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Low representation

Preparing for the Second Season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is coming back to Amazon December 5th. Before the second season premiere, the founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their hopes (but let’s be real mostly their fears) for the upcoming season of last year’s Emmy darling.

CRISTINA: So I’m excited for the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I devoured the first eight episodes after it won all those awards. I went in skeptical because it seemed so WHITE (and because Roxane Gay tweeted this: “So many shows I actively dislike actively winning” during the Emmys, thereby curbing my enthusiasm).

That said, I really liked it. Yes, the costumes and sets are fun but you can catch those on Call the Midwife and other period shows. No, what I really liked was how Maisel shows that gender is a trap for everyone. The main character, the marvelous Mrs. Maisel of the title, Midge thinks she’ll find happiness by following the good woman script (get married, have children, always look beautiful) to the point where she’s waking up before her husband each morning to do her hair and makeup and then pretending to be asleep again so he not only thinks that her appearance is effortless but also never sees her in her actual natural state. Of course, he leaves her anyway, unaware of all that effort. In response, she decides to throw out her old ideas and try on some new ways of being. Meanwhile, her ex-ish husband is on a journey of his own, trying to unlearn all that male learned helplessness – does he need to be “taken care of?” Can he manage his own emotions? We’ll see.

NICOLA: I confess, I am not new to the fast-talking, female-centric television of Amy Sherman-Palladino. Ever since I first saw Gilmore Girls in middle school, I fell in love with her characters and writing style. Every woman in her show was insanely smart, funny, and much more relatable than the dry storylines of Lizzie McGuire. But there was always something missing, most of her central characters were white (except Lane aka Keiko Agena who was amazing!). So when I heard about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I was excited and for the most part, it didn’t disappoint. It had everything I loved about Gilmore Girls and more.

CRISTINA: I’ve never watched Gilmore Girls so I didn’t know what to expect. But I do love a quickly spoken monologue, delivered while walking (see half of the script of my favorites, The West Wing and everything Shonda Rhimes does) so it’s no wonder I liked The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

NICOLA: Yes! It has a great script filled with witty women with agency plus the stand-up comedy sets bust the myth that women aren’t funny (hopefully hereby retiring it forever). And huge bonus if you love period pieces – it has a 1950’s wardrobe that will make you ask why you don’t have a different coat to match every outfit. The only thing I couldn’t ignore was the blinding whiteness of it all.

CRISTINA: Agreed: the show is terrible on race. Like, ok, you’ve picked a white community as your setting (Upper West Side New York in the 1950’s) BUT you’ve also picked this transgression plot. Midge leaves that world, she defies it in the comedy clubs of New York. Theoretically, her and Susie are an odd couple. They have big class differences with Susie’s tiny apartment contrasting with Midge’s palatial flat to name just one example. Not to mention Susie keeps getting mocked for her “masculine” appearance (although she looks pretty normal by today’s standards) while Midge is an expert at performing heteronormative femininity (we’re talking about a woman who takes her measurements every day). YET, these women could be sisters. Same hair, same skin, similar features. They couldn’t have picked someone more different to play Midge’s foil? Don’t get me wrong, Alex Borstein is fantastic as Susie. I just wished they’d more meaningfully represented New York and its world-famous diversity.

NICOLA: Totally, I’m waiting for Amy-Sherman Palladino to center a character that isn’t her stereotypical quirky brunette. Palladino is great at creating worlds that exist beyond the problems of today, that function as escapes, whether it is mythical Stars Hollow Connecticut or Uptown New York in the 1950’s. Maisel is totally escapist: feel-good nostalgia with a touch of modern feminism dressed as Audrey Hepburn. Because let’s face it, racism existed in the early 2000’s in Connecticut and it definitely existed in New York in the 1950’s. And in 1950’s New York, racism definitely doesn’t look like a rich housewife comparing how many times she went to jail with a couple of Black men from a jazz band while sharing a smoke. That scene in particular seemed horribly out of touch.

 

CRISTINA: It’s true, when people of color finally speak, it’s pretty rough. Whether it’s that Black jazz band or the Black model/make-up girl, or the Black performance artist who’s used as a simple punchline. None of it shows any understanding of what means to actually be a person of color or even where Midge and her band of white friends stand in the world.

So outside of race, the show worked for me because I’m so hungry for “unlikable” women. Male characters get to be good and bad and in-between but women characters usually get stuck on the edges, all good or all bad. Midge is neither of those things and that’s what makes her so compelling. Yes, she’s ruthless to her husband and herself. She’s unaware of the world around her, has never held a job, and only takes middling interest in her kids. For someone so self-absorbed, she’s extremely unselfaware. And yet, she’s hilarious and raw and strong. I enjoyed watching her lay waste to her protected existence, discover the broader world, and hone her newly-found craft. I didn’t find her particularly likable but I did find her interesting – I’m excited to see where she goes in season two. I’m even curious about what Mr. Maisel will do after the season one finale and I’d originally figured he’d be a throwaway character.

NICOLA: I agree, what’s great about the show is how much of it centers around a woman (a mother no less!) that makes mistakes and still hasn’t found herself. And it’s totally okay. I think as women, and especially as feminists, society often tells us we should know exactly who we are and have all our goals mapped out on some sort of Pinterest-sanctioned vision board. However here’s a woman that actually did everything society told her to do (marry, have children, look that certain way) and she realizes she’s not sure it was what she wanted. We need more female characters that aren’t perfect, ones who don’t find their passion till later in life, ones who maybe don’t need their husbands anymore. I just hope that maybe the next season includes a little more acknowledgment of the diversity of New York City. Who knows maybe next season will acknowledge that there’s a Puerto Rican community in Brooklyn? Or maybe Midge will make a (real) Black friend?

CRISTINA: Preach! I hope so. The (lack of) portrayal of race could hardly be worse than season one, so I’m figuring season two will be better. It can only go up from here!

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Founding Manifesto

It’s tough out here for a bruja. Everyday, we see amazing Latinas who are killing it at work, at home, at school, and in our communities, but that’s where it stops. We KNOW them, but we don’t SEE them. In politics, in the news, in films, and in books, our stories rarely get told and when they do, they often rely on played out stereotypes. It’s time we see ourselves as we want and deserve to be seen. (Where’s the summer blockbuster featuring la raza? Where are our new anchors? Can we get some more TV shows? What about some Grammy nods? They have like 100 categories!)

Before you disagree, let’s just say the facts are on our side:

Other communities of color had amazing, breakthrough moments of progress this last year from Black Panther to Crazy Rich Asians. Yet, we are still waiting to see even a glimmer of ourselves reflected in the mainstream. You know we love us some Oprah. We went and saw Crazy Rich Asians opening weekend. We recognize Beyonce as queen. This isn’t about begrudging another group its success. It’s not about some sort of oppression olympics. This is about rewriting the game.

And we do mean, literally, re-writing it. We want to READ OUR VOICES. As Latinas, we don’t see our voices, our experiences, our ideas reflected back to us. That just isn’t right, especially when you consider our market force. See above if you want to do some math about it.

The thing is, we Latinas have plenty to contribute. We’re not going to make a case for our exceptionalism or even our humanity here. If you don’t believe we’re fully human, interesting people, we aren’t going to try to convince you. But we are going to push back against the ways we’re being systematically erased, passed over, and ignored.

That’s why we founded Mujeres Problemáticas. We’re not the “good” women who do a bunch of work in the background and don’t get credit for it. We’re not super sexy ladies with accents a la Sofia Vergara in Modern Family (FYI we love Sofia. We just want Modern Family to get that there’s more to being Latina than being “spicy.” Also, accents aren’t funny, sorry, not sorry). And we’re not the “bad” women who care only about ourselves even if it means walking over our hermanas. We’re complicated. Our feelings are complicated. Our hot takes are complicated. Our very existence is complicated.

So expect to see some complicated, problematic, nuanced shit on these pages. We’re tackling media and culture, demanding better representation even as we fan-girl out over our favorites. It’s time we have a place to lift up the amazing Latinas who are doing the same work, doing it differently, and doing it better. We’re speaking out in all of our bruja glory and using all the power we have to rewrite the game so Latinas everywhere get our fair share. Come hang with us.

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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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When I First Saw Myself on TV She Was White

I was in high school, a self-described book nerd, when I first saw a character on TV that I believed was me reincarnated, her name was Rory Gilmore. Rory loved books, drank obscene amounts of coffee, loved the Shins and Belle and Sebastian, and dreamed of being the next Christiane Amanpour – we were perfect for each other.

She was my fictional hero, a young woman who was valued more for her intellect and quick wit than her beauty. A healthy change from our culture’s overindulgence in the beautiful white blonde protagonists of the early 2000s like The O.C or Gossip Girl. But there was one thing that Rory and I didn’t have in common: she was white, I’m Latinx. Growing up in fictional Stars Hollow in Connecticut, Rory and her world looked similar yet different from mine.

Even then, I knew light skin was an unspoken requirement for TV, excluding the role of the ethnically ambiguous friend (shout out to Miranda from Lizzie McGuire). On Gilmore Girls, Rory’s numerous love interests reinforced the idea that light skinned women were most likely to get the guy, specifically white men.

Nothing I am saying here is shocking – Gilmore Girls had and continues to have a notorious reputation for how it treated people of color. From Miss Kim, Rory’s best friend Lane’s mother, who they paint as a stereotypical “Tiger mom” with a heavy accent, to Michel, Lorelai’s co-worker who they limit to the harmful gay tropes without a meaningful storyline or character development. And let’s not forget the worst and most cliche stereotype: the treatment of the maids. The countless women who work for Emily Gilmore are mostly portrayed as women of color with heavy accents and are so interchangeable that their names are optional.

Gilmore Girls: Yeah, it's sad.

However, the saddest aspect of this show for me lies with its central character Rory. I was a senior in high school when I finally found out the truth. That the actress Alexis Bledel who played Rory over the show’s 8 years was in fact half Mexican. Just like me.  She even grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, not learning English until she began school. I trusted that Bledel wasn’t hiding her ethnicity on purpose, but the network and the creators of the show certainly were.

Looking back, I think about what Gilmore Girls would have meant to me if Rory wasn’t the unattainable white heroine I grew to love. What would it mean for millions of young Latinx women to watch a show with a Latina character who was known first for her intellect and not for her sexuality? What would it have meant for white girls to be asked to empathize with someone just a bit different from them? To see a character that wasn’t a criminal, nor constantly worried about her immigration status, nor just a sex object? To follow a girl who spoke Spanglish and had witty references to the genius of Allende, Cisneros, or Selena.

Last year, Amy Sherman Palladino, the creator of Gilmore Girls, created her second TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to wide acclaim. The show is set in the New York Comedy Clubs of the 50’s, conveniently a place that historically wouldn’t have allowed people of color. I don’t believe this is merely a coincidence. I am sad that Palladino continues to rely on the witty white woman narrative, instead of creating space for a character that isn’t from the white communities of Connecticut or uptown New York City. Representation matters whether you’re 17 or 27 and I’d so appreciate Palladino expanding from her whitewashed world. Sadly, I can only dream that one-day young Latinx women will have characters in movies and on TV that are as complex as we deserve.

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