episode: “I hate small talk. Let’s drink in silence.” Not only is she strong but she is also vulnerable, coming out as bisexual in season 5. Actress Stephanie Beatriz herself identifies as bisexual and queer and has talked about how important it is to have a character like Rosa on TV.

 

 

I identify as bi and queer…growing up I didn’t ever see myself on television, not to mention that I’m Latina. So there were very limited characters that I identified with… I can think of many times when I was 13, 14, where I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be okay… I don’t see people succeeding that identify this way.’

Breaking the oh so common one Latina per TV show, Amy Santiago is a very different character from Rosa. Santiago is extremely competitive and has a serious addiction to binders, label-makers, and organization in general. She is notoriously horrible at cooking and her dance skills are more Urkel than Shakira. The show evolves Santiago as a character to become truly multidimensional, something few Latina actress have had the opportunity to play in the past.

 

In an episode directed by Beatriz (Diaz), Santiago is put on a case where a man attempted to sexually assault a female co-worker (at you guessed it an investment bank). In the episode, Peralta and Santiago are put on the case trying endlessly to prove without a doubt that a “typically toxic” male character is guilt. For a sitcom known for slapstick comedy to try to comment on sexual assault was definitely a risk. But one that was clearly worth taking.

Although a little awkward at times, this episode shows the right way to have a conversation about gender power dynamics in the workplace, while ignoring some of the shows previous misstep regarding women in the workplace. While there are still plenty of jokes, Beatriz orchestrates moments of truth that shed light on the ways both women and men react to sexual assault. Whether it’s the disbelief of male allies when confronted with women’s everyday obstacles in the workplace, or the complexity of the decision to come forward, Brooklyn 99 handled it with care and responsibility.

This show has become my favorite comedy sitcom on television because it not only looks like the world I know but features and centers people of color who break the stereotypical structures forced on POC in televisionBrooklyn 99 centers an ensemble with two Latinas showing all of television that the “no more than one” rule doesn’t and shouldn’t ever apply to casting. And I’m not the only one who’s a fan (cough Lin-Manuel Miranda cough).

 

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The Joy of Watching Women of Color in Power

Wednesday, many of us watched, as former personal lawyer to Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, testified before the House Oversight committee. In his opening statement, Cohen called President Trump a “racist, conman, and a cheat.” Unfortunately, watching a white man being called out appropriately is never as satisfying as it should be. Usually, these events tend to be traumatic *cough Brett Kavanaugh cough* — reinforcing the status quo that accountability never looks the same for white men as it does for the rest of us. Yet, this hearing, while not without moments of ridiculousness, exceeded my expectations, thanks to three new congresswomen: Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).

During the hearing, Rep. Mark Meadows, a white Republican congressman from North Carolina, brought Lynne Patton, a black woman who works in the Trump Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development . By bringing her, Rep. Meadows hoped to challenge Cohen’s labeling of Trump as a racist using the oh-so-popular “Black friend card.”

Seem problematic? Dare I say racist? I thought so too. But even in 2019, I expect these situations to be ignored by our representatives, leaving most of us to flock to Twitter to debrief and find validation for our frustration.

However, this year is a little different. Why? Women. Or more specifically, women of color. Granted, women still only make up 23.4% of the US House of Representatives. But believe it or not, this is a vast improvement from 20% before the midterms. To be clear, that’s a total of 102 women and just 43 women of color. Don’t get out your confetti just yet. We still have a long way to go before Congress reflects what our country actually looks like.

Image courtesy of NPR

When you zoom in on the demographics of the Oversight and Reform Committee, iit gets a little better. Of the 42 members, 13 are women (31%) and 7 are women of color. Three of those women were newly elected this year.

It is these three women who transform the direction of this hearing. A couple hours after Rep. Meadows introduced Trump’s token Black friend, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez began her questioning. Her interrogation of Cohen was so compelling, The New York Times’ headline was “How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Won the Cohen Hearing” and Slate’s “Did Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Just Lay Groundwork for Democrats to Subpoena Trump’s Tax Returns?” To watch a Latina from the Bronx, newly elected to Congress, appear on television in front of a committee of largely white men and conduct the best line of questioning, validates what we already know — women of color are not only capable, we excel. We’ve worked twice as hard to get half as far and AOC’s performance proves it.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley shined too, taking a different approach to dealing with Cohen. Like so many of us, she knew Trump was racist long before Michael Cohen decided to announce it to the world. So she asked Cohen during the hearing, “Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African-Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to the diaspora as ‘shithole countries,’ and refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people,’ have a black friend, and still be racist?” “Yes.” Cohen replied. Not only did Rep. Pressley make a statement about how racism actually works, she showed quickly and concisely that simply presenting your token Black friend proves nothing.

And finally Rep. Rashida Tlaib took the stage and addressed Lynne Patton’s presence directly. “Just because someone has a person of color — a black person working for — them does not mean they aren’t racist,” she said. “And it is insensitive that some would…use [as] a prop a black woman in this chamber, in this committee. [That is] racist in itself.” Immediately, Rep. Meadows demanded a retraction from Rep. Tlaib for her daring to appropriately label his racist behavior.

I don’t know about you, but this interaction didn’t seem foreign to me. Certainly Rep. Meadows was more concerned with being called racist than examining the ways his behavior WAS racist. And the person of color, here Rep. Tlabi, spent all her energy restating, in excruciating detail, her comments — even though she was right all along. THIS is the POC twilight zone so many of us live in. So many times people of color, especially women of color, are forced to educate white people about racism, often times at their own expense. I am sure it’s not the first time that Rep. Pressley or Tlaib have had to have this type of conversation. I know it won’t be the last. As I watched them on TV, I felt a natural connection. I’ve had these conversations myself and it was invigorating seeing someone who looked like me — in the halls of Congress no less — reflecting my experience.

The fact is these women are now in the room where it happens, where the laws and decisions that govern our country are shaped. It wasn’t long ago when rooms like these wouldn’t have allowed in women like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Tlaib. They stand as living testaments to the generations of women who’ve made their journey possible. Watching these three Congresswomen of color felt like the opening of the door through which so many more women will enter the halls of power. And I can’t wait to see what that room looks like.

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Roma Didn’t Win Best Picture And That’s Okay

Last night Roma didn’t win for Best Picture (mass eye roll for Green Book’s win) and Yalitza Aparicio didn’t win Best Actress in a leading role, and yes we’re disappointed. But we’re not hopeless.

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As Latinas, we’re used to not winning awards. I mean let’s face it it’s been 58 years since a Latina has won an acting Oscar (Shout out to reina Rita Moreno). However this year, Latinos proved we will not and cannot be ignored. And I’m not just talking about Jennifer Lopez’s mirror dress, which we’re pretty sure she wore so the max number of Latinas could see themselves on screen. Or the crazy amount of Spanish we heard on the Oscar stage AND during the Oscar ads. I’m talking about how Roma not only won Alfonso Cuarón Oscars for directing, cinematography, and best “foreign” language film, but made a larger statement about the importance of Latino made and driven films.

“I grew up watching foreign language movies and learning so much from them and being inspired like Citizen Kane, Jaws, Rashomon, The Godfather, Breathless… The nominations tonight prove we are part of the same ocean.” – Alfonso Cuarón

Cuarón’s speech tells us everything we need to know. The idea of a “foreign” film makes Spanish and all non-English language films others. It says those stories are different and don’t belong to us. This despite the fact that English is NOT the official language of the US (nor should it be of Hollywood). What stories are “ours” is not based on borders and walls. The talent at the Oscars understood this, even if the categories didn’t reflect it. Even the sponsors got in on the game - shout out to Verizon and Rolex who had non-subtitled Spanish in their ads. It’s like they realized that Latinx people exist and spend money too.
Hopefully, this Oscars acts as the start of greater inclusion for Latinos and all the stories we have to tell. Because I think we can all agree, we definitely don’t need another biopic about Winston Churchill. Or another movie about racism written and directed by white men.

As Javier Bardem said in Spanish no less (but with English subtitles), “There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity and talent. In any region of any country of any continent, there are always great stories that move us and tonight we celebrate the excellence and importance of the cultures and languages of different countries.”

Again and again people of color have proven that our stories are not only worth telling but add a richness and diversity that society cannot ignore. Let’s check the stats: 5 of the last 6 winners of best director have been Mexican. At this year’s Oscars, three of the four acting winners were people of color. Black women won firsts in costume design and set production. And women took home a record breaking 15 Oscars this year, three for directing. Roma was particularly special because it starred an indigenous woman, took place in Mexico with everyone speaking either Spanish or Mixtec, AND won 3 Oscars. A film about Mexicans made by Mexicans that wins all the awards? That’s rare. Roma‘s success has allowed us a glimpse of what we’re capable of if people just give us a seat at the table.

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