How ‘Jane the Virgin’ Launched a New Generation of Strong Latina Leads

Strong Latina leads

When Jane the Virgin debuted in 2014, I didn’t expect to find a depiction of strong Latina leads on TV that not only made me feel seen but actually understood. The American adaption of the popular Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen, was one of the first times I saw myself represented – and in ways I never thought possible.

Taking place in sunny Miami, Jane the Virgin tells the story of Jane Gloriana Villanueva, a young aspiring writer and religious romantic who, despite being a virgin, ends up accidentally artificially inseminated after a mistake at her OBGYN’s office. Chaos ensues, with all the twists and turns of our favorite telenovelas but with strong female representation and a slight feminist spin.

Despite actress Gina Rodriguez’s recent problematic comments making her less favorable for future roles, her casting as Jane was nothing short of amazing. As a new generation of strong Latina leads, Rodriguez brought a new representation of a Latina living in the United States. Through Jane, Rodriguez showed viewers a multifaceted woman filled with intelligence, hard work, and a range of emotions Latinas don’t often get to portray in the media. 

Oftentimes, Latinas are siloed into stereotypical roles as toxic, jealous man-eaters with no purpose aside from chasing men. Jane the Virgin brought forth a new era of millennial telenovelas with high-quality productions and strong Latina leads, showing a complicated existence centered on values and familial connections. Jane is one of the best characters because she had wholesome relationships with romantic partners, a supportive family, (we love Rogelio and Xiomara, after all), and her dream career doing what she loves while getting paid. All of these rarely happen to Latina protagonists in film and television.

Jane navigated complex family relationships, specifically as she aged, encountering the evolution that comes with growing into oneself and generational differences. The story of Alba’s undocumented experience and her struggles with living in the United States touched on the heartstrings of many Latine families who have lived through the same. Jane’s professional journey was also relatable: struggling to divert from a stable career to pursue her lifelong dream of being a writer was all too real.

Jane’s journey of growth, seeing her mature, become a mother, published author, widow (spoiler: and then not!), and eventually, a flawed but fulfilled woman full of love made me understand that not fulfilling a stereotype didn’t make me weird, it just made me human. As much as many like to pigeonhole Latinas in one type of existence, Jane the Virgin was one of the first times I saw myself on screen and felt proud. It’s a performance I continue to relate to with every rewatch over the years. 

And thankfully, the representation of Latinas has evolved even more since Jane the Virgin took over our screens. The show enabled future strong Latina leads to have multifaceted character growth that is complicated, painful and real. Without Jane Gloriana Villanueva, I believe Latina characters like Alexa Demie’s Maddy Perez from Euphoria or Camila Mendes’ performance as Drea in 2022’s Do Revenge never would have had the space to develop or exist.

Both of these roles initially begin with two Latina characters who portray a golden type of success but ultimately live in insecurity and doubt. While Maddy gives off nothing but queen bee energy, we learn in later episodes of Euphoria that behind that badass attitude is a girl who just wants to be treated well by her friends and partner with dreams of living a life of glamor away from her complicated family dynamics. A heated argument between Cassie and Maddy at the end of Season 2 led Maddy to threaten to beat Cassie up. But, the fact that this did not escalate into a physical fight gave Maddy and Cassie the space to talk, save their friendship, and resist another Latina stereotype.

Mendes’ character is similar yet different – when a sex tape goes viral making her desperate for revenge, we spend most of the movie seeing her bad side. However, the importance Do Revenge places on female friendships can’t be matched, and reminds us of the community Latinas build that TV and movie screens conveniently leave out.  

While most scripts like to paint us as competitive and nasty, the reality is many Latinas seek community. This is especially relevant as newer generations fight against machismo and the traditional gender roles we’ve always been taught to follow.

Though both Maddy and Drea are both important roles, the 90s-inspired storylines they were dropped into show us one thing for sure: Latinas have always existed as complicated, multifaceted individuals outside of the toxica narrative. With so many more examples out there of new-gen Latinas taking the big screen by storm like Ana Morales in Gentefied, Jessica Marie Garcia from On My Block, or Never Have I Ever’s Fabiola Torres, there’s no shortage of Latinas killing it onscreen. It’s about time we see ourselves represented in meaningful ways through well-developed characters. And we can’t wait to see what’s next.

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