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Brooklyn 99

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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Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago Are My Favorite Things on Television

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 televisionBrooklyn 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).

 

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Hi Fall TV: I’m Latino and NOT a Criminal

Dear Fall TV:

I’m writing to let you know that I’m Latino and not a criminal. Also I exist. Hi!

So before you can say “Latino Magnum PI,” I want to let you know that I’m also not part of the criminal justice system. I’m not a perp, victim, cop, DA, or personal investigator. Crime’s not really a big part of my life. One time my wallet was stolen. It sucked. BUT it was hardly a defining experience. Also, I’m not part of the drug trade. I’m not a mule, addict, dealer, mob boss, or corrupt politician profiting off the people’s suffering. True, I have been known to smoke weed from time to time but that hardly makes me a candidate for the Latino reboot of Friday.

That’s why I get so frustrated when so many of the Latino roles I see on TV have to do with drugs, crime, or the oh-so-stereotypical drug-crime combination. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing Karla Souza as Laurel Castillo, one of the law-student co-conspirators on How To Get Away With Murder. I’m thrilled that la raza gets an unheard of TWO parts on Brooklyn 99. But I’m frustrated that when it comes to “prestige” drama, we only get leading roles if it’s Mayan MC or Narcos.

Brooklyn 99 gif: "Your entire life is garbage"

The fact is Latinos make up 12.5% of the American population. Yet, we’re only 5.8% of folks on TV. It’s even worse if you’re a woman (hi ladies!) because then we’re dealing with not just racism but sexism too. For Latinas like me, the numbers stack as 6% of the population in real life, but just 2% on TV. That makes Latinas the least represented ethnic group when compared to our numbers in the population. It’s not good.

It’s particularly not good when you realize how many of those small numbers of roles are wasted on the Latinos-as-criminals trope. You see a good 50% of Latino immigrants on TV are portrayed as having committed a crime and a quarter of all Latino storylines are crime-related. This despite the fact that Latinos and Latino immigrants ARE NOT more likely to commit crimes. Don’t believe everything you see on TV people (or that you hear the President of the United States say).

You can see why I’m so frustrated. It’s like TV, politics, and the powers that be are all trying to sell me the message that my family and I either A. don’t exist or B. are gangbangers. Neither of which is true (see the beginning of letter).

Now Fall TV, I do want to give you some credit. It’s not all bad (even if statistically it’s horribly). I am a witch, so good job on the Latino reboot of Charmed. At least you got that one right.

But seriously folks, can we get more Jane the Virgin’s? What is this universe where a show about being accidentally artificially inseminated rings the most true to the Latinx experience? And, of course, Jane isn’t even on this fall – we have to wait until 2019 to see the final season. In the meantime, I’ll be comforting myself with America Ferrera in Superstore, Gabrielle Ruiz on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and the original GOAT EGOT Rita Moreno on One Day at a Time. Because those are the women representing Latinas as regular, interesting humans on TV. It would be great to see more of us. Thanks!

Sincerely,
Cristina (no relation to Pablo – I’m not even Colombian. My family’s from Durango (Mexico, not Colorado)) Escobar

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