Since its 2019 debut on HBO, Euphoria has been one of the most talked-about shows—but not always for the best reasons. While known for its music choices, instantly iconic make-up and fashion, and scenes that inspire millions of memes online, the show has also been criticized for its excessive sexual content and treatment of its characters from marginalized communities. And unfortunately, Euphoria’s two Latina characters offer more fuel to the backlash fire.
Since the beginning, Maddy Perez (played by Mexican-American actress Alexa Demie) and Kat Hernandez (played by Brazilian-American actress Barbie Ferreira) have both surprised and disappointed me. Both girls are far from the worst characters on the show (that title would go to Nate Jacobs, a serial abuser and blackmailer, and his dad Cal, a pedophile with a similarly abusive nature). I do love how fiercely Maddy protects her female friendships, how Kat’s struggle with her confidence and weight offers relatable representation to other plus-size girls. But I didn’t need to see Maddy saying the r-slur multiple times or resorting to physical violence. Kat pretending to have a terminal illness during this second season was also unnecessary. Like all the characters on Euphoria, Maddy and Kat are far from perfect, but their flaws tend to deepen rather than undercut Latina stereotypes.
Certainly, their characters suffer from being written and seen through a white, non-Latinx lens. For one, they’re barely allowed to embody and embrace their Latinidad in either season. I saw only a few signs of their heritage, including Maddy listening to a Selena song for a split second, her mother speaking Spanish to her in a single scene, and her occasionally wearing hoop earrings. As for Kat, she only has her last name to hint at her ethnic background, although her mistreatment is another potential clue. Actress Barbie Ferreira disagreed with Euphoria’s showrunner Sam Levinson about Kat’s trajectory and as punishment, saw her screen time reduced to that of a supporting character’s: barely three scenes throughout the show’s eight hour-long episodes.
Of course, just because I didn’t see much of Kat or Maddy’s Latinidad on-screen doesn’t make them any less Latina. But it does mean that audiences can miss the fact of their ethnicity. So while Maddy is acknowledged as Latina and receives more screen time this season, Kat, and by default Barbie, aren’t celebrated in our community as much.
Both characters, as beloved as they’ve become, are further proof of Levinson’s shortcomings as a white creator and sole writer of a show that includes characters of diverse backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. It’s frustrating to watch—particularly as a viewer who only grew to appreciate Maddy during this second season. It’s no secret how much she suffers at the hands of her abuser Nate. After breaking up with him, he begins a sexual relationship with her best friend Cassie, betrays her trust and Cassie’s, and even holds a gun to her head to demand back a compromising tape and save his father’s reputation. Especially given the high risks of sexual, physical, and domestic violence Latinas face in real life, it was easy to empathize with her and in that way, see her as a realistic portrayal of others who share our heritage.
In contrast, when Kat was on-screen, she mostly gaslighted her boyfriend Ethan into breaking up with her and acted as Maddy’s silent supporter (though I did appreciate Kat exploring the problems with toxic positivity and overall plus-size movement online). For me, her whole second-season arc just raised more questions about the power and influence of an industry that isn’t designed to include actors of Latin origin. What gives Levinson the right to strip both agency and screen-time from his actors? To overly sexualize his female actors, including Alexa and Barbie, who are playing underage girls? His privilege as a white man, head writer, and creator? I don’t think so.
As hard as it is to imagine Euphoria without Maddy or Kat, it’s also impossible to ignore the fact that they’re both light-skinned Latina women and carry a certain privilege in being cast in these roles. Or that Colman Domingo, who is the only other recurring Latinx actor and identifies as Afro-Guatemalan, isn’t allowed to play a Latino character. Because he’s Black, he’s rarely perceived as Latino in U.S. or Latin American media, another sin Levinson continues.
Watching them all, it made me wonder if Levinson had bothered to educate himself about the history of racism and colorism in Latinx entertainment and communities. Who is and isn’t read as Latinx, even by other Latinxs, is rooted in centuries of racism and ignorance. If he understood that, we’d be seeing Latinxs of different races, and maybe a version of Maddy that didn’t fit so neatly into the “fiery Latina” trope for starters.
Given how much Levinson controls every aspect of the show, I don’t blame the actors at all for their characters’ shortcomings. But I do wish Levinson’s flawed understanding of what being Latinx can be and should look like, his treatment of characters from any marginalized community, his lack of interest in creating more nuanced, accurate portrayals of non-white characters wasn’t so obvious on-screen. As much as I enjoy Euphoria, I’m not the only one who acknowledges that the show has way too many problems. I just hope that one day, its Latina characters won’t be one of them.