What We’re Watching

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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Why I’ll Miss “Jane the Virgin:”  Empathy, Representation, Sex, and More

It’s officially over: the last episode of Jane the Virgin airs tonight. The show wrapped up a lot up in the final 19 episodes (spoilers ahead!): Jane got a huge book deal ($500,000!), Elisa (finally) came through for her family, arch-villain Rose/Sin Rostro (definitively) died, Alba and Jorge found happiness together, Xo beat cancer, and Jane, of course, picked Rafael once and for all (although I imagine the Michael v. Rafael debate will continue indefinitely).

As a longtime fan of the show, I will miss the Villanuevas’ bench, Rogelio’s antics, and even Petra’s formal shorts. All that aside, what I hope the show is remembered for is treating each and every one of its characters with empathy. It turns out that the world is quite different when you apply the same level of compassion to everyone.

It’s easy, human even, to judge people who are different than you, ascribing negative motives and then writing them off. At its worst, this tendency combines with structural inequality (like how entertainment is overwhelmingly white and male), creating devasting problems like hate crimes, the mass incarceration of people of color, giant pay disparities, etc. Jane the Virgin defies this pattern, both in how its made and in what it portrays — a world filled with the problems we know but where race, gender, and class do not determine one’s value.

It’s worth remembering that Jane is lead by a white woman, Jennie Snyder Urman. Despite her lack of first-hand experience, she has managed to create one of the most meaningful portrayals of latinidad on television. She’s hired Latinx writers and centered a vision of Latinx identity that resonates with reality: Latinxs are a hardworking, diverse group of people (who are no more likely to commit crimes than the general population). All those shows about drug cartels and gang members are giving audiences the wrong impression.

And it’s not just that the Latinx characters on Jane the Virgin aren’t criminals, they’re diverse in so many ways: in age, in how they view sex, even in their views on religion. Take our three principle women: Alba, Xiomara (Xo), and Jane. They manage to have different worldviews, make different choices, change and grow, and yet remain sympathetic throughout.

Alba starts the series in the stereotypical “good Catholic” abuelita role. A staunch believer in no sex outside of marriage, she teaches her young granddaughter that a woman’s worth is tied to her sexual purity. Alba is sometimes wrong but she is never the villain. And as the show goes on, we learn that everything is not so simple: Alba did indeed have sex before marriage and by the final season, she’s even masturbating to Barack Obama — surely a church no-no!

Xo is, in many ways, the other Latina stereotype: a teenage mom who prefers sexy clothing and whose daughter gets mad at for acting younger than her age. And again, Jane the Virgin, grants her leeway to be. Xo doesn’t link her self-worth to her sexuality but rather sees sex as a fun route to self-expression. The show pushes this message with Xiomara getting an abortion and managing to be as likable as ever.

Likewise, Jane falls somewhere in the middle and that’s okay too. She takes what she likes from both her grandmother and mother’s examples and builds her own identity, whether it’s figuring out her views on sex, religion, parenting, or even how to pursue her dream. With these three, Jane the Virgin constructs a beautiful portrayal of the many ways women and Latinas, in particular, exist. The show doesn’t pretend that these choices are solely individual — Catholicism and social expectations loom large — but the Villanueva women each create their own way of navigating these pressures. Imagine if we all exhibited the same grace as the show creators in respecting the different choices others make.

I mean really imagine it — imagine it in the context of “mommy wars” (and the never-ending debate about what’s best for “the children”). Imagine it in class-based debates (say the disdain the GOP feels compelled to exhibit about House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s previous job as a bartender). It’s hard isn’t, to imagine the world another way? And yet, that’s what Jane the Virgin does week in and week out.

Take the evolution of the Jane-Petra relationship. The show started with them as rivals. Petra was blond, thin, and rich to Jane’s brown, curvy, and working-class. Petra was also the wife of Jane’s love-interest, Rafael. But as the show progresses, these two stop competing and start working together — all the while remaining vastly different and finding themselves in healthy, regular conflict. I still remember the exchange they had while Jane was helping Petra shop for her new babies in season two:

Jane: Raf and I have this glider. We love it because it is so comfortable, especially if you’re gonna be up long nights, feeding the baby.
Petra: I’m not worried about late nights. I have a night nurse…
Jane: Okay, got it…So, pacifiers?
Petra: Oh, yes, definitely pacifiers. Wait, how about those?
Jane: Two for $12? No, that’s ridiculous. Look it, five for ten.
Petra: Yeah, but don’t you think there’s a reason for the price difference?
Jane: Yeah, they’re trying to scam you.
Petra: Or they’re better.
Jane: Maybe.
Petra: Definitely.

This conversation is perfect. Even though at this point, we’re used to sympathizing with Jane, Petra’s point of view is presented as just as valid. Later Petra says Jane “made me feel bad for wanting the best things for our kids” and call her “a martyr — she has to do everything herself.” Meanwhile, Jane has her own version of events with Petra “buying all these overpriced impractical things just because they were more expensive” and “talking about around-the-clock nannies.”

But as the show makes clear by interspersing these two accounts, neither is “right.” These two women, these two mothers are just different! And that’s okay! In fact, it’s more than okay. By the end of the show, Petra and Jane have both become successful mothers and individuals, finding happiness inside their families and outside them. It turns out the road to fulfillment isn’t determined by your feelings towards $6 pacifiers or even night nurses. Instead, it’s about learning to be honest (Petra) and flexible (Jane).

And it’s not just the women who can grow and change. Think about the central male characters — Michael, Rafael, Rogelio, and even Jorge. They all get to be attractive, “real” men while displaying totally different versions of masculinity. Instead of conforming to a masculine type, Jane the Virgin asks its men, just like it asks its women, to be good people: to respect others, to fight fair, to be honest.

It’s rare that a show manages to do so much: to break important barriers in representation in terms of race, gender, sexuality, motherhood, while also, fundamentally, asking all of us to be better people. Even in its darkest darks (and there were some dark times — Jane’s grieving of Michael, his heart-wrenching return), Jane the Virgin was always a light. It never betrayed the fundamental approach of empathy in building its world. And for that, in particular, I will miss it.

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Four Reasons Why Charmed is Heir to Buffy’s Legacy

I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watched it live, made sure I hadn’t missed an episode with the DVDs, and read all the think-pieces I could (and there are a lot). Not to mention science says it’s good for you — watching shows like Buffy (aka shows with kickass female leads) has a proven positive correlation to less gender bias in boys and men. In fact, with so much media out there, I’m pretty much only watching shows that fit the Buffy-mold: woman-led, woman-centered.

But can any show really pick up where Buffy left off? I mean, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a cult favorite for a reason, right? But I think it’s possible. And the show that’s doing it is the CW’s remake of Charmed.

You probably missed Charmed when it originally aired (to be clear I’m talking the 2019 reboot here). It didn’t get a lot of press. And what it did get was negative (the original stars weren’t happy, it uses cross-racial casting). Those critiques are valid and interesting and worth pondering. But it’s lack of critical acclaim (when they cover it at all) speaks much more to bias in criticism (old, white, male) than the show’s actual merit.

Charmed, now with its first season available on Netflix and a second season set to premiere later this year, is carrying on the Buffy legacy. Let me walk you through it:

1. Same Premise (and Mentor)

Both shows are about young women who suddenly find themselves in the position of needing to save the world, thanks to a set of new powers they didn’t see coming. Buffy first discovers her powers in high school (although we see her go to college+) while Charmed’s trio of Maggie, Mel, and Macy (let’s call them the 3 M’s for short) range from undergraduate to post-doc. They’re all in that figuring-out-who-you-are stage of life. It’s just that now their coming-to-age story includes defeating monsters each week and handling the season-long threats to life as we know it.

With the fate of the world resting on their young shoulders, the shows start with them learning how to control their new gifts (while navigating romances, school, and work). Enter a helpful, white British guy, representing a secret society of guardians who say they’re there to help our young heroines. Should we trust this far away bureaucracy? Both Buffy and the 3 M’s have their doubts. But is Giles/Harry a positive, crush-worthy if stiff, figure? Yes and yes. And with that premise, we’re off and running.

2. Humor Breaks Up the Darkness

Buffy and Charmed are campy and dark. The contrast of ugly demons with of-the-moment outfits is funny, dynamic, and telling in both shows. The idea that HQ for saving the world would be your mom’s house is pretty great. And the contrast between the villains being literal demons, while the superheroes are girls worried about losing their virginity is wonderful. Add in a bunch of puns and some general enjoyable silliness (see Charmed’sTouched by a Demon” or the Buffy-bot episode), and you have humor counterbalancing the serious, literal darkness surrounding our heroines.

Charmed even goes the extra mile by loading up on feminist in-jokes with Harry’s claim to fame being how Roxane Gay retweeted him once (but you have to scroll back a lot because she’s “quite prolific”), plus jabs at incels, manic pixie dream girls, and the like. It’s the updated Buffy humor you’ve been waiting for. Plus demons. Lots of demons.

3. (Intersectional) Feminist Intentions

Of course, plot and style is just part of what made Buffy so great. The key to its rabid fandom and staying power has always been its actual feminism — its centering of a small, young woman as worthy of our attention, admiration, and consideration. Charmed does the same thing, pushing the envelope by imagining that young woman as ::gasp:: not blond. Maggie, Mel, and Macy are Latina/Afro-Latina with a range of skin colors and hair textures. Sometimes their racial identity takes center stage (say when Maggie learns the truth about her dad) and sometimes it’s just in the details (they drink coquito at Christmas). But it’s always there, just like Buffy’s whiteness. Centering women of color pushes the argument further, allowing us to see more people as worthy of the supernatural feminist destiny we all crave.

Then there’s the presentation of sexuality. Buffy won accolades for its LGBTQ representation (I’m still shipping Willow and Tara) and Charmedtakes it to the next level by having one of its three principles be queer. Mel gets two women love interests in the first season and her romances are just as steamy, important, and complicated as her hetero sisters. Neither show assumes straightness and that’s how it should be.

Also on the sexuality front, both shows deal with female virginity and Charmed comes out ahead. Buffy famously lost her V-card to Angel, causing him to turn evil and setting up a multi-season arc of brooding heartbreak. The tragic costs of Buffy’s sexuality are pretty retrograde and while she eventually gets to have sex without consequences (which male heroes seem to always enjoy), nothing ever matches up with that first romance. Macy, on the other hand, starts the show a virgin not because she’s pure or religious but rather because she’s standoffish. That said, with the help of her sisters, she comes out of her shell, makes a real connection (after overcoming some magic roadblocks), and has sex. It turns out not to be that big of a deal. Because it’s not. Pretty cool, huh?

4. Charmed Picks Up Where Buffy Leaves Off

Remember how the final season of Buffy ended with Buffy changing the rules of the universe so there’d be more than one slayer? It was just too much for one person, however strong, to bear. Score one for collectivism, zero for individualism. Charmed starts there: we’ve got the “power of three,” which requires not one, but three powerful women (sisters no less) to save the world. They have to negotiate collective decision making (do decision have to be unanimous or just two-against-one?), their competing priorities (who’s practicing witchcraft versus at their job versus with their partner?), and their different personalities (because different people have different ways of solving problems). All things Buffy could ignore when she wanted to.

Charmed’s collective approach reflects its Latinx premise nicely, moving us away from the limited, bootstrap narrative attached to so many of our (white, male) heroes. In Charmed, we have a show that builds on Buffy’ssuccesses and takes us into 2020 and hopefully beyond.

So if you miss Buffy or just finished Stranger Things and want more young people + fantasy/sci-fi, let me recommend Charmed. It’s pretty delightful.

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“Jane the Virgin” Chapter 90: The Father Daughter Episode We Needed

This week in Jane the Virgin, we got the Jane-Rogelio-Father-Daughter episode we always wanted, plus Alba finally finds happiness as she and Jorge walk down the aisle. The nostalgia in this episode was almost overwhelming and left at least two people (us) in tears. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss the episode and how hard it is to believe there are only 10 episodes left in the final season.

NICOLA: I think this might be my favorite episode so far this season. It takes Jane the Virgin back to the shows core value of family, a relief after being so deep in the Jason-Michael-Rafael centered storyline. And while romantic love is important, to have the majority of the episode dedicated to Jane and Rogelio’s relationship was joyous. And we got to see Alba get married and find happiness with Jorge, it was hard to hold the tears back.

CRISTINA: Oh, I definitely cried, multiple times. The montage of Jane and Rogelio’s daddy-daughter moments totally got me. But more than that, they had real conflict this episode with Jane finding out that Rogelio secretly underwrote her book, providing an insurance policy for the publisher.

One of the things I love so much about Jane the Virgin is how they treat each character with compassion, showing the different perspectives in every conflict. And they did that here, with Jane feeling like her father’s meddling invalidated her accomplishment of being a published author. Which is totally valid. But meanwhile, on Rogelio’s side, what’s the point of having all those resources if you can’t use them to help the people you love? And is he said, he did it after Michael’s death when Jane really needed a win.

Both sides make sense and seeing these characters deal with the conflict and overcome it (and Rogelio continuing to support Jane’s career, just in better/more appropriate ways) was SO satisfying to watch.

NICOLA: I love Rogelio and I think his relationship with Jane, besides the relationship between the Villanueva women, has been my favorite to watch. Sorry not sorry Rafael/Jason/Michael. And that flashback highlighting moments of Jane and Rogelio’s relationship brought me to tears. Jane the Virgin has always been infused with the outrageousness of telenovelaness and Jane discovering her long lost father is a TV star was straight out of the telenovela playbook.

But over the last five seasons we’ve seen a real relationship grow outside of hilarious slapstick comedy and ridiculousness of Rogelio’s starstruck life. I think it’s beautiful that their relationship is founded on the simple idea that parents will do anything for their children. And that’s what Rogelio’s done for Jane. Sure he’s outrageous, mildly vain, and has a serious relationship with lavender, but mostly he’s there for Jane no matter what. No one love is more outrageous and complex than Latino parents, and it’s been beautiful to see.

CRISTINA: Agreed, seeing him work with Jane on the script brought a new dynamic to their relationship and I loved it. And speaking of changes in relationships, how amazing was it that Jane gives her abuela a framed, crumpled up flower? I loved it! The way the show takes Alba’s sex drive seriously while finding the humor is so good — it’s like the show doesn’t let her age stand in the way of her full humanity. Something we so rarely see on television.

NICOLA: Yes Alba is the best, no question. It’s beautiful to see an older woman living, loving, and growing. So often television and media has decided that women basically stop living after 50. It’s great to see that Alba has been given her own narrative and growth separate from her family. And the fact that her romantic life is full and she’s having sex! I could never have imagined that happening in season one and it was hilarious to see the return of the virgin flower.

CRISTINA: The tables have turned in a really beautiful way. When Xo was getting so frustrated about the right flowers not being delivered to the wedding, I completely understood. But then when she launched into that speech about wanting to take care of her mother for once and never thinking she’d need her mom so much at 46, I mean waterworks, again, all over my face.

NICOLA: That moment between Alba and Xiomara was perfect and I think something many can identify with. Parents never stop caring for their children and while their relationship might change from angsty teens to perhaps when one has their own children, that bond is there. And this is what’s so authentic about Alba and Xiomara’s relationship. They never had the perfect mother-daughter relationship but they never stopped caring about each other. I think especially for Latinos, that love our parents can sometimes be overwhelming, sometimes judgy, and often served with a side of guilt but it is driven by love and the moments between Xo and Alba and Jane and Rogelio perfectly show that.

CRISTINA: Yeah, it was pretty perfect. And thing is, Jane the Virgin really shows the beautiful strength in the extended Latino family. In this episode, it was Jane and Rogelio and Xo and Alba and Jorge, but it was also Rafael and Mateo. Often, it includes Petra and her girls. There’s this extended feeling of community by blood ties but also by love and commitment that powers the show and keeps the group together. It really makes sense that these people stay in each other’s lives and fight and make up and grow. May we all be so lucky.

via GIPHY

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“Jane the Virgin” Chapter 89: Love is in the Air, Just Not for Jane

This week in Jane the Virgin, Jane’s luck in love seems to have run out while other characters finally get theirs. Chapter 89 brought us more fun times with Rogelio and we finally get some clarity on Alba and Jorge’s “will they or won’t they” relationship. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their highs and lows of the episode and place their bets for how long Rafael can actually stay mad at Jane.

CRISTINA: I thought this episode brought the fun! Yes, things were sad for Jane but everyone else (except Raf and Mateo, still stuck in her love triangle) had a pretty interesting week. Let’s start with everyone’s favorite Rogelio. Poor guy — after all that drama with River Pheonix, his pilot gets rejected! They want someone younger and something with more edge. So who does he draft? Jane of course.

NICOLA: I love how Jane the Virgin provides such a refuge for actors of all ages. It’s so rare to see a male latino character dealing with getting older in an emotionally open and vulnerable way. And that’s what Rogelio does best. It was good to see Rogelio stick up for himself and let Jane know that she let him down by not finishing the proposal for his show. I love how real their relationship has become.

CRISTINA: Really, everything with Rogelio is the best. And speaking of fan favorites, Petra and JR also met some obstacles in Chapter 89, specifically Petra’s daughters trying to sabotage their relationship because they think JR is a “bad guy,” having seen her shot Milos last season. Turns out there wasn’t a bad man in their room, they planted the email to Milos, and, in this episode, they make Petra think JR’s about to shot.

What I loved about this plotline was seeing Petra the mom coming through. She’s raised two little mini-me’s who are tough and smart and willing to manipulate to get their way. It was great to see them both take after their mother and use their Petra-ness “against” their mom (even if they were just trying to protect her). It spoke volumes that Petra was willing to give up her new romance for the girls and I am here for it.

NICOLA: This show has so many layers and it’s incredible. Instead of just talking about gun violence they’re able to have a comprehensive conversation about trauma, violence, and mother-daughter-dating relationships. First, it’s hard being a single mom, balancing caring for your children and falling in love (arguably for the first time). But add the crazy situations that exist in Jane the Virgin including accidentally-maybe-on-purpose killing your twin sister and it gets significantly more complicated. Petra has grown and we see that in how she deals with JR and her girls. Not only is she willing to sacrifice a new love for her kids, which season one Petra would not have done, but she seeks out therapy for her girls to process the trauma. I have loved watching Petra become this strong, caring, and open woman.

CRISTINA: And I’d argue that Rafael and Jane showed some growth this episode too. Rafael gave her a very firm rejection — no means no Jane — but the two set about figuring how to co-parent as exes. I still think they’ll end up together and everyone saying Rafael is a jerk is refusing to see him as a human being rather than just a love object. I mean, what’s a person supposed to do in his situation? He’s been clear about his boundaries and wants a partner who picks him first — it’s good that he sticks up for himself. Plus, you know if Jane actually needed something (like when Xo was sick), he’d be right there. Rafael may not want to be with Jane romantically right now, but he still loves her for who she is and as the mother of his child.

NICOLA: I agree! Rafael is doing a great job in my opinion, dealing with his feelings in a mature way. When trust is lost it takes time to rebuild no matter how much you might love someone. It’s important to carve some time for yourself and to remember that your happiness does not depend on another person. Rafael is doing the work. He is investing in his relationship with Mateo and in his career goals. Honestly, Jane could take some cues from him.

CRISTINA: Agreed. The best part of the episode was certainly Alba FINALLY getting hers. She’s come a long way from the person who said a woman who has sex before marriage is like a crushed flower — never the same (or beautiful or valuable) again. Now Alba’s found a healthy relationship with sexand love within her Catholicism and that includes more acceptance of herself and Xo. It was so great to see her and Jorge acting like the couple they are and him finally admitting his love for her. They deserve all the happiness.

NICOLA: Yes, the world of Jane the Virgin is deliberately inclusive. Each character has had the opportunity to experience love, loss, joy, anger, and moments of change no matter their race, age, class, or sexual orientation. And that’s the representation we so desperately need.

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“Jane the Virgin” Chapter 88: A Miami Girl in Montana

Jane the Virgin went on a field trip to Montana this week so our heroine could focus (and resolve!) her love triangle issues. With bedazzled cowboy boots, flannels, and hats, Chapter 88 brought the fun while also revealing just how different Michael’s become through his years on the ranch. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their highs and lows of the episode and finally pick sides between #TeamMichael and #TeamRafael.

CRISTINA: This week’s episode took place almost entirely in Montana and the city-girl-goes-country dynamic was pretty great. Yes, there were the costumes (those shoes! those hats!) but there was also the lack of technology giving Jane trouble. She couldn’t text Xo! How would her and Michael do long distance without FaceTime? So many problems being off the grid!

But the best part was seeing Jane get down and dirty. She shoveled shit, fixed a fence, and was generally the hard-working ranch hand we KNOW Latinas can be. I mean, we are the original rancheras.

NICOLA: Agreed — I definitely liked this episode. It’s one of the few episodes where we get to see Jane out of her comfort zone, and the first out of Miami. She’s away from her family, her busy schedule as a working mom, and sadly from Rafael who’s still grieving their relationship. It was fun to see. Honestly, it’s clear Jane needed this time and so did we as the audience. This whole season has mostly been us waiting to see who Jane picks and it finally came to an end. I for one was ready, regardless of who she picked.

CRISTINA: I am grateful Jane was able to sort out the love triangle — it’s been weeks of this mess! But I got a little bored without Alma, Petra, and Rogelio. Jane certainly needed the time and space to decide but I’ve got to say Michael v. Rafael is my least favorite part of the show. And a whole episode just on that — too much for me!

Of course, judging from the reactions on Twitter, I’m the only one who feels that way. Everyone was so upset — #TeamMichael because it’s time to say goodbye (again — I get it, it’s rough to have him right there and still not get that happy ending) and #TeamRafael because of all that time Jane spent “exploring it” (not to mention he’s not ready to let her back in).

NICOLA: Yeah I have to say I am also kind of annoyed and agree with you. The love triangle with Jane, Michael, and Rafael has never been my favorite storyline. I’ve always been #TeamJane and my favorite episodes are when Jane’s storyline isn’t completely driven by romance. I also think by making Michael slightly different from the goofy-loveable-crazy-about-Jane detective we loved was, forgive the pun, a total cop out. It’s clear that Jane could never have chosen between the two if Michael hadn’t changed a little.

CRISTINA: The more this season progresses (and the more reactions I read from Michael stans), the more #TeamRafael I get. He’s been such a supportive friend to Jane through everything — her marriage to Michael, her grief after he died, her ambitions to become (and grow) as a writer. I just really appreciate him. And I don’t think him having boundaries or advocating for himself is a bad thing! He’s a (fictional) person too and letting Jane walk all over him would end up being bad for both of them in the long run.

NICOLA: I agree — Rafael’s feelings are totally justified. Hey if I had just been dumped by my significant other while they try to figure out if there’s still a spark with a previously dead ex, I would also be upset and generally untrusting. I just hope once Jane wins Rafael back soon, which I’m confident will happen. Then, we can focus more time on Jane becoming the world-renowned writer we know she can be. And obviously more Rogelio. I request this every episode but it doesn’t make it any less true.

CRISTINA: You know my love for Rogelio is unending. I cannot get enough of him. Also, more swing scenes, please. The Alba-Xo-Jane matriarchial line is what Jane the Virgin should be all about. And I have no doubts Jane will win Rafael back. Gina Rodriguez is just SO hard not to love. She’s got that kind of charm that’s irresistible and if I have trouble resisting it, there’s no way Rafael will be able to. He’s just got to put up a good fight to keep the plot moving through the next few episodes!

NICOLA: Yes, we’ll see how long Rafael can resist what I’m sure will be Jane’s multi-tiered extensive, organized, and emotional strategy to win him back. And let’s face it, there’s nothing I love more than a determined confident Jane. Now that she’s made her decision, I don’t think there’s anything that can stop her from getting her telenovela-esc dream life. Or is there…(drama).

via GIPHY

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The Complicated Intersection of Love and Excellence

Our relationships are supposed to make us stronger: “you challenge me to be better,” “I learn so much from you,” “you’re my best friend.” They’re all clichés you hear at weddings and see on anniversary cards. Yet, as a recent New York Times article reminded us, relationships don’t always turn out to be fountains of support and encouragement — particularly for women.

The stats show that despite what the fairy tales tell you, women are less happy when married and our earnings go down when we have families (while men’s remains unaffected). So for many women, the struggle between love and professional excellence is on-going and often ending in loss: careers suffer, relationships suffer.

So what’s a modern, ambitious woman to do? Where can we look for role models? Please don’t point me to the thousands of starlets and women business leaders who’ve answered the “how do you balance it all” question. That’s a dead end — I’ve never found anything useful there and I bet you haven’t either. Instead, let me present an unlikely source of knowledge and understanding: Shonda Rhimes’s Grey’s Anatomy.

Most medical shows have life-and-death as their central conflict (and Grey certainly has plenty of that), but for the last 15-seasons, I’d argue, the show’s central question has been how do you navigate the intersection of love and excellence, the ways in which they conflict and the ways in which they merge.

Hear me out. The show literally starts with young resident Meredith Grey sleeping with her superior. Their relationship — Meredith and Derek — propelled season after season of the show and arguably still does, even after Derek dies in season 11. Yet, it wasn’t all candlelight, love triangles, and steamy sex. There was also Meredith navigating how having Derek as her partner helped and hurt her career. It starts with her subverting the perception that she’s sleeping her way to the top. Then, there’s how she changes her specialty, giving up neurosurgery because it’s better for her relationship if the two don’t work that closely together.

In the later years, when Derek’s tapped by US government (this was under Obama mind you) to head a groundbreaking research product into the human brain, Meredith has to grapple with balancing Derek’s needs and her own. How can she fight for her career and the community she’s built in Seattle if they stand in the way of Derek’s destiny to save humankind? Unsure of what to do and even what to feel, it’s Meredith’s (real) person Cristina who has the solution. She says Derek may be very “dreamy, but he is not the sun. You are.” With these words of wisdom, Meredith goes ahead and picks herself. It’s a brave and somewhat controversial chose, particularly for us women who are taught to be self-sacrificing, especially in this sphere. Her stance works for her but it’s not easy — Derek, like so many real men, doesn’t just see Meredith’s worth and respect it. He has to be dragged into accepting her autonomy and her status as an equal. And he’s one of the good ones!

Of course, Derek isn’t all bad for Meredith’s career either. Yes, he gets her more time in the OR and research opportunities (even if they’re ill-fated), but he also serves as an intellectual partner, encouraging her to challenge herself. They draw that tumor on their bedroom wall and figure out how to tackle it together. They bounce ideas off each other and share successes and failures. It’s not as simple as him standing in her way. It’s complicated.

And Meredith isn’t the only one with complex relationship dynamics. Think about Cristina’s pension for sleeping with her mentors. Burke, Colin Marlow (her professor at Stanford), even Owen — she picks her partners because she finds their brains, their knowledge, their accomplishments sexy. They teach her so much, particularly Burke whose tremor and the ensuing cover-up send Cristina’s learning and skills at cardiothoracic surgery into warp drive. But the lines get murky when this extremely ambitious woman finds that her lovers’ wants don’t match her own (see having children). When you’re in a relationship with your mentor, breaking up means a broken heart and major career setbacks.

It turns out, aligning two separate people’s dreams and ambitions is not easy. Navigating this conflict is made more difficult in our patriarchal society that puts men’s needs above women’s, particularly when it comes to career. But that doesn’t mean these issues only exist for women in heterosexual relationships. Callie and Arizona deal with it, both about going to “Africa” for Arizona’s Carter Madison grant and then later co-parenting Sophia with Callie’s very heterosexual baby daddy Mark.

In a recent episode, we see Meredith’s latest love interest Deluca unsure how to navigate his colleagues and particularly his superior Richard Webber (and Meredith’s defacto father) knowing about his relationship with Meredith. Deluca brings his awkwardness into surgery, potentially letting his love life get in the way of his learning. The scene mostly plays for laughs — it is easier for men in this particular sphere after all — yet the conflict remains.

It turns out there is no easy answer for how to navigate the intersection of love and excellence. Remember that episode in season six “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked,” when the residents discuss “if you had to choose between the thing you love, surgery, and the person you love, which would you choose?” Of course, it’s Cristina asking the question (because she’s facing it with the Owen-Teddy-Cristina love triangle to end all love triangles). And of course, Cristina chooses surgery while Izzie chooses love. But the rest of the group is unsure. Meredith tries not to answer, advising her friend not talk about it. Cristina only sort of heeds her advice, declaring later to Teddy, “I choose surgery over a guy. I’m not gonna apologize for it, especially to you… I want to be great, and I want to learn from you. I choose my gift.” And the episode ends with a tense conversation between Meredith and Derek in which she tells him “in the choice between surgery and love, You chose surgery. You chose ambition today.” And he responds, “so did you… We’re the same.”

These discussions where we clearly name how our relationships hinder and help our professional ambitions are rare. They’re infrequent in real life and on screen — even broaching the subject can be taboo. But they are vital to address the gender gap at home and in the workplace. How else do we suss out our personal priorities, get the support we need (from our partners and friends), and make the best decisions? We can’t unless we know what we are facing. So let’s follow Shonda Rhimes’s lead and recognize the intersections of love and excellence. It’ll be good for all of us.

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Discovery: Where to Boldly Go?

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery ended with a major cliff-hanger: Michael Burnham and the gang catapulted through space and time and we have no idea where/if/when they will end up.

To get to this moment, they had to battle artificial intelligence hell bent on “destroying all sentient life,” chase down an emo Spock and deal with his daddy-issues, solve the mystery of Michael’s parents (including finding her mother alive before losing her again), and that’s not all.

Lots of questions remain: is Control really dead? Why did Spock and friends have to vow never to speak of Discovery again (other than the show’s creators trying to explain why we never knew Spock had a sister before)? And speaking of Spock’s family, how did Sarek and Amanda manage to visit Discovery on the eve of battle but not get any ships to help? Is Captain Pike really doomed to the horrible fate he saw in the time crystal? How can we get more or Rebecca Romijn’s Number One (hair, make-up, and attitude)? Will we see more of Ash Tyler and Section 31 (or in Georgiou’s spinoff)? Was all of season two just an extended Spock (or Borg) creation story?

But, for fans of Discovery planning to tune into season three like me, the central question remains: what is in store for Michael and the crew? The finale made it clear they could go anywhere in space or time. The only hint was the possibility of finding themselves on Terralysium again. Remember it’s the Earth-like planet in the far-flung Beta Quadrant housing the few thousand technology-less humans rescued by Burham’s mother from an earlier, darker time in human history.

There are some upsides to this possibility: We could see more of Burnham’s mother, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham (I guess the lady astrophysicists of the future still take their husband’s last names) played by the formidable Sonja Sohn. Every moment she was on screen was electrifying and her newly-resumed relationship with Michael certainly deserves deeper exploration.

We’d also get to see how the Discovery crew (all of them seemingly scientists, engineers, and computer lovers) would survive without technology. I can’t imagine the next season will consist of them learning to grow potatoes so there is a certain Battlestar Galactica-y appeal in seeing them figure out how to live without a network. In this scenario, Discovery could delve into questions about the role of technology in our lives: what makes us stronger versus what makes us weaker? What is essential and what are we better off without? How do you keep growing if the ways in which we grow (aka technology) end up destroying us?

Alternatively, if Control really is “dead” a trip to Terralysium could put Burnham and crew on more of a Voyagerlike trajectory, battling to get home (assuming the spore drive is unusable now). If that’s the way we go, Discoverycould focus on issues of identity when so many of the traditional markers are gone. Do they stay in uniform? How do they pick a captain without Star Fleet? What does this mean for our favorite mutineer? The list goes on.

Personally, having spent the first two seasons of Discovery in the decades prior to the original Star Trek, I’d like to see the show move from prequel to sequel. Wouldn’t it be fun to catch up with Sisco, Janeway, Worf, etc. in their later years? I hear Jean Luc Picard is getting a series along those lines — perhaps Discovery could jump-start that process by taking us first to Bajor. Let’s see what Kira Nerys is up to. I can’t imagine she had kids, but wouldn’t she be a hilarious mother/grandmother? Her future could provide such interesting context into what warriors do after the war, how societies build after they’ve met their Gods. Certainly, in these troubling times, our world could use the critique of capitalism that Quark and the Ferengis always provide. How would Michael and Saru and Tully even respond to our favorite large-eared aliens? It would be so ripe!

But as much fun as that’d be, the truth is, I don’t actually care about where or when Discovery goes. I do care that the show embeds in its journey the big questions Star Trek is so good at asking about humanity and progress and morality. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Star Trek nostalgia Discovery offers, bringing me back on-board the space ships with their form-fitting uniforms, far out noises, and familiar characters. But I LOVE Star Trek’s morally based storytelling, its optimism about humanity paired with its willingness to take a hard look in the mirror (remember how Generations premiered with Q putting the entire human race on trial?).

We’re in the era of prestige television — it’d be a shame for the Star Trek franchise to abandon what made it so good, so timeless, and so influential to begin with. Discovery hasn’t gone deep on the big questions yet but it’s not too late. Let season three boldly go into the intellectual, the nerdy, the moral quandary. It’s the biggest adventure of them all.

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“Jane the Virgin” Chapter 87: Bringing Back the Joy


Jane the Virgin’s Chapter Eighty-Seven aired this week, giving fans a much-needed break from all the heartache. Mujeres Problemáticas co-founders Cristina Escobar and Nicola Schulze discuss.

CRISTINA: Well we’re six episodes into season five of Jane the Virgin and we finally have an episode that doesn’t feel like getting stabbed in the heart! Hooray! And Chapter Eighty-Seven was so funny. I mean Alba sharing masturbation advice – amazing! And who hasn’t at least considered Barack Obama as their fantasy man of choice (just me?)? Whatever. It was delightful.

NICOLA: Yes, it’s very refreshing to be reminded that surprise! women don’t stop having or thinking about sex at age thirty-five like most television shows would like you to believe. And watching Rogelio and Xiomara figure out their sexual chemistry after chemo felt authentic and hilarious at the same time. Rogelio’s fantasy was particularly funny as it took jabs at the inner thoughts of hetero men.  


CRISTINA: Yes! There was a lot of sex for a show with the word “virgin” in the title. Petra’s awkwardness in front of JR’s friends was great but of course, the best scene was Jane trying to teach her to loosen up on the dance floor. The sexual tension, the silliness, these two great, different women’s bond. It’s why I’m such a fan of the show

NICOLA: Let’s face it the last couple episodes have been kind of a bummer but Jane and Petra’s relationship continues to be a ray of sunshine in an otherwise emotional roller coaster of a show. Each of them is learning how to build more than just a cordial relationship with each other but an honest true friendship and it’s fun to watch.

CRISTINA: And this episode also brought back the Sin Rostro plotline. I knew she didn’t give the real reason she killed/gave Michael amnesia! But there are still so many unanswered questions. What’s the deal with her black web thingy? Who’s our nefarious hacking, pie-bringing friends? How’s all this going to relate to our central conflict: the love triangle?

NICOLA: Ugh the love triangle. To be honest I’m still mad at the Jane the Virgin writers for doing this to us. I mean there is no way everyone (anyone?) can make it out without severe emotional scarring whether it’s Rafael and his depression, Jane and her relationship with Mateo, or Michael’s confusion around his own identity.

CRISTINA: I don’t care whose team you’re on, you’ve got to feel for Rafael! Jane is putting him through hell (I mean she’s in an impossible situation too, but still) and all of his attempts at drawing healthy boundaries get thwarted. Give this man all the anti-depression pills. He’s just trying to take care of himself and no one will let him.

NICOLA: Agreed. I’m just tired and I’m ready for this to be over. Although I am excited for Jane and Michael’s trip to Montana. Hopefully, this time together will end with either a sense of closure or a new beginning for both characters so we can all move on. Also, I’m hoping that we get to celebrate Xiomara being cancer free soon because I don’t think my heart could take any more bad news.

CRISTINA: Xo better be ok! This show has served off enough heart break already! I can’t even think about the possibility of her not making it. As much as we’re both #TeamJane, I do wish she’d hurry up and pick. Because the thing is, the show isn’t really about the love triangle between Michael, Rafael, and Jane. It’s really about the one between Jane, Xo, and Alba. That scene on the bench where they all started crying and then cracked themselves up – it was perfect. Can we have more of that, please?

NICOLA: Yes, more simultaneous crying sessions please. At the heart of Jane the Virgin has always been the Villanueva women and it’s comforting to see that no matter what happens they’ll always have each other.

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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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