Author

Nicola Schulze

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.

FacebookTwitter
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.”

FacebookTwitter
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.

FacebookTwitter
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).

 

FacebookTwitter
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.

FacebookTwitter
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.

=

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.

FacebookTwitter
Why the Golden Globes Prove We Need to #MakeLatinasVisible

Last week, The Golden Globes announced their nominees, and it didn’t take us long to realize that no Latinas were nominated this year. Sigh. To be clear, we weren’t surprised but disappointed. After all, it was the 2015 Golden Globes that confused Gina Rodriguez for America Ferrera. For the past 74 years, only 12 Latinos have won Golden Globes and out of the 12 only 3 have been women.

The Only Latinx Winners in Golden Globe History EVER

  1. Rita Moreno, “Best Supporting Actress” in West Side Story, 1961
  2. Andy Garcia, “Best Supporting Actor” in The Godfather Part III, 1990
  3. Jimmy Smits, “Best Actor in a TV Drama Series” in NYPD Blue, 1995
  4. Benicio del Toro, “Best Supporting Actor” in Traffic, 2000
  5. Alejandro Amenabar, Director, “Best Foreign Language Film” for The Sea Inside, 2004
  6. Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, “Best Motion Picture” for Babel, 2006 and “Best Director – Motion Picture” for The Revenant, 2007
  7. America Ferrera, “Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series”, for Ugly Betty 2007
  8. Gina Rodriguez, “Best Actress in a TV Series or Comedy” for Jane the Virgin, 2015
  9. Gael Garcia Bernal, “Best TV Comedy” and “Best Performance By An Actor in a TV Series (Comedy)” for Mozart in the Jungle, Amazon Studios, 2016
  10. Oscar Isaac, “Best Actor in a Mini-Series or TV Movie” for Show Me a Hero, 2016
  11. Adrian Molina, “Best Animated Feature” for Coco, 2017
  12. Guillermo del Toro, “Best Director” for The Shape of Water, 2018

There are countless Latinx actors, writers, directors, and screenwriters that have deserved to win awards (or at least a nomination). From the women of Vida, to Rita Moreno’s One Day at a Time, to the writers of Jane The Virgin, to Mj Rodriguez from the groundbreaking show Pose, we get passed over time and time again.

#MakeLatinasVisible

It’s almost 2019 people! We should not be satisfied with just one film getting all the attention (although we are rooting for Roma to bring home some statues).  You see no one film, TV show, character, or actor can represent something as dynamic as our community, the Latino community. Let’s be real – we purchase 23% percent of all movie ticket sales. We deserve to see ourselves at the highest levels in these award show, represented across the categories for all our meaningful, impressive work.

There are over 55 million Latinos in the U.S. So why do we continue to be shut out of the national conversation? Join us and #WeAllGrow in calling for a change. Let’s #MakeLatinasVisible.

P.S. Shout out to Sandra Oh who will be the first Asian Woman to host a major awards show! Because when women of color win, we all win #WomenofColorUnite!

FacebookTwitter
Why Viola Davis in “Widows” is Everything We Need

Newsflash: Women are complicated! Hollywood may forget (or more likely ignore) our whole personhood but the reality is that women can inhabit the full range of human experience. We can be selfish, we can be caring mothers, we can be fiercely strong, we can make mistakes. We can do all of those things or none of them. Widows shows this range of women hood and I am HERE for it.

The star of Widows, Viola Davis is no stranger to the complex female role. From How to Get Away with Murder to Fences, (her performances earning an Emmy and Oscar respectively), Davis has shown she is amazing, an actress with a penchant for expanding narratives around what it means to be a woman and a woman of color. Her leadership on screen and off prepped her perfectly to play the grief-stricken Veronica in Widows. As Veronica, Davis is left to not only deal with her husband’s death but to settle a debt left behind by her spouse’s criminal activities (aka Liam Neeson of Taken fame). Without other options, Veronica (Davis) leads a group of women played by Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo to pull off a heist for their lives.

 

 

 

Unlike the other woman-led heist film released this year, Ocean’s 8, Widows is dramatic, gripping and somewhat terrifying. It’s disappointing yet predictable that the first female-driven Ocean’s movie would include the most stereotypical lady crime plot ever: Ocean’s 8 is held at the Met Gala and involves stealing a necklace from Anne Hathaway. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, am I right? No? K. Ocean’s 8 is just not comparable to the gritty, tension-filled narrative of Widows or any serious, male-driven action film. And while there are some comedic parts in Widows, the laughs don’t make up a significant part of the movie’s emotional pull. What I love about this choice is how the women and their actions are taken completely seriously. While their world might underestimate them, Veronica and her team are more than up to the task, using their intellect as well as physical strength to execute the heist.

 

 

The competent, complicated, multifaceted women of Widows provide a therapeutic narrative, especially for its female audiences that so rarely get a chance to see themselves on screen. This is particularly true when you contrast the women of Widows to the men. It’s nice to see the XY chromosomes be the silly, overly emotional, and corruptible characters for once. Because to be honest, if I see one more film where a woman trips during an action running scene it will be too soon. Don’t get me wrong the male characters and actors are fantastic. From Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya who plays the mob enforcer, to Atlanta‘s Brian Tyree Henry as a crime boss and politician, to Robert Duvall as a racist old mayor, the men in this film are fantastic and fun to watch.

They also portray the worst components of toxic masculinity. The male characters are quick to violence whether physical or verbal and get into trouble that the women in their lives have to get them out of. In contrast, the women in this film are the rational ones, staying calm under pressure no matter how intense things get.

As a woman who grew up loving heist action films like Ocean’s, Taken, and The Italian Job, this film shows women as the directors of their own destiny and just as dangerous as the men in this film. For too long in action films women served as the sexy sidekick at best, the object to be rescued at worst. These women characters just followed a predetermined plan set out by a male “heist mastermind” character. While Veronica does follow a plan her husband set out for her, in the end she proves she is smarter and more capable than he ever was.

 

 

Now, *SPOILER* I cannot talk about the success of the film without spoiling the final plot twist. In the end, Viola Davis’ Veronica finds out her husband was never dead to begin with – he killed his team in order to keep all the money for himself. In fact, he’s manipulating Veronica so she would plan the heist, bring him the money, and he would then leave rich to start a new life. In the final scene together, she refuses to give him the money, he hits her, and then tries to kill her. But Veronica is a badass bitch (as is her dog Olivia) and she pulls the trigger and kills him first.

To have a Black woman triumph over a series of men clearly out to get her (one of which is played by arguably one of the most notorious action stars of all time Liam Neeson) quite frankly feels amazing. Veronica gives women of color a place in the action film genre that we’ve never had before (and it comes with the best dog ever!). And if a studio out there is looking for the next star of the Taken franchise I think you found your star. Sorry, not sorry Liam Neeson.

 

 

 

FacebookTwitter
I’ll Have The Culture, Hold the Humanity

Today is November 1st aka the day every year Latinx women are reminded just how much we’re worth which – 47 percent less than white men and 31 percent less than white women aka not a lot. That’s right, on average Latinx women have to work an extra 10 months and a day to earn as much money as white men made in just 2017.

While these numbers are heartbreaking, let’s be honest: 2018 has been a difficult year for more than just the growing wage gap (yeah, we lost a penny this year with last year’s wage gap at 54 cents to the white man’s dollars and this year’s versus this year’s 53 cents). From spring to August of 2018, around 6,000 Latinx people (including at least 3,000 children) were separated from their families at the border. The media presented Americans with pictures of terrified families, as immigrants pleaded for their humanity to be recognized and respected.

And in the last two weeks, conveniently just before the midterm election, Donald Trump has created a racist narrative about a group of 4,000 migrants from Central America heading towards the border. “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy.” (yes that’s not a spelling error he said “emergy”)

Not only did the President paint a group of people trying to make a better life for themselves as criminals, he definitively declared Middle Easterners to be terrorists and not to be trusted. A reminder that not only is our President racist but generally lacks a comprehensive understanding of spelling and grammar.

And to finish it all off on Sunday this week, Donald Trump announced he wants to sign an executive order ending “birthright citizenship” for babies of non-citizens born on U.S. soil. We all know he’s targeting the Latinx community with that one. Questioning our right to citizenship combined with the horrible overtly racist coverage of migrants from Central Americans seeking refuge in the U.S., made the last two weeks pretty rough for the Latinx community.

So when I see cempasúchil flowers in window displays, or Instagram posts of people with a skeleton painted on their faces, or the overall increase in Frida Kahlo paraphernalia, I am reminded of our country’s hypocrisy. White America may love the “fun” pieces of Latinx culture, but they sure as hell don’t embrace actual Latinx people.

Latinx women are worth more than merely 53 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Our ancestors and traditions have given America the diversity and depth that make it was it is today. So when you see hip interpretations of calaveras de azúcar or wander down the salsa aisle at the grocery store or hell, EAT A TACO, remember the families separated at the border, and the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients trying to convince their neighbors of their right to stay in the U.S. and the women toiling away to make our families and our country work despite making pennies on the dollar. Today is a great place to start. Start paying Latinx women what we’re worth – consider it reparations for the official, Corona-sponsored U.S. holiday of Cinco de Mayo.

FacebookTwitter
When I First Saw Myself on TV She Was White

I was in high school, a self-described book nerd, when I first saw a character on TV that I believed was me reincarnated, her name was Rory Gilmore. Rory loved books, drank obscene amounts of coffee, loved the Shins and Belle and Sebastian, and dreamed of being the next Christiane Amanpour – we were perfect for each other.

She was my fictional hero, a young woman who was valued more for her intellect and quick wit than her beauty. A healthy change from our culture’s overindulgence in the beautiful white blonde protagonists of the early 2000s like The O.C or Gossip Girl. But there was one thing that Rory and I didn’t have in common: she was white, I’m Latinx. Growing up in fictional Stars Hollow in Connecticut, Rory and her world looked similar yet different from mine.

Even then, I knew light skin was an unspoken requirement for TV, excluding the role of the ethnically ambiguous friend (shout out to Miranda from Lizzie McGuire). On Gilmore Girls, Rory’s numerous love interests reinforced the idea that light skinned women were most likely to get the guy, specifically white men.

Nothing I am saying here is shocking – Gilmore Girls had and continues to have a notorious reputation for how it treated people of color. From Miss Kim, Rory’s best friend Lane’s mother, who they paint as a stereotypical “Tiger mom” with a heavy accent, to Michel, Lorelai’s co-worker who they limit to the harmful gay tropes without a meaningful storyline or character development. And let’s not forget the worst and most cliche stereotype: the treatment of the maids. The countless women who work for Emily Gilmore are mostly portrayed as women of color with heavy accents and are so interchangeable that their names are optional.

Gilmore Girls: Yeah, it's sad.

However, the saddest aspect of this show for me lies with its central character Rory. I was a senior in high school when I finally found out the truth. That the actress Alexis Bledel who played Rory over the show’s 8 years was in fact half Mexican. Just like me.  She even grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, not learning English until she began school. I trusted that Bledel wasn’t hiding her ethnicity on purpose, but the network and the creators of the show certainly were.

Looking back, I think about what Gilmore Girls would have meant to me if Rory wasn’t the unattainable white heroine I grew to love. What would it mean for millions of young Latinx women to watch a show with a Latina character who was known first for her intellect and not for her sexuality? What would it have meant for white girls to be asked to empathize with someone just a bit different from them? To see a character that wasn’t a criminal, nor constantly worried about her immigration status, nor just a sex object? To follow a girl who spoke Spanglish and had witty references to the genius of Allende, Cisneros, or Selena.

Last year, Amy Sherman Palladino, the creator of Gilmore Girls, created her second TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to wide acclaim. The show is set in the New York Comedy Clubs of the 50’s, conveniently a place that historically wouldn’t have allowed people of color. I don’t believe this is merely a coincidence. I am sad that Palladino continues to rely on the witty white woman narrative, instead of creating space for a character that isn’t from the white communities of Connecticut or uptown New York City. Representation matters whether you’re 17 or 27 and I’d so appreciate Palladino expanding from her whitewashed world. Sadly, I can only dream that one-day young Latinx women will have characters in movies and on TV that are as complex as we deserve.

FacebookTwitter
Older Posts