Justicia and Cultura

How Do You Solve A Problem Like the Emmys?

The Emmys (and Hollywood in general) has a race problem — even if the 2020 nominations are a step in the right direction. People of color are FINALLY represented in every major category with Black women earning the majority of spots in “Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie!”

In fact, Black people are overrepresented in this year’s actor nominations, earning a third of the nominations despite making up just 13% of the US population. And I, for one, think it’s about time. Black people have created much of American culture with little to no recognition since at least the invention of jazz. And if you look at the Emmy nominations historically, we’ll need MANY more years like this one before we get anywhere close to that 13% (which really should be more, because of the legacy of Black artists — see above).

There’s just one problem: No Latinxs or Latinx shows (Pose was mightily overlooked) were nominated this year. And in the history of the Emmys, only one afrolatino has won — Jharrel Jerome’s barrier-breaking win — and we didn’t see more Afrolatinx artists nominated this year. Sandra Oh is representing all Asian people AGAIN in the major categories and while I’ll love her forever, that just isn’t right (for example, Asian men exist!).

So how do you solve a problem like the Emmys? Well, let’s start with something that should be obvious — you don’t go around competing for the “minority” spot. I have no interest in non-Black Latinxs actors taking nominations from other people of color, particularly AfroLatinx and Black actors and artists who had to fight harder to get where they are and have been opening up doors for the rest of us. Anti-blackness is real and wrong, wherever it shows up. No, instead, we non-Black Latinx folks need to work with a BIPOC coalition to advance representation behind the camera, as cultural gatekeepers, and on-screen. Here’s how it should work:

Behind the Camera

Let’s celebrate queens like Shonda Rhimes. She’s BEEN lifting up all our stories

We need to shout from the rooftops for Cheryl L. Bedford’s Women of Color Unite, the largest group of women of color in film and television. Did you know they recently teamed up with the Bitch Pack for #StartWith8Hollywood, creating the largest diversity and inclusion initiative in the industry? Let’s thank them, support, and sign up!

For Latinx-specific group’s like L.A. CollabLatinx Directors, and NALIP, we need to ensure ALL of the Latinx community is represented if anything over-indexing Black and LGBTQ folks to ensure we’re not just creating more mess (aka white supremacism) as we go. These programs are good but, of course, the main thing we need is for BIPOC to get hired behind the camera so we can recognize more of our own AND authentically represent our experiences. Let’s get (at least) proportional representation as studio executives, writers, and directors. Then, we’ll really be getting somewhere.

As Cultural Gatekeepers

Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time” was famously panned by white male critics. But it wasn’t about (or for) them FOR ONCE

One of the reasons that hasn’t happened is because of institutions like the Emmys. Part of me wants to throw these awards shows out but the truth is, they do help determine who gets a project greenlighted and how big of a budget goes with it. So if we have to play, then let’s get on some more even footing. TV and film criticism is also largely a white, male game and that’s got to change (obvi — that’s why we created latinamedia.co). Rotten Tomatoes has tried to include more BIPOC women but we still need more (from them and major newsrooms across the country). Hire us, pay us, and recognize us. In the meantime, let’s storm the academies (televisionfilmwhatever) and make sure new members are overwhelmingly BIPOC. Apply if you’re eligible!

On-Screen

We agree with Issa Rae — we’re rooting for everyone Black!

As we move the needle off-screen, we’ll get more, more diverse, and more meaningful representation on screen. This is the final product we all get to consume. Think InsecureVidaFresh Off the Boat. For too long, these stories have been ignored in favor of plain white ones, and in too many cases, that’s still happening. Think about which shows get canceled (without marketing) and which get nominated for awards. But also think about what these shows mean to you now and what having Spider-verse or The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia would have meant to young you. Imagine it. And then help make it happen for everyone.

This piece has been updated. An earlier version implied Sandra Oh was the only Asian nominee when she is the only Asian actor nominated in a major category.

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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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‘Bring Me An Avocado’ Brings Clarity to the Gender Divide in Parenting

The patriarch in Maria Mealla’s Bring Me An Avocado is your average good dad but a woefully inadequate parent. While George makes enough money to keep his wife Robin and two kids on the “good toilet paper,” it’s not enough to keep Robin from worrying. He clearly loves his daughters, taking time to kick the ball around with them and play pretend. As a writer, he’s got a cool, creative job and he maintains a fit (some might even say sexy) physique. He’s living up to the expectations of his sex.

But when his wife Robin is put in a coma for weeks, he can’t really keep it together. Turns out, he doesn’t actually know how to care for his kids. How to get them dressed and ready for school. How to feed them more than just PB&Js. He’s the type of father-figure we’ve come to accept, even praise: there, but mostly for the fun stuff. With George skating by on his male privilege, Robin’s been doing the invisible heavy lifting. The fact is that he is the kind of dad nurses smile at in hospital rooms but not the kind who takes care of their kids when no one’s watching.

So Robin’s sister Greece and best-friend Jada step in to help. They make the food, get the kids dressed. George protests, declaring more than once “I’ve been alone with my kids before!” But he always relents, accepting the help. He’s a somewhat hapless male figure and “Bring Me An Avocado” reveals the way his maleness has kept him sheltered and incompetent.

Don’t let her comatose position fool you — “Bring Me An Avocado” is actually Robin’s movie

But the film isn’t really his, even though he’s the central character on the poster and the one with the most screen time. Bring Me An Avocado is actually Robin’s film, despite the fact she spends most of it “sleeping” at the hospital. You see, it’s Robin’s chosen community — her best friend, her sister — who step into taking care of the kids. And it’s Robin’s work that powers their world, the house she decorated, the man she married, the family she had, the friends she surrounded them with.

Not that things go great for Robin. Arguably both Greece and Jada betray her. We don’t learn much about our three principle women, but we do know that Robin is the one who took the most traditional path. She’s the only wife and the only mother out of the three.

Greece is the hippy free spirit who does things like extoll the virtues of vegan food. At one point, George tells her “you can barely take care of yourself,” but nonetheless, there Greece is taking care of him and his kids because, thanks to her female upbringing, she knows how. It’s unclear if Greece wants to sleep with George but she certainly toys with the idea of taking her sister’s place, at one point putting on her dress and a mask Robin wore so she’s indistinguishable from her sister (it freaks George out rather than excites him).

Free spirit Greece wears floral dresses and is unfulfilled — what could be more relatable?

Jada’s betrayal is more clear — she sleeps with George. But before she does so, she’s there disciplining the girls and doing the type of care work that George neglects (everything but playing and giving sage advice). Jada’s the career-oriented one. We never learn what she does but she does wear business casual clothes (we only see Robin in yoga pants and pajamas) and blames “work stuff” for why she’s not available.

So there you have the three paths available to modern women: mother, professional, slacker, and none of them seem particularly fulfilling. Robin does wake up in the final third of the film. She knows her home has been invaded, her place occupied. The books are ordered differently on the shelves (Jada). The fridge full of someone else’s cooking (Greece).

Poignant, tragic, and revealing, Maria Mealla’s 'Bring Me An Avocado' explores what your average good dad will do when his wife ends up in a coma.
It’s a low bar to clear to be a “great dad”

The film ends with Robin insisting on being alone with her “family,” organizing a road trip with George and the girls. Robin’s built this family and she wants it to work, even if it means subsuming other aspects of herself, other things that might make her happy. Meanwhile, Jada and Greece are stuck outside Robin’s home, wondering where they went. They’re no longer replacement moms, just ancillary friends.

It’s a powerful symbol and affirmation of the nuclear family. But I couldn’t help wondering if Robin really got the prize. George is not the great partner he appears to be. Without her community of women, raising those kids is just going to be harder. It’s an impossible position and the type women find themselves in all too often. Robin knows now that she is both replaceable and irreplaceable, arguably the definition of a modern woman. Our existence is defined by compromise while the men in our life just keep going obliviously on.

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It’s Time to Cancel the Cop Show

Black Lives Matter. At latinamedia.co, we know the media is part of the problem, perpetuating false myths about police, BIPOC communities, and violence. We took a moment to focus on uplifting Black voices and now our co-founders are back, talking about Hollywood’s dangerous obsession with the cop-as-hero narrative and what we’d like to see instead.

CRISTINA: The myths of America are breaking. Those of us in communities of color have known of these fractures for a long time. After all, who’s uninsured? Who was left out of the boom economy? Who do cops kill without fear of facing consequences? So while we’ve known, that doesn’t mean the myth of America as a world power, a place of opportunity, a land of laws hasn’t remained strong. We’ve seen it everywhere and when that narrative is in the water, it can feel like you’re the crazy one for thinking otherwise. The “mainstream” (aka white) culture has been gaslighting us.

NICOLA: The media’s shock and disbelief about this moment is the wrong tone. State violence has been happening in the “USA” since 1776 – this country was founded and built by colonizers and slaveowners. It shouldn’t surprise anyone. We haven’t reckoned with our racist foundation in a meaningful way. America has been using bandaids, when we need surgery. We need big structural changes in our schools, where we work, and in the media we consume.    

America has been using bandaids, when we need surgery.

CRISTINA: You know, we started latinamedia.co to push back on the ways Hollywood undermines POC perspectives and lift up the rich, alternative discourse of Brown and Black artists. It seems like we need that work desperately now and I hope one genre we can forever change is the cop show. There are so many of them! And with a few notable exceptions, the general narrative is cop-as-hero and that’s just not what cops actually do.

Think about SVU. I’d love to live in an alternate universe where cops care about sexual assault, don’t perpetuate it themselves, and a fierce, survivor, policewoman is answering the call to justice. That’s just not reality. Reality is the rape kit backlog. Cops sexually harassing civilians with impunity. Survivors not reporting because they have no reason to believe the system will help them, #MeToo or not. SVU is a fun fantasy but perhaps it’s a dangerous one. Does watching it keep us complacent? Do we layer its narrative over reality and figure someone like Olivia Benson is handling the problem of sexual violence (actress Marisha Hargitay is working to end the rape-kit backlog)? These broken systems are all of our problems and as Roxane Gay has been saying, we have to save ourselves.

NICOLA: Police forces were never built to protect BIPOC communities. So even shows that are self-aware, hilarious, and prioritize representation like Brooklyn 99 have a major blindspot. We can no longer laugh at Jake Peralta, without seeing the harm that police have done to communities and continue to do. And as much as I love seeing fierce Latinx leads like Rosa and Amy, they’re representation on TV is not worth perpetuating the harmful narrative that NYC cops are not just funny donut eating caricatures. 

Police have been basically ordered to protect property and white lives above anything else and there is no fun loving “good” police utopia that can change that.   

SVU is a fun fantasy but perhaps it’s a dangerous one. Does watching it keep us complacent?

CRISTINA: The representation thing is the cop shows’ best quality – in many ways, they’ve been important avenues for BIPOC representation. We’re talking ensemble shows with diverse casts. Of course, usually, the lead character is a white guy, but not always! JLo herself had a cop show. Remember Denzel Washington in Training Day? That’s an interesting one because it finally shows a cop as a villain, but, of course, he’s black, corrupting the young, idealistic white guy. Yikes! And that’s the role Denzel gets the Oscar for. We’re talking all sorts of problematic

This year’s Hightown featured a gay Latina in Monica Raymond’s Jackie Quiñones, but the show 1. keeps reminding us that she’s not a “real” cop (she works in Marine fishing) and 2. Undermines her by contrasting her with a “real,” white cop who we’re supposed to sympathize with but who sucks (he sleeps with ALL his CIs but is nice to their kids, so I guess we’re supposed to root for him?!?! Umm no. That “grey” line is called sexual assault).

NICOLA: Color of Change released a detailed study “Normalizing Injustice: The Dangerous Misrepresentations That Define Television’s Scripted Crime Genre,” earlier this year. They really spell out the problem with these shows that even though inclusive are deeply problematic. 

“Despite the fact that widespread racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system are well-documented and well recognized, scripted television series focused on crime—some of the most popular and influential shows on TV today—do not depict the reality, causes or consequences of these disparities accurately. If that is true, then these series, and perhaps the genre as a whole, may be a driver of pervasive misperceptions and attitudes about safety, crime, punishment, race and gender among the tens of millions of people potentially influenced by sustained exposure to these series.”

This study was released in January this year, before the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade by police. We know the power of narratives, especially those that have been told on television. According to Variety, last year more crime shows were among  the top 100 most watched than any other genre. Cops and crime are America’s favorite. 

Cops and crime are America’s favorite.

CRISTINA: Yes, we watch a lot of these shows and  we’re used to seeing cops in a particular way, of watching narratives that show them upholding our society. That’s why it’s so hard to imagine what defunding the police even looks like. We have almost no examples. There’s not exactly a lot of social-worker shows out there. The only thing that comes close is Parks and Rec and I mean sit with that for a moment. Imagine Leslie Knope solving society’s problems rather than Lennie Briscoe. Doesn’t that sound like a better world?

NICOLA: I mean yes! There are so many workplaces that have never gotten their time on screen and are equally exciting/ridiculous. As someone, who’s worked at several nonprofits, let me offer them up as an ideal place for the half-hour comedy. I would love to see Brooklyn 99 magically transform into NYC ‘slatest 501c3 as they battle to see who can be the wokest non-profit in Brooklyn. Or depict fundraiser kerfuffles where the highest donor is accidentally fed a gluten meal. Or a team meeting where they suddenly realize their latest campaign has an inappropriate acronym. 

CRISTINA: Yes! Imagine if instead of SVU, we had a domestic violence/sexual assault advocate show. You could still have the crime-of-the-week structure and the office-politics drama. But instead of cops, the heroes would be caseworkers, counselors, and forensic nurses. Grey’s Anatomy did an episode like that, envisioning another narrative and support system around assault. Imagine if that was on every week!

NICOLA: I can’t wait to see how TV rises to the challenge and what emerges after they cancel their crime centric seasons. Do we get a drama about teens working shitty retail jobs? A show about battling boba shops? A reality TV show about celebrity dog walkers? Police shows are just simply unnecessary, kind of like cops themselves.

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How Will the Rona Infect TV?

With everything going on, it can seem pretty silly to care about TV. But here I am, daydreaming about my shows. Like the rest of the nation, Hollywood is shut down for the foreseeable future — meaning if an episode wasn’t already shot, who knows when it’ll happen. But it’s not just a question of when, it’s also a question of how. What will the effect of the Rona be on TV? Will shows incorporate it into their plotlines? Do we want them to? We at latinamedia.co aren’t sure but we’ll be exploring what to watch during and after this crisis.

Certainly, medical shows a la Grey’s Anatomy will have to do a Coronavirus arc. How could a hospital drama possibly resist? And for Grey’s, they can’t let dramatic medical news go to waste. I can only imagine how hard it is to come up with new theatrics for our favorite surgical department after sixteen seasons and here’s an unprecedented health tragedy falling in their laps. My only question is if it’ll be one episode or one season. Really, Meredith, Bailey, and the team could do so much.

Outside of hospital shows, family sitcoms are well situated to write about this time. One Day At A TimeBlack-ish, and The Simpsons, shows that already take place in the living room know how to squeeze drama out of the domestic. Watching our favorite TV families exploring what it’s like to be stuck at home for who knows how long could be therapeutic. At least, I’d expect some good laughs as Lydia runs out of makeup or Bo teaches everyone how to wash their hands (again). There’s joy as well as fear for those of us privileged enough to self-isolate and I’d like to watch my favorite TV families laugh and love and cry through it.

And of course, there’s the political show. Since Trump took office, many shows have failed to match the absurdity of reality, their out-of-this-world plots suddenly seeming tame in comparison to the actual headlines. The exception is The Good Fight — they’ve satirized and weaponized the Trump Administration’s failure to great effect, finding ridiculousness and humor throughout. Imagine Riddick Boseman suing the federal government for more ventilators. Defending the mostly brown and black people who will fall victim to the disease. Continuing to lampoon the failures of the White House, just now with a Coronavirus spin.

As great as that would be, the genre I think that’ll give us the most insight into our current predicament is science fiction. Hear me out. Remember when Battlestar Galactica did a whole season on the occupation in Iraq? It had more to say than most ripped-from-the-headlines plots because it was able to take on the whole story, unencumbered by the details. Instead, it focused on the human costs and the emotional reactions. And it totally worked.

So who will be able to comment meaningfully on this moment? My hopes are with dark and nuanced shows. Maybe the fourth season of Westworld could do it. It could be a computer virus or a biological one (or one the jumps from humans to robots). It could unite the two groups and divide them, creating new castes of those with the disease and those without. It could ask what is the moral way to respond and how much should we sacrifice for the herd (the eternal question around Maeve and her daughter). It could ask what we are willing to change and who we are willing to collaborate with. And it could continue to expose who is valued and who is treated as expendable — the show’s true forte.

There’s something about the fictional future that seems best able to handle our unprecedented present. Let’s just hope we get there.

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Four Times ‘Party of Five’ Made Us Cry and Take Action

Party of Five is a tear-jerker. The original show had its premise of orphaned siblings learning to take care of each other. With this reboot, the parents aren’t dead but deported. Layering typical teen storylines with the anger of being betrayed by your country, it is ripe territory. The first season made me cry all the tears, but don’t for a second think the show was just trauma porn. No, Party of Five inspired righteous anger and action-oriented empathy so let’s revisit the moments that meant the most.

1. The Pilot

No kid should have to go through what Val goes through

The Acosta parents get picked up by ICE, spend time in detention, have their day in court, and are bussed across the border in the pilot. I cried. A lot. The scene where they get picked up in front of their children was the thing of nightmares. As the mother of young kids myself, I am haunted by the pain involved in deciding to leave their baby in the States. But the moment that hist me the hardest was Valentina’s testimony. She’s just a kid, a middle schooler, and there she was, up on the stand trying to convince a judge that taking her loving parents from her will represent “exceptional and unusual hardship.” She convinced me.

Val pouring her heart out and the best immigration attorney in LA aren’t enough to convince the judge. He literally says “my hands are tied,” despite being the decision-maker. A white man seals their fate. It’s infuriating, especially watching it in an election year. We set the laws of this country. I vote for the judges in my county. We must do better and change these hurtful practices so the real-life Acostas don’t have to go through this agony.

Get involved with changing the courts.

2. Lucia’s Speech

Lucia’s words break my heart with their devasting honesty

“Cruelty is the point” has become somewhat of a refrain about the current administration and so it makes sense the phrase popped up in Lucia’s unplanned speech in Party of Five’s seventh episode. In “Speak for Yourself,” Lucia organizes a fundraiser for an immigrants’ rights group and one of the activists challenges her to tell her own story. Here’s what she says:

I was remembering how my father shaved every morning. No matter what. Weekends. Vacations. Even when he was sick. He used to sit me on the counter, so I could watch him use his gleaming straight razor. The detention center was the first time I ever saw him with stubble. And when I went to kiss him, his cheek next to mine, it felt like a stranger’s and stupidly, I said something.

And the next time, there he was — from a distance, his old self, clean-shaven. But up close his face was raw. Covered in tiny cuts. He laughed it off and said he couldn’t find a mirror. But these past few weeks, learning about the conditions in these places, I realized that he was lying. There was probably one dull disposable razor that made the rounds from cell to cell. From father to father. Each man afraid of his children not recognizing him. Every man ashamed of appearing to be just a creature in a cage, deprived of every necessity that allows us to feel human. It’s on purpose, of course. There aren’t supply shortages or inadequate funds. Cruelty is the point.

It speaks for itself. Help protect immigrants’ rights.

3. The Acosta Parents Separate

Our government nearly destroys this once strong American family

At the end of the penultimate episode of the first season, Gloria Acosta tells her husband she wants to separate. Losing her kids has destroyed her sense of herself, her role in her family, and maybe her relationship with her husband. She doesn’t want to be a wife if she’s prevented from being the mother she is.

Gloria’s angry and ready to burn the whole thing down and I don’t blame her. What made this revelation so brutal was not the divorce — parents separate all the time — but rather the complete devastation wrought by our government. All season, the Acostas had been fighting for their family, an imperfect but loving group who need and respect each other. With the parents’ impending separation, the dream, the vision, the narrative of this once strong family crumbles. Even if its members could reunite, there may be nothing to put back together.

Support immigrant families.

4. Emilio is Not to Blame

Emilio is doing everything he can for his siblings

Oldest brother Emilio spends the season adjusting to his role as a caretaker for his four younger siblings. He gives up touring with his band, hanging up his guitar in the family restaurant. He stops hooking up with random women and tries to build more stable relationships. But it’s not enough to transition this early 20’s Dreamer into the parent the traumatized Acosta kids need. Rafa gets lead poisoning. Val runs away, making it to the border before getting caught.

As a result, Emilio finds himself in state-mandated parenting classes in the season finale, listening to other parents identify what got them there. But as Emilio says, “I am not the problem. What this country, what they did to my parents, and to their children? That’s the problem. That’s never gonna get fixed in here.” And he storms out. If only we could opt out of the government’s disregard for our families’ well-being so easily.

If you share Emilio’s anger like I do, help overhaul the system.

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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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Sleeping with Your Priest: From “Fleabag” to “El Crimen del Padre Amaro”

Pheobe Waller-Bridge created something rare and amazing with Fleabag — a show that completely inhabits a complicated (some may say “damaged”) woman’s perspective and finds humor and humanity. The second season won all the awards, and rightfully so, for its depiction of the relationship between our troubled protagonist and a Hot Priest.

Watching it, I was conflicted. Am I supposed to root for the relationship or want Fleabag to get the hell out of there? On one hand, the Hot Priest is in fact hot. He’s also adorable (see the thing with foxes) and really sees Fleabag (he’s the only one who notices her asides). But on the other hand, he’s not available! I mean, the man has taken a vow of celibacy. And he likes being a priest so it’s not exactly a surprise (spoiler coming!) that he picks God over Fleabag (although it’s not out of the realm of possibility that one might choose Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s incredible magnetism over the Catholic God).

No matter what side you fall on though, Fleabag is notable for how it takes you through the relationship from the (white) woman’s perspective. We are with her as she first meets the Hot Priest, checks out his congregation, learns a bit about the Bible, and eventually, even, has sex with him. From Fleabag’s perspective, we see the pain and the pleasure of another manifestation of her self-destructive behavior. Only this time, it’s more poignant because she finally manages to forge a real connection, even if it’s doomed from the start.

Catholicism is harmless, horny, and hilarious when seen through Fleabag’s eyes

In her relationship with the Hot Priest, Fleabag’s happiness is at stake and we want her to have it. To her, the Catholic church is an oddity, a quirk of her family. It didn’t help commit genocide against her ancestors, destroying their sacred places and building churches on top of them. It doesn’t still influence the politics, economies, and culture of her homeland, providing social services in failed states while also upholding patriarchal anti-abortion laws. It holds no greater power than to thwart her love life.

Obviously, that’s not true for many of us. So when the story of transgressing the vow of celibacy is told from the Latino perspective, it looks really different. Take the 2002 sensation, El Crimen del Padre Amaro. It also features a hot priest (who didn’t/doesn’t have a crush on Gael Garcia Bernal?) who breaks his vow, this time with Ana Claudia Talancón’s Amelia. This Spanish-language film won all sorts of awards too, even becoming one of nine films from Mexico ever to get nominated for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film.

But while the set up’s and critical responses are the same, pretty much everything else is different. For one, El Crimen is told from the priest’s perspective. We don’t learn much about Amelia, other than that she masturbates to Jesus (¡Dios mio!). And even that tidbit is meant to just make her more desirable for Padre Amaro. She’s the early aughts version of a priest thirst trap, a Bible-thumping virgin who Amaro literally dresses up as La Virgin. And of course, things don’t go well for her. She gets pregnant, gets a back alley abortion with Amaro’s help, and dies.

Male gaze much? Amelia as the perfect priest-sex-object in El Crimen del Padre Amaro

So while the stakes for Amelia are life and death, they exist only to illustrate how far Amaro has fallen. The young father starts out good but his ambitions get the better of him as he forsakes his moral code for career advancement, betraying Amelia, his mentor, and his broader community. Meanwhile, we see the Church supporting cartels, curtailing free speech, and ex-communicating the only priest who puts the well-being of his congregation first. As Padre Amaro falls from grace so does the church, making the whole movie a critique of the church as a power-hungry hypocrite without a moral compass.

It may be worth noting here that El Crimen del Padre Amaro set the box office record when it premiered in Mexico.

Hot priests sell. Rewatching the film in 2019, I couldn’t help but wonder how different it would be from the woman’s point of view. Fleabag only half-answers that question, flipping the gender perspective but also transporting us to the colonial power. Certainly, a Latina would tell the story differently. But our stories are so rarely told — we still struggle to keep critically acclaimed, feel-good family sitcoms (cough One Day At A Time cough) on air, let alone transgressive sexual narratives that risk angering the Catholic Church. So I may just be waiting a long time.

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Teen Gang Members on TV: “On My Block” and “Riverdale”

I don’t normally watch, let alone recommend, shows about gang members. Characters like that are over-represented, giving the false impression that people of color are all cholos. Yet, I found Netflix’s On My Block to be the rare show that manages to depict gangs without romanticizing or pathologizing them. And I particularly like how the show contrasts with the CW’s Riverdale, a similarly structured teen drama, where the main character who joins a gang is white.

Both shows feature a mixed group of four high school friends, navigating coming of age in their troubled communities. On My Block’s main characters are all people of color with the Afro-Latina Monse as the group’s lone girl, Cesar and Ruby representing diverse Latino experiences, and Black Jamal rounding out the group. They’re in Freeridge, a fictional South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles plagued by gang violence. In Riverdale, the central group is much paler with White Archie, Jughead, and Betty getting a bit of color with Latina Veronica. These four inhabit the titular small, picturesque town losing its innocence.

These shows have A LOT in common

On both shows, one member of the central quartet joins a gang — with vastly different results. On On My Block, Cesar’s gang membership is an obstacle, a blatant tragedy. His friends’ attempts to save him propels much of the plot. By the end of season two, he’s negotiating with his brother and gang leader Spooky to be excused from the gang’s violent duties. Meanwhile, on Riverdale, being a Southside Serpent gives Jughead power and purpose. He ends up the leader of the group, keeping his fellow gang members from dealing drugs and protecting them from gentrifiers along the way.

Take for example the initiation process. We learn that Cesar has joined the Santos gang by seeing the bruises on his abdomen, an ugly, painful sign of getting jumped in. He’s not proud of his wounds and the show doesn’t dramatize the process, letting the injury speak for itself. Meanwhile, we see each step of Jughead’s initiation, some of it silly (taking care of a cute dog, being stung by a venom-less snake), some reminiscent of joining a frat (reciting memorized group rules), and some classic hypermasculine “heroics” (surviving a punching line of fellow Snakes). In Jughead’s initiation, he stands defiant and strong, taking his punches while looking his peers in the eyes. This portrayal glamorizes the process, making the violence a chance for Jughead to show his strength of character.

Against all likelihood, Jughead becomes the leader of the Southside Serpents

In fact, violence generally is a way for the teens of Riverdale to prove themselves. They solve the murder of their classmate Jason Blossom and expose a drug kingpin in the process. They catch not one but two suspected serial killers. They cover up murders, attack people, and still run for student council. They may grapple with their “darkness” but the show portrays all this violence with the same seriousness as it does wrestling tryouts, keeping us from having to consider what it’s like to be a teenager facing violence.

On My Block has no such delusions. Its black and brown characters inhabit a place much closer to reality, where murder is not something a normal teen should have to think about. After Cesar and Monse are rolled up on by rival gang member Latrelle, Spooky tasks Cesar with killing this new threat. Cesar attempts it but in the end, balks. You see Latrelle may be a rival gang member but it wasn’t too long ago that they were classmates, peers. Not wanting to become a killer, Cesar tells Latrelle to leave Freeridge and never come back. The threat works for a while but (spoiler) Latrelle returns in the season one finale, shooting two of our principal characters, killing one.

This violence — the death of an innocent fifteen-year-old and near-death of another — does not take a single episode or arc to resolve. The horror of it gives Ruby PTSD and leaves all of our characters in mourning for the entire second season. Meanwhile, Cesar is further punished for his good deed, exiled from the gang and forced to sleep on the street between staying with friends. The adults here respond not by being impressed by the young teen’s action (like they are with Jughead’s) but rather dismayed by the circumstance. For a few episodes there, it felt like everyone was just repeating the sentiment that “no child should be in this situation.”

Cesar is literally the smallest member of the Santos

On My Block illustrates a fact — gang violence hurts the children in its wake. It does not lift them up a la Jughead becoming the leader of the Serpents. And the violence is shown for what it is — ugly, irreversible, and de-humanizing. It’s not the mystery of the week. And it’s not the defining characteristic for any of our young heroines. Monse, Cesar, Ruby, and Jamal may live in a violent world but they’re typical teens, as worried about their latest crush and parent problems as they are about the state of their neighborhood. You see in addition to gang violence, On My Block portrays a slapstick treasure hunt (with gnomes no less), the double standard around hooking up (boys get points, girls a reputation), and an on-going bit about masturbation (socks figure in heavily).

Cesar is not “The Gang Member” to his friends or the audience and neither is Jughead (whose whiteness makes this trick much easier). In fact, they’re both the only gang members in their group of friends, ensuring we see other parts of their identity. With its brown and black point of view, On My Block takes the responsibility of righting the traditional gang narrative. Meanwhile, Riverdale hyper sensationalizes and promotes harmful myths but avoids any major offenses, mostly by keeping its of-color characters out of the Serpents and positioning the group as a response to Riverdale’s classist Northside/Southside conflict. Together, these shows ask viewers to see gangs not as brown or black menaces but rather the result of structural inequality. And for that, I commend them.

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Only 1 Latinx Person Won an Emmy — That’s Just Not Enough

There were many beautiful moments at the 2019 Emmy’s. Michelle Williams demanding fair treatment at work for women and particularly women of color. Billy Porter becoming the first black gay man to win an Emmy and quoting James Baldwin in his acceptance speech. Alex Borsteinurging women to “step out of line” like her grandmother did to survive the Holocaust.

The best of these was certainly Jharrel Jerome winning best actor in a limited series for When They See Us. The first Afro-Latino to win an acting Emmy, Jerome is also the youngest person to win this category at just 21. In his acceptance speech, he dedicated his award to the Exonerated Five, spoke Spanish, and, of course, thanked writer/director/producer Ava Duvernay, who definitely deserved to win her own Emmy.

“I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos. It’s about time we are here” said Jerome and we agree. The Dominican, Latinx, Afro-Latinx communities have been passed over for too long, talents not given the opportunity to shine on the main stage. These words were Jerome’s response to a question from Remezcla reporter Manuel Betancourt, the first time the Latinx publication was credentialed for the Emmys. When Latinx are both at the podium and asking the questions, great stuff happens.

So while we take this moment to celebrate Jerome’s win (and Betancourt’s reporting), we are far from satisfied. It was great seeing Latinx multi-hyphenates Jimmy Smits and Lin-Manuel Miranda presenting but that was the extent of our representation. Not a single Latina graced the Emmy stage. Not as a winner, not as a presenter, not even as a nominee. This in the year that saw the final seasons of Jane the Virgin and Orange Is The New Black, original EGOT winner Rita Moreno in ODAAT, AND Vida. Latinas were not just absent but ignored.

This erasure happened despite the fact that we certainly know how to do awards shows. I mean JLo literally caused the invention of Google Images with her green Versace dress, now celebrating its 20th anniversary and still breaking the internet. The women of Pose(not nominated, not brought on stage, seated in the back) arguably won the red carpet. We know how to bring it.

Perhaps the Television Academy is scared of us. Remember the debacle they got in a few years ago when they literally put Sofia Vergara on a pedestal? Or perhaps they’re worried they’ll repeat the mistake the Globes made in confusing Latina actresses for each other. But maybe I’m being too generous. It could be they just don’t know what to do with women of color in general. I mean Sandra Oh’s never won despite all those years as the formidable Dr. Cristina Yang (not to mention her current role as the titular Eve on Killing Eve). They didn’t give Ava Duvernay the statues she deserved last night. In fact, they didn’t give any WOC awards. No black women won, no Latinas were nominated, see the note about Sandra Oh above.

And while white women won all of the acting categories, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was the only woman to win a non-acting category, thanks to her writing for Fleabag (which went on to win Best Comedy). It was a rough night for women in general, and particularly for women of color.

The Emmys have to do better. TV is more diverse than film and the Television Academy shows should celebrate, rather than shun that fact. At a moment where activism around media representation continues to make headlines, we should be further than this. Didn’t we learn anything from #OscarsSoWhite? What about all those studies from Annenberg? Yet, here we are, thrilled to be celebrating some firsts while huge proportions of our community get shut out. Again. It’s past time to make Latinas visible.

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