Author

Nicola Schulze

4 Latinas on the DNC

4 Latinas on the DNC

by Nicola Schulze

Eva Longoria hosted the first night of the virtual Democratic National Convention, which kept some political rally standards and borrowed from a grab bag of other TV formats. Credit Democratic National Convention, via Associated Press and New York Times

For the last four days, the Democratic National Convention has dominated our national consciousness. In the midst of a pandemic and a national reckoning on the systemic racism that continues to pervade our society, thousands tuned in hoping to be inspired and galvanized by the Democrats’ vision for this country. A new survey, which comes on the heels of the convention, also shows that two-thirds of Latinx people say they haven’t seen any outreach from political campaigns or groups for the 2020 election.

So we wanted to check in and see what four of our favorite Latinx activists, organizers, and journalists thought about the DNC this year.

“Julián Castro, the only Latino to run for president in 2020 and who delivered a keynote speech at the 2012 convention, wasn’t given any speaking time. And don’t tell me that giving Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising superstar and arguably the most effective political communicator, about 90 seconds of airtime was enough. She had less time to speak than a former Republican governor who got nearly 4 minutes. The two other Latino politicians who had major speaking slots — Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada — were moderates with lower profiles.

Rather than growing the electorate, which is how Democrats will win in November and beyond, it seems as though they are reaching out to Republican voters. This sends a terrible message to the Latino voters they need to win in November.”

Cristina Jiménez Moreta, Co-founder of United We Dream

“You know it’s like Latin@s are everywhere and we are essential and you love/hate us but what is ever present in this country is our total INVISIBILITY. And when we say this, show it to everyone, we are told to calm down and that is not so bad. It’s exhausting but I will not stop.”

— Maria Hinojosa, Journalist

“Eva Longoria, who has been both an incredible actress, and also an incredible activist for Texas. She has had Texas in her mind and in her heart in politics for many years now… Getting to see her host, or yesterday, getting to see Kerry Washington — not just being in front of the entire country, not just having the opportunity to introduce Kamala Harris or Barack Obama — but doing so with her natural curly hair was absolutely magical for me.”

Candace Valenzuela, US House candidate, TX-24

Some disappointment to be honest about not seeing more Latinos or Latinas in primetime at the convention… You’ve got to really make sure that representation is not just seen, but is felt. And for us, we need to be seeing that representation.”

Janet Murguia, President of UnidosUS
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AOC Speech Reminds Us Fathers Built a Sexist World, Mothers Have Been Dismantling

After Rep. Ted Yoho’s terrible “apology” (if you can even call it that) for calling her a “fucking bitch,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to the House floor and demanded decency, not just for herself but for women everywhere, specifically as a daughter.

“Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too.

My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect on the floor of this house towards me on television, and I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

As many focus on the roles of fathers in combatting sexism, they’re missing one important part of the equation. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t just mention her father, she mentioned her mother too, bringing in the most influential figures left out of conversations on sexism. Whether your relationship with your mother is absent, painful, or wonderful, mothers are often their daughters’ first instructors when it comes to facing the world as a woman. It is often our mothers that both reinforce and break these roles for us as daughters. How many of us have heard the saying “Y qué va a decir la gente” specifically when we’ve challenged the ideas of what it means to be a respectable Latina? Whether it’s the culture of judging women who either present as too feminine or not feminine enough, speaking your mind or staying quiet, the choice to pursue a career or to stay at home, mothers are often the gatekeepers to the futures of their daughters. 

It’s easy to see why femininity is so protected when the most celebrated Latinas in our culture earn their praise through the way they embrace traditional female values, like beauty. Our mothers had few if any representations of Latinas in medicine, in politics, science, or in technology. When they saw themselves celebrated, it was usually in very traditional female roles in television, movies, and even in books. Only in 2009, did we get the first Latina, Sonia Sotomayor, appointed to serve on the Supreme Court Sonia and only in 2017 did we have the first Latina, Catherine Marie Cortez Masto, elected into the United States Senate. 

My own mother was one of four Latinas out of a hundred students in her dental class at UCSF. In high school, a teacher told her she wasn’t smart enough to be in an advanced biology class. When my grandmother, who never had the privilege of finishing middle school, heard what had happened, she confronted that teacher demanding that my mother be put into the class with the predominantly white students.  

Yet, when my mom expressed an interest in becoming a dentist, my grandmother wasn’t as encouraging. She suggested nursing as an alternative, believing it was a more realistic option for a woman, especially Latina interested in medicine. In college, my mother was also told by a professor that she would never be a dentist but that she would make a great secretary. My grandmother believed strongly her daughter was entitled to an education but because of the sexist racist world she was raising my mother in, she wanted my mother to be realistic. This is how our mothers navigate the world for us, recognizing the limitations and fighting anyway. For generations of mothers, our ancestors have pushed us forward so we could dream, what our mothers couldn’t even imagine.  

While fathers are essential in combating a sexist American culture, our mothers teach us what sexism is and give us the tools to dismantle it. It’s through our mothers not our fathers, that we inherit both the rules and limitations of sexism. The keys to breaking the cycle and pushing us forward lies in the matriarchal line. Rep. Yoho really could not have less to do with it. 

Because of her mother, Blanca Ocasio-Cortez, AOC, can be seen and celebrated for her intellect and ability to lead. In every way, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents the culmination of generations of Latinx mothers who fought back against the misogynistic culture. She is educated, determined, and creating a space for all the Latinx girls who were ever told they were too “much.” 

“I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse, and worse, to see that. To see that excuse, and see our Congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance. I could not allow that to stand.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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From Dolores to Shirley, Mrs. America Centers the Wrong Story

A stylistic period piece, Mrs. America delves into the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment. Everything about this show oozes beauty, from the perfectly quaffed hair of Phyllis Schlafly’s followers, to Gloria Steinem’s glasses, to Shirley Chisholm’s graphic jacket-dress ensembles, but good television should be about more than just the nostalgia for its time period. And that’s where Mrs. America falls short.

Following the example set by Bombshell, Mrs. America makes the mistake of centering the life and history of a conservative white woman. Don’t get me wrong I love Cate Blanchett and her performance as Phyllis Schlafly is as smart and nuanced as we have come to expect from Blanchett as an actor. I believe the fault lies with the creators of the show and in a way, I can’t even place the blame completely on their shoulders.

In a time where intersectional feminism seems to be at the center of every diversity conversation, t-shirt, and tote bag, many television and movie projects miss the mark. Certainly,  the execution and practice of this theory has a little to be desired. A 2019 study by USC Annenberg found that across a sample of 1,300 films, the number of people of color in lead or co-lead roles was only 17%. And only 4.5% of all 47,268 speaking or named characters across the past 12 years were Latino, as were a mere 3% of lead or co-lead actors. I doubt when Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectional feminism” she was thinking of tote bags but that’s what it’s been distilled to, disconnected from its original meaning and easy to obtain. 

When there are nine episodes of Mrs. America and only one focuses on a woman of color, is that truly capturing the feminist movement? I argue not only does it miss the mark, it continues to perpetuate a dangerous narrative that feminism is for and by white women. Shirley Chisholm, played beautifully by Uzo Aduba, was not the only woman of color in congress working to pass the ERA. The fact that the show uses Chisholm and two other activists as the token characters delegated to supporting roles as opposed to Cate Blanchett’s Schlafly is, to put it simply, a mistake.

Mrs. America features Flo Kennedy, played by Niecy Nash, and Margaret Sloan-Hunter, played by Bria Samoné Henderson, both important and influential feminist activists. But neither of them receive their own episodes. In fact, the only Black editor at Ms. Magazine, Margaret is the only the second BIPOC character, other than Shirley Chisholm, who has received her own storyline. We watch her ideas get sidelined, questioned, and overlooked as she pitches a story about tokenism in the workplace. Margaret says in the meeting, “This phenomenon that happens where one minority is propped up to cover the experience of an entire population. Like the white population, we are diverse within ourselves.” The ironic part is the creators didn’t take their own message to heart.

The inclusion of Shirley Chisholm, Flo Kennedy, Margaret Sloan-Hunter, and other activists show that the writers and creators made a concerted effort to try to avoid the “white feminist” narrative pot hole. But inclusion is not enough. Feminism was founded, built, and created by queer women of color and non-binary people. To not center them in a show about the ERA feels like taking one step forward while realizing you’re on the wrong escalator.

This point is only affirmed when looking at IMDB’s list of the eleven writers and directors on the show. Only three are Black, with no Latinx or Asian writers or directors listed. This doesn’t surprise me. We know when there are diverse voices behind the camera, stories become more nuanced in their diversity. To not include Dolores Huerta, a Latina activist who helped lead the feminist movement including working with Gloria Steinem in the 60’s, continues the erasure of Latinx people in the feminist movement. To not include Patsy Matsu Takemoto, the first woman of color and first Asian-American congresswoman elected (who also helped pass Title IX and Women’s Education Equity Act in 1974), continues the erasure of Asian American people in the feminist movement. To not center Shirley Chisholm in every episode, instead of Phyllis Schlafly, continues the erasure of Black people in the feminist movement. These choices show us how far we have to go and who still holds the power. Because if Shirley Chisholm isn’t the iconic embodiment of what feminism should be, I don’t know what is.

If we are going to create shows and films to tell the untold story of the feminist movement, we need to include all feminists. Take the opportunity and challenge to show how diverse feminism is. Show the struggle that women of color and queer people went through to be accepted by the white feminist movement. These are the stories that should be front and center now. Intersectionality isn’t a fleeting theme, it’s a lens to see the invisible, to understand what’s really going on today and how we got here. Everyone who holds the strings to our culture should be using it to create media. Otherwise, we just end up with another useless metaphorical tote bag.

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Brown People Deserve More Stories About Grief

People like to believe grief is far away. A dramatic and inevitable part of our existence to avoid talking or thinking about. It’s one of those unfortunate things people simply get to when they “get there.” But this is often not the case. Especially for Devi Vishwakumar, the high school heroine of Mindy Kaling’s new show on Netflix Never Have I Ever. During an orchestra performance, Devi’s father suddenly collapses and passes away from a heart attack. A week or so later, Devi loses the feeling in her legs. Three months later, when trying to check out her high school crush Paxton Hall-Yoshida, she gets the feeling back — just in time for sophomore year. Determined not to be labeled a weirdo, Devi throws herself into a school years resolution: to have a boyfriend, become cool, and have sex. What looks like another high school rom-com with yet another 20-something man playing a teen heartthrob in a jeep, Never Have I Ever is more than meets the eye.

We all know the traditional architecture of a teen love story. A teen in an unfortunate state of uncoolness is always our hero. They become romantically involved with someone “out of their league” for reasons that boil down to 25% coincidence, 25% cool new lewks/ makeover, 25% group projects, and 25% detention. This reason or reasons eventually brings our two lovebirds together with a make-out scene to the bop of the moment. Every film, from the casually sexist/racist John Hughes’ pictures to the 90’s high school classics follows this narrative.

Don’t get me wrong I love this genre, having grown up with it as a 90’s baby but there’s a limit to what these characters can hope to achieve. From Ali Sheedy’s Allison in The Breakfast Club to even Julia Stiles’s feminist Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You, rom-com heroines may try to be less girly or traditionally “feminine,” but they still end up inside the boy-meets-girl cliché. Kat graduating high school and getting into Sarah Lawerence isn’t the central accomplishment of 10 Things I Hate About You, her getting together with Heath Ledger is. And no, the exploration of Ali Sheedy’s weirdness and emo tendencies isn’t the foundation of Breakfast Club, it’s merely a hurdle she overcomes to end up with Emilio Estevez.

While romantic love is a central storyline of Never Have I Ever, it’s not what drives the story forward and it isn’t at the core of Devi’s psyche. It’s not what makes her tick and it’s not what we’re primarily looking for her to explore and cope with. Instead, the death of Devi’s dad anchors the show. Through flashbacks and dreams, we see the memories of Devi with her father and how they motivate her to question the choices she makes. Through the eyes of Niecy Nash, who plays Devi’s therapist, we learn about what triggers her grief and how she continues to acknowledge its existence and effect on her.

Now grief and loss have been explored before in teen movies and shows whether it’s Fault In Our Stars or A Walk to Remember. In these films, a young couple falls in love like in a traditional romantic comedy. However as the end of the film nears one of the characters loses the new love-of-their-life due to cancer (or some other terminal illness), ending and cementing their romances in a modern Romeo and Juliet-esque love story.

While these stories do have a place in film and in some personal experiences, they don’t give grief the attention and examination it deserves. As the incomparable Joan Didion articulates “Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be.” Never Have I Ever gives grief the space it deserves. The show effortlessly displays the waves of emotion that come with losing a loved one and the unexpected ways loss manifests itself in our lives and psyche. And that grief is okay. Through Devi’s experiences, we see how differently people express and process grief like Devi and her mother, Nalini. We see the pressure people are put under to show and perform grief in a specific way, when Nalini and Devi attend Ganesh Puja. The advice people try to give to comfort and instruct those who are grieving are familiar and show how little we know about grief itself and how to support others through it. In the teen-terminal-love stories, the majority of the films are built around characters finding love, falling in love, and finally losing love soon after the film ends. This is where Never Have I Ever begins. Instead of leading up to death, the show delves into what happens after the funeral and tear jerking eulogies, what happens when people stop calling.

In Never Have I Ever, not only do we get to see grief, we get to see a brown girl grieving her father. Many teen films show white people dealing with grief — very rarely if ever is this shown through the eyes of people of color. And if we do get to grieve, it is usually an exploitative, stereotypical storyline. In the Lantix community, we see many stories that feature grief but it’s often around immigration or senseless gang violence, things so many people can write off as “never going to happen to me.” Brown people deserve to have our grief normalized, to see what’s like for us to lose a loved one, as we did with Coco (although one movie is never enough). In many Brown and minority communities, whether it’s dealing with grief or mental health, there is often a stigma. Never Have I Ever does that — it gives us an honest narrative about a brown girl dealing with loss.

Grief is one of the more inevitable facets of the human experience and we don’t talk about it enough. Our storytelling mediums — TV, film, even books — don’t prepare young people to understand what it looks or feels like. And they certainly don’t teach how to support those experiencing it. Grief is tough to dramatize — it isn’t something that happens all at once or that ends once someone is gone. It lingers, hitting us in the subtleties of our daily lives. And more often than not, it’s not a doomed tragic love story, but a difficult part of life. But that’s why we need these stories even more and I thank Mindy Kaling for giving us one that is honest, funny, and beautifully human.

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Ugly Betty Has the Beauty We Need Now

For the past few weeks, I’ve been lucky (and privileged) enough to shelter with my family. Every night, we’ve huddled in my parents’ room and watched our favorites: Cinderella (the one produced by Whitney Houston starring Brandy, the only version that matters) Pride and Prejudice (the one with Colin Firth and Jennifer Eyle, also the only version that matters), Anne of Green Gables (the 1980s version, obviously), and finally, the one and only Ugly Betty, starring America Ferrera.

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Ugly Betty has always been more than a show to me. From her braces to her wavy, frizzy hair to her well-intentionally bold yet slightly off-putting wardrobe, America Fererra’s Betty Suarez was, like no Latina I’d ever seen, simply herself. A Latinx girl with bookish tendencies, a never-ending work ethic, and a love of writing. Of course, I’d seen Jennifer Lopez, Selma Hayak, and Jessica Alba on screen but I viewed these women as wildly out of my league. With their perfect hair, curvy yet athletic figures, and horas that practically dripped sex, these women more closely resembled figments of Hollywood’s imaginary Latinas than myself or any of the women I know. And while they were certainly hot, they lacked dynamic storylines and any true autonomy, usually playing the maid or sexy alternative love interest.  

Ugly Betty is wonderfully different, and something I had never seen on television. It centers a woman who rejects the Latina stereotype, a character who’s value isn’t in her sexuality, who embraces her Latinx identity and individual quirks, even if it means wearing a poncho from Guadelajara. And Ugly Betty didn’t just give one way to be Latinx. Between Betty, her sister Hilda, her nephew Justin, Justin’s father Santos, her father Ignacio, and Sofia (Selma Hayak’s character), these roles break the mold Hollywood too often uses for Latinx characters. A mold that continues to limit how others see us and how we see ourselves.

It’s been 10 years since the show’s finale, and while the outfits and some of the references are definitely outdated (sorry low-rise jeans, never again) Ugly Betty is as relevant as ever. More than just a character, Betty forces us as viewers to question the hypocrisy of a world, and especially a workplace, obsessed with consumption and completely lacking in substance. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence Betty wears a poncho on her first day to work. A traditional piece of clothing from Latin America that has not only been used to stereotype the Latinx community but also has recently been subverted into a fashion must have. By wearing her poncho, Betty exposes the deceptive rules the Latinx community navigates of where and when our culture is appreciated or ridiculed. The beauty and ingenuity of Ugly Betty is that the show plays with these norms with humor and authenticity. As her nephew Justin says in the first episode, “All the stuff you want to do, owning a magazine, doesn’t happen for people like us, unless you’re JLo or something.” But Betty finds a way to succeed without becoming a Latina bombshell or undergoing one of those horrifying now-they’ll-see-me-and-take-me-seriously makeovers – and that’s a story that deeply resonates today.

This world view, this continued freshness isn’t an accident. Ugly Betty was written and developed by two Latinx writers, including the late brilliant Silvio Horto, and produced by both Selma Hayak and America Ferrera. It is only when we are given the opportunity to tell our own stories that we are able to expand how stories are told about ourselves and our communities. Ugly Betty paved the way for more inclusive dynamic television proving that diversity shouldn’t be an afterthought. The fact is when you put people of color in front and behind the camera you simply get good television. Television with characters that are authentic complex and make other characters cis white ones like Mode’s Editor in Chief Daniel Meade even more interesting. 

But what makes Ugly Betty so wonderful and great for this moment in time is how it centers goodness. Much of the message of the first season is about the value of family, character transformations (except for Betty), and the value of just being nice. In season one, Betty’s positive spirit and general goodness infiltrate the capitalist, shallow world of a fashion magazine. And without a ridiculous makeover or shopping montage, Betty reforms her misogynist boss into a self-aware ally that supports her. The truth is Betty doesn’t conform to the world she lives in, she subverts it. 

While many of us are sheltering in place and worried about our loved ones, it feels good to watch a show where the heroine wins. Where characters get rewarded by simply being nice and to watch TV that doesn’t demonize, tokenize, or scapegoat immigrants. Instead in Ugly Betty the message is simple be who you are and don’t change, just wait for others to catch up.  

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Schitt’s Creek Made Excellence Out of Whiteness

Whiteness and privilege. Two words not just taught in Systemic Injustice 101, but the unlikely description behind one of television’s best shows, Schitt’s Creek. You know the premise – a wealthy white family, the Roses, lose all their money forcing them to move to a small, backwater town, Schitt’s Creek. In a time where we can all use television that is simply good, Schitt’s Creek went above and beyond. It made excellent television out of whiteness and somehow managed to restore some faith in humanity along the way.

Instead of ignoring or fearing privilege, the script and cast own their whiteness and manage to both examine and make fun of it. From the moment the IRS raids the Rose’s extravagant family home, possibly a stone’s throw from a Kardashian enclave, to their out of place designer wardrobes, their whiteness sets the scene for a family that starts out impossibly out of touch.

While Schitt’s Creek isn’t the only show starring an all white cast and handling wealth and privilege, it is the only one that dares to be self-aware, funny, and heartfelt. Other shows like Succession, The Sopranos, and even Game of Thrones focus on the underbelly of wealth and whiteness. They leave you feeling disturbed yet intrigued. Instead of heart, these shows use dark cutting humor to expose the consequences of unchecked privilege. Spoiler: it’s a cocktail of misogyny, greed, and power trips. You know the drill.   

Whiteness and wealth is also the driver behind another lucrative genre, Reality TV. For decades now, the Real Housewives, Laguna Beach, The Hills, Vanderpump Rules and other reality shows have made entertainment from a similar premise of watching wealthy white people make mistakes. However the characters on these shows rarely change, which usually makes them even more hilarious. There is never a shortage of wine to throw in someone’s face or extensions to rip out – we love these characters for their dysfunction, not in spite of it. It’s a viewing experience devoid of empathy.  

While the Rose family endures their share of humiliation, whether it’s Moira’s less than star quality singing or Alexis’ dance routine, Schitt’s Creek maintains a sweetness reality television doesn’t offer. The Roses are permitted to be themselves, make mistakes, and learn a lesson without losing who they are. Perhaps that’s why the show connects with its audience differently – it’s nice each character becomes a bit better while being accepted for exactly who they are. 

Alexis Rose, played by Annie Murphy, is a combination of Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and every Instagram influencer complete with her own single. Alexis’ problems initially seem to be centered around needing a man, but by the end of the series, she focuses on her education and starting her own business. Comparing Alexis’ relationship in the beginning with both Ted and Mud to the end of the series, we see Alexis grow more aware of herself, her wants, and the effect of her actions on others. Her connection with her brother David grows from annoyance to genuine love and companionship. 

Moira, the mother of the Rose family played by the iconic Catherine O’Hara, is a refreshing motherly figure that rejects all the stereotypes associated with the role. While Moira maintains her individuality and the love of her many wigs, she grows from a self-centered socialite to a valued member of her community and a supportive parent, even if she still doesn’t know how to “fold in” the cheese.

As the father, Johnny Rose is initially distant and removed from his children. Seeing himself as a traditional provider, Johnny solves any situation with one of his meandering business anecdotes. However as the series progresses, we see more of Johnny’s sweetness with his family and especially with Alexis. While initially he forgets Alexis’ middle name, coming to Schitt’s Creek gives him the opportunity to be there for his children. After Alexis’ breakup with Ted, Johnny is able to be there for his daughter in a way that he never had before. His charming approach to fatherhood transforms him into the anchor of the Rose family. Played by Eugene Levy, a comedic legend, he exudes kindness in this role. Making it even sweeter to have him share the screen with his real life family.

With David Rose, we see him grow from a monochromatically dressed man, who has a deeper relationship to his knits than actual people, to a monochromatically dressed man who finds love but more importantly a clearer sense of self. David is one of the few if not first pansexual characters on television. Played by Dan Levy, the joy of this character isn’t just because of what it means for representation, it’s that David is allowed to be more than just the one of the firsts. When David starts dating Patrick, it’s a love story whose beauty is in its ease – there’s no bigotry or homophobia insight. Rarely do we see two men on TV fall in love, even less common is to see them fall in love organically. Too often, the way the LGBTQ community is portrayed is limiting and stereotypical but David and Patrick’s story avoids all that. 

Whether it’s the famed David wine-coming-out-metaphor, Patrick’s stunning rendition of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best,” or Moira’s connection with the JazzaGals, the characters of Schitt’s Creek connects us to themes we all crave. Not only do we love watching a hilarious white family with a propensity for the ridiculous embarrass themselves, we love to watch them grow individually and together. Schitt’s Creek reminds us that the material simply dresses up our lives – what truly matters are our relationships.         

Yes, it’s unusual for me and so many other POCs to love a white show like Schitt’s Creek, but I do. There are few shows that center and debunk whiteness as well as this. Like the softest down comforter or cashmere turtleneck, the Rose family makes us all feel cozy, included, and loved. A feeling we’ve never needed more.

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36 Years Since a Woman Has Won For Directing

It’s the first week of 2020, and as a new year begins, so does award season. As many of us are gathering our hopes and dreams for 2020, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association reminded us what we already know: we have our work cut out for us.

As has been widely reported, no women were nominated for director this year. Despite the amazing work that came from women directors in 2020, like Greta Gerwig (Little Women) and Lulu Wang (The Farewell), this decision brought the total to 36 years since a woman has won for Best Director. Fun fact it was Barbra Streisand for Yentl in 1984.

Not that it was all bad for women. Ellen Degeneres won the Carol Burnett award given to her by the incomparable Kat McKinnon whose heartwarming speech reminded us why representation matters. And the Television category proved to be  better for the ladies, with the comedic genius of Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the center winning the awards for: Best Television Series – Comedy and Best Actress in a Comedy Series. And while we’re happy and celebrate Fleabag, a favorite at Latina Media.co, it does reflect the lack of nominations for women of color at the Golden Globes.  

Only four women of color, Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Ana De Armas (Knives Out), Awkwafina (The Farewell), Jennifer Lopez, (Hustlers), were nominated this year for an award and only one took home an award. Awkwafina made history by becoming the first Asian woman to win Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy for her role in The Farewell. In a moving speech, she thanked director Lulu Wang. “You gave me this chance, the chance of a lifetime and you taught me so much and filming this story, being with you was incredible.” Awkwafina’s win was the highlight of the Golden Globes. 

While we also loved Michelle Williams speech about the importance of a woman’s right to choose and Patricia Arquette’s speech highlighting climate change, there was one statistic that was particularly disappointing: zero Latinas won. 
Despite Jennifer Lopez’s phenomenal work in Hustlers and Ana De Armas’s role in the thriller Knives Out, no Latinas took home awards. Side note Jennifer Lopez is the present we don’t deserve, see her outfit if you need further explanation it could not be more accurate. Despite Latino audiences historically having the highest rate of attendance at the box office, Hollywood has yet to recognize our contributions. There were many Latinas that were left without nominations despite award-worthy performances like Mj Rodrieguez in Pose and Melissa Barrera in Vida (and star of In the Heights coming in 2020). 2020 wasn’t our year at the Golden Globes, here’s to hoping the rest of awards season proves better (looking at you Oscars).

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2019 Belongs to Jennifer Lopez

2019 Belongs to Jennifer Lopez

by Nicola Schulze

With just days left of 2019, I’ve started reflecting on the past year. And to be frank, it’s been a tough one. From the racist that continues to run this country, to the beginning of the 2020 Democratic Race, to the less serious decision to make Cats into a film (something no one asked for, I’m looking at you cat Jason Derulo). But there is one person that gave us everything we needed this year – Jennifer Lopez.

This year Lopez, a goddess living among us mortals, is finally getting the proper respect and recognition she deserves thanks to her role in Hustlers. Not that her career hasn’t been noteworthy thus far. Spanning two decades, Lopez has gone from a backup dancer for New Kids on the Block, to Jenny from the Block, to a leader of our cultural zeitgeist. 

Now I’m not just saying this as a mere fan, JLo and I are friends. We first met after my 7th  birthday party after my uncle introduced us. Okay we’re not friends. To be real, I only know the off-brand Barbie version of Jennifer Lopez as Selena. As soon as I took her out of the box, I remember Lopez, even in doll form, kind of intimidated me. Her outfit was perfect, with her iconic purple sparkly romper, matching lipstick, and think silver hoops. I mean it takes a confident person to pull off a sparkling purple romper, and at age 7 I thought she was the epitome of hip Latina glamour. She was my first and only Latina Barbie. 

Fast forward to me at 13, my mom let me watch a PG-13 romantic comedy called The Wedding Planner starring Matthew McConaughey (with glasses) and Jennifer Lopez. I loved this movie, not because it took place in my home town of San Francisco or had a particularly moving script (nothing special) but specifically because of Jennifer Lopez herself. To this day, I still will sometimes pick the brown M&Ms first because “Chocolate’s already brown.” She was smart, intelligent, and was allowed to be more than just the “sexy Latina sidekick” – she was the lead. And while the film doesn’t quite pass the Bechdel test, it did give me one of my earliest memories watching a Latina as the lead role in a mainstream movie, much less a rom com (my mom hadn’t let me watch Selena yet, unsure why).

For much of her career, Jennifer Lopez was given roles that didn’t embrace her whole identity. From Maid in Manhattan to The Wedding Planner to Gigli to Monster in Law, Lopez was regulated to roles where someone decided last minute to hire a woman of color or where her ethnicity played a backseat. And it is not because she wasn’t a talented actress, roles for Latinas in Hollywood were scarce. The roles she took were for more than just the maid or sexy sidekick, the movies she chose placed her at the center no matter the narrative (I argue this is true even in Maid in Manhattan). While these films were never nominated for a Golden Globe like Selena, they were the films consumed by the masses and gave her a hold in American pop culture. The truth is Lopez knew the game of Hollywood and she played it well. She knew what studies show us now: Latinx actors represented only three percent of lead or co-lead roles in top-performing movies and only three percent of producers and casting executives were Latinx during the last 12 years. With every role, not only did Lopez know she was a star, she knew all she had to do was put in the work and wait.

Her role in Hustlers cements her journey to icon, one that began with her role as Selena in 1997. Selena personified the potential she had as an actress in her twenties, one connected to her identity and portrayed her dedication to her craft. She’s more than an actress – she’s a triple threat, singing and dancing, even starting her career as a backup dancer for Janet Jackson. These threats magically align for Lopez in Hustlers

Hustler’s Ramona is fully aware of what society expects of her and is fully capable and willing to subvert it. She uses her invisibility as a stripper as a tool to trick and manipulate the entitled white men of Wall Street – a smart and strategic subversion of the male gaze. This story written and directed by Lorene Scafaria proves what happens when you give women control on and off screen: individual, complex human characters. 

HUSTLERS, from left: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, 2019. © STX Entertainment / courtesy Everett Collection

And Ramona is that character. A woman completely in control of her own legacy, a woman without a romantic interest, deeply committed to her daughter, and a palpable matriarchal energy. Lopez gives this character grit, nuance, and warmth in a way no other actress could. The role of Ramona and Lopez’s portrayal of her embodies an energy for 2019. Two years after the #MeToo Movement came into mainstream consciousness, three years after the country elected a man accused of sexual misconduct by 25 women, women’s voices continue to be ignored at best or worse silenced. In the financial crisis of 2008, white men abused their power while destroying the lives of everyday people. In Hustlers, Ramona takes charge and became the avatar for 2019, because in a system never designed for women, watching her manipulate toxic and powerful men is the ultimate therapeutic remedy we need. 

More importantly, this movie proved a film that centers a group of female characters, especially one led by a Latina no less is not only viable but successful. Hustlers produced $33.2 million at the box office, making it not only a critical favorite but a commercial success. Hustlers has received over 40 nominations, including two prestigious nominations for Lopez: a Golden Globes Best Supporting Actress nomination and a SAG Award Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. Since the film’s release the Oscar buzz around Lopez for her role as Ramona continues.   

Very few actresses maintain a presence in our culture for thirty plus years, but that’s what Lopez has done. Jennifer Lopez invented a space for herself in a culture that never took her seriously, that gave her roles that lacked depth. Too much of her talent was spent on films that believed women’s worth is in either giving or receiving romantic love. Still as a Latina, Lopez took that narrative head on, beating white female actors at their own game and showing that brown girls are worthy of love too. Because if there is one thing Jennifer Lopez is not, it’s a quitter. I like to think that while Lopez might not have seen this future for herself, she manifested it. Not just for herself but for many Latinas and future generations to come.
Just this month, Lopez hosted SNL and in a skit entitled “Hoops,” she and Melissa Villaseñor took one of the whitest stages on television and made something just for us. This summer Lopez took to the runway in a dress she had made famous in 2000 nearly 20 years ago. And in 2020, she is scheduled to play the Superbowl alongside another icon Shakira. Lopez has played a maid, a sidekick named Ricki, the Queen of Tejano music, a wedding planner, even served as a judge on American Idol. Lopez never settled she pushed herself reinventing her identity, her story, and creating a space in Hollywood all her own all while challenging a system and a culture that never wanted her in the first place. Jennifer Lopez is an American icon and she owned 2019.

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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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