When it premiered in 2013, Brooklyn 99 seemed to be like any other cop show centered around a white male police officer named Jake Peralta. In this case, the known star is Andy Samberg of SNL and Lonely Island fame. And while I liked Andy Samberg, I wasn’t about to make time to watch a slapstick cop comedy. But I gave it a shot, figuring what’s 20 minutes in this post-Netflix world? And let’s be honest, I had just graduated from college, and was still enamored with the concept of there being no homework or trips to the library after dinner. With these low expectations, imagine my disbelief upon seeing Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) in the intro.
Diaz and Santiago represent many of the hopes I have for how Latinas will be represented on television and in media in the future. Not only is salsa music never in the background when they’re on-screen, neither of the two characters represent the stereotypical roles I usually see Latinas play. Neither of them are ever described as “spicy,” made fun of because of their accent, or fit the two roles that TV has largely cast Latina women in: the sexy hypersexualized love interest or the janitor/gardener/maid.
Detective Rosa Diaz is the toughest cop in Brooklyn 99 by far. Let’s not forget the episode that is completely dedicated to her coworkers’ challenge to get her to smile. She also insists that people simply share too much stating in one episode: “I hate small talk. Let’s drink in silence.” Not only is she strong but she is also vulnerable, coming out as bisexual in season 5. Actress Stephanie Beatriz herself identifies as bisexual and queer and has talked about how important it is to have a character like Rosa on TV.
I identify as bi and queer…growing up I didn’t ever see myself on television, not to mention that I’m Latina. So there were very limited characters that I identified with… I can think of many times when I was 13, 14, where I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be okay… I don’t see people succeeding that identify this way.’
Breaking the oh so common one Latina per TV show, Amy Santiago is a very different character from Rosa. Santiago is extremely competitive and has a serious addiction to binders, label-makers, and organization in general. She is notoriously horrible at cooking and her dance skills are more Urkel than Shakira. The show evolves Santiago as a character to become truly multidimensional, something few Latina actress have had the opportunity to play in the past.
In an episode directed by Beatriz (Diaz), Santiago is put on a case where a man attempted to sexually assault a female co-worker (at you guessed it an investment bank). In the episode, Peralta and Santiago are put on the case trying endlessly to prove without a doubt that a “typically toxic” male character is guilt. For a sitcom known for slapstick comedy to try to comment on sexual assault was definitely a risk. But one that was clearly worth taking.
Although a little awkward at times, this episode shows the right way to have a conversation about gender power dynamics in the workplace, while ignoring some of the shows previous misstep regarding women in the workplace. While there are still plenty of jokes, Beatriz orchestrates moments of truth that shed light on the ways both women and men react to sexual assault. Whether it’s the disbelief of male allies when confronted with women’s everyday obstacles in the workplace, or the complexity of the decision to come forward, Brooklyn 99 handled it with care and responsibility.
This show has become my favorite comedy sitcom on television because it not only looks like the world I know but features and centers people of color who break the stereotypical structures forced on POC in television. Brooklyn 99 centers an ensemble with two Latinas showing all of television that the “no more than one” rule doesn’t and shouldn’t ever apply to casting. And I’m not the only one who’s a fan (cough Lin-Manuel Miranda cough).