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Representation

“Los Espookys” is the Perfect Show for this Ironic, Faux Start of Fall

It may not be officially fall, but unofficially, “Hot Girl Summer” has ended and everyone is looking for the next track. In honor of the changing season, let me recommend HBO’s Los Espookys. It came out in June and while it takes place in Los Angeles and some sunny, Pan Latin American country, it’s the perfect show for the ironic faux start of fall.

Created by Fred Armisen and Ana Fabrega, Los Espookys follows a group of friends who are trying to turn their love of horror into a business by staging spooks, like a monster-sighting and an exorcism, for hire. The show is delightfully odd with absurdist gags ranging from the random (a demon demanding to see The King’s Speech before cooperating) to the insightful (a group of LA-based valets doesn’t understand what “to snowball” means, having never seen snow).

It also happens to be very Latinx. In case you forgot, there’s not a lot of media featuring or made by Latinxs (did you see that Annenberg study? Its findings were dismal). And when Latinxs do make it on the screen, we’re generally gang members and drug runners — just like what the man currently occupying the White House thinks.

Fred Armisen is one of ours and a co-creator of the very Latinx Los Espookys

To have a show like Los Espookys on HBO is a pretty big deal. It’s in English and Spanish. The Latinx cast are different generations, skin tones, social classes, and personalities. It’s created by Latinxs (did you know Fred Armisen was one of ours? I didn’t! But it turns out his mother is Venezuelan). And it’s really good.

It’s also not about being Latinx, in the way, say Vida (the other prestige show we’ve got) is. The characters on Vida are dealing with identity in heavy ways, trying to figure out how race and class and color intersect within and outside their communities.

Not so on Los Espookys. Renaldo, Úrsula, Andrés, Tati, and Tico are just living their lives, figuring out who they are and how to get by without questions of racial identity playing a major role. That’s not to say Los Espookys is racially or ethnically agnostic. It’s not. It’s very Latinx. It just portrays our identities as the default, refusing to contrast our experiences with Anglo ones.

This centering of the Latinx experience starts with subtle nods. The series opens with an elaborate quinceañera. There’s a whole bit about how Renaldo spells his name, which while explained, works much better if you’re familiar with actual Reynaldos. The Catholic church makes appearances in the form of nun and priest characters but instead of being saints or pedophiles, these clergy members are regular, petty people motivated not by good or evil but rather by jealousy or simply the desire to finish their favorite telenovela. It’s the stuff of Latinx life, told with HBO dollars and a silly, experimental point of view.

In Los Espookys, the US government is ignorant, superficial, and ridiculous — like Latinx have known it to be for generations

This centering of the Latinx experience is not just in the details of the show but the politics too. Take the one white American character: US Ambassador Gibbons. She’s a sort of evil Elle Woods with platinum blond hair, pink everything, and a blasé colonist attitude. Superficial and willfully ignorant, she couldn’t care less about her powerful job as evidenced by her disdain for the language (she gets an invitation and declares that it’s in “code” before her one Latinx aid tells her it’s in Spanish) to deciding randomly who gets a visa and who does not. This understanding of Los Estados Unidos as irrational, mercurial, and careless is about as Latinx as it gets. And it’s particularly funny and cutting in the Trump era.

Which is not to say Los Espookys takes itself seriously or leans in politically (although it does take pains to hilariously decimate the Herbalife pyramid schemes that prey on our communities). No, the show is all about the laughs, the absurd, and the spooks, using the Latinx point of view as its building blocks.

On HBO, series are divided into “All,” “Latino,” “International,” and “Family” but don’t let that “All” fool you — most of the “Latino” programs are not listed there. Los Espookys is. The show is claiming space in the mainstream HBO platform and I love it. The idea that a bilingual, silly, fun Latinx show is as much for everyone as Insecure and Sex and the City is just powerful. So before the days get too short and your TV options too vast, spend a few hours enjoying Los Espookys.

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Dolor y Esperanza: Finding Hope after El Paso

To be Latinx in America has always been fraught. But in the last month, under Donald Trump’s “leadership,” our community has been under increased attack. The co-founders of LatinaMedia.co discuss what it means to be Latina in 2019, how we got here, and what we should do next.

NICOLA: On August 3, 2019, a 21-year-old white man drove 9 hours to El Paso Texas and killed 22 people and injured 20+ more. The man was targeting Latinos, rationalizing his decision in a manifesto using the terms “demographic displacement,” “white genocide” and “illegal immigration.” Like many people when I heard this news I immediately thought about my family, I cried, and that night I couldn’t sleep.

CRISTINA: I learned about the El Paso shooting from Facebook. One of my tias had marked herself safe, writing that she, all her sisters, all the kids, and all the grandkids were okay. It was both a perfect and truly terrible way to learn about another mass shooting. A shooting that took place this time in the city where my grandfather’s from, and the majority of my husband’s family still lives. The weekend before, we’d talked about going to the Gilroy Garlic Festival and I’d had to double-check that my brother-in-law didn’t go without us. This is not an acceptable way to live. In fear and frustration. Under attack.

NICOLA: I wasn’t surprised. How could I be? When the leader of our country has been saturating the news with racist language and actions towards the Latino community, especially Mexicans. “They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists.”

This is not an acceptable way to live. In fear and frustration. Under attack.

It’s almost been two years since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Instead of using it as a moment to unify the country, Trump blamed the people claiming “They want everything done for them.” Not only is Trump playing into racist colonial ideas, he’s also perpetuating the narrative that even Latinos who are documented and born in this country must prove themselves worthy of this country.

CRISTINA: I’m not surprised either. There’s always been racism in the US — we’re talking about a country founded on slavery that still uses oppression as its primary engine for growth. A country that uses state-sanctioned violence to terrorize its black and brown citizens. A country that bakes racism into each and every one of its systems.

In reading the coverage of the El Paso shooting, I was struck by its location — a Walmart — and how those workers had been trained to deal with an active shooter. They don’t get paid enough for that! We’re living in a society where the Waltons are the richest family on the planet and they require their minimum-wage workers to risk life and limb. It’s sickening.

NICOLA: It is and it’s past time that we talk about it. Since 2016, I found myself in more arguments than I can count as we approach the 2020 elections. What is the future of our country? How can Democrats better tailor their message toward the parts of America that felt ignored and voted for Trump in 2016? How can we appeal to America’s better nature? Appeal to or nation’s conscience?

The media only hears us in the Latinx community when we perform our pain.

These questions have led me to be more conscious of how and when I answer these questions. Far too often, it seems like the media only hears us in the Latinx community when we perform our pain. Whether it’s sharing our individual narratives on social media or someone filming a crying child asking where their mother is, it’s exhausting to both consume and create these narratives just for the chance at acceptance.

CRISTINA: I hear you and I’m exhausted too — everything only seems to be getting worse. The FBI reports an increase in hate crimes. There are concentration camps on the border. Just this past month, there was the shooting in El Paso, the raids in Mississippi (which I believe were retaliation against the Latina workers demanding to be given a modicum of human dignity), and now new rules to deny legal immigrants access to government services. It’s no longer a leak, rotting the foundation of our American house. It’s a flood.

And what’s so frustrating to me about this particular flood isn’t the white people on the second (third and fourth) floor, asking what the problem is. It’s the third of Latinx people who support the President. They’re in the muck with us, pretending that because they have rainboots or whatever, that everything’s fine. Maybe they think aligning themselves with the powers that be, they’ll become (or already are) white. Other groups have done it: look at Italians and the Irish. They used to be othered but now they’re as white as white can get. So maybe it is possible. But it’s not preferable. These folks are comfortable leaving behind huge portions of our community (Afro-Latinos, our indigenous brothers and sisters), and leaving intact an evil, unjust system. I’d much rather ban together, Squad-style, with other communities of color and throw the whole thing out.

NICOLA: Agreed. It often feels like we’re fighting a losing battle. We’re sharing these horrific stories of children being separated from their parents and parents protecting their children during a domestic terrorist attack at a Walmart — but what story will change or alter the racist narrative of this country? That’s where I believe inclusion, especially in newsrooms, writers rooms, and in the halls of government, is where we can put the most hope. We will not see change until we are represented in both creating our nation’s culture and creating the laws that govern our country.

CRISTINA: Definitely. And like you, I’m lucky that I get to advance that particular cause and my politics in general for a living. The Monday after the El Paso shooting, I was working with Latinx and women’s groups on a response. In the weeks before and after, I’ve had a hand in encouraging more people of color, women, and young people to vote and make this flawed democracy work for us. I mean here we are, speaking out as the mujeres problemáticas we are, demanding the world be better! But it’s still hard to have hope, to channel my rage and frustration into positive action, to not feel like the forces of hate are too strong, too entrenched for us to topple.

NICOLA: As we say at the Women’s Foundation of California, those closest to the problem are the best equipped to find the solution. And as I see more women, especially women of color, trans, and nonbinary people writing our laws and leading the next generation of policymakers the more I have hope for our future.

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Why I’ll Miss “Jane the Virgin:”  Empathy, Representation, Sex, and More

It’s officially over: the last episode of Jane the Virgin airs tonight. The show wrapped up a lot up in the final 19 episodes (spoilers ahead!): Jane got a huge book deal ($500,000!), Elisa (finally) came through for her family, arch-villain Rose/Sin Rostro (definitively) died, Alba and Jorge found happiness together, Xo beat cancer, and Jane, of course, picked Rafael once and for all (although I imagine the Michael v. Rafael debate will continue indefinitely).

As a longtime fan of the show, I will miss the Villanuevas’ bench, Rogelio’s antics, and even Petra’s formal shorts. All that aside, what I hope the show is remembered for is treating each and every one of its characters with empathy. It turns out that the world is quite different when you apply the same level of compassion to everyone.

It’s easy, human even, to judge people who are different than you, ascribing negative motives and then writing them off. At its worst, this tendency combines with structural inequality (like how entertainment is overwhelmingly white and male), creating devasting problems like hate crimes, the mass incarceration of people of color, giant pay disparities, etc. Jane the Virgin defies this pattern, both in how its made and in what it portrays — a world filled with the problems we know but where race, gender, and class do not determine one’s value.

It’s worth remembering that Jane is lead by a white woman, Jennie Snyder Urman. Despite her lack of first-hand experience, she has managed to create one of the most meaningful portrayals of latinidad on television. She’s hired Latinx writers and centered a vision of Latinx identity that resonates with reality: Latinxs are a hardworking, diverse group of people (who are no more likely to commit crimes than the general population). All those shows about drug cartels and gang members are giving audiences the wrong impression.

And it’s not just that the Latinx characters on Jane the Virgin aren’t criminals, they’re diverse in so many ways: in age, in how they view sex, even in their views on religion. Take our three principle women: Alba, Xiomara (Xo), and Jane. They manage to have different worldviews, make different choices, change and grow, and yet remain sympathetic throughout.

Alba starts the series in the stereotypical “good Catholic” abuelita role. A staunch believer in no sex outside of marriage, she teaches her young granddaughter that a woman’s worth is tied to her sexual purity. Alba is sometimes wrong but she is never the villain. And as the show goes on, we learn that everything is not so simple: Alba did indeed have sex before marriage and by the final season, she’s even masturbating to Barack Obama — surely a church no-no!

Xo is, in many ways, the other Latina stereotype: a teenage mom who prefers sexy clothing and whose daughter gets mad at for acting younger than her age. And again, Jane the Virgin, grants her leeway to be. Xo doesn’t link her self-worth to her sexuality but rather sees sex as a fun route to self-expression. The show pushes this message with Xiomara getting an abortion and managing to be as likable as ever.

Likewise, Jane falls somewhere in the middle and that’s okay too. She takes what she likes from both her grandmother and mother’s examples and builds her own identity, whether it’s figuring out her views on sex, religion, parenting, or even how to pursue her dream. With these three, Jane the Virgin constructs a beautiful portrayal of the many ways women and Latinas, in particular, exist. The show doesn’t pretend that these choices are solely individual — Catholicism and social expectations loom large — but the Villanueva women each create their own way of navigating these pressures. Imagine if we all exhibited the same grace as the show creators in respecting the different choices others make.

I mean really imagine it — imagine it in the context of “mommy wars” (and the never-ending debate about what’s best for “the children”). Imagine it in class-based debates (say the disdain the GOP feels compelled to exhibit about House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s previous job as a bartender). It’s hard isn’t, to imagine the world another way? And yet, that’s what Jane the Virgin does week in and week out.

Take the evolution of the Jane-Petra relationship. The show started with them as rivals. Petra was blond, thin, and rich to Jane’s brown, curvy, and working-class. Petra was also the wife of Jane’s love-interest, Rafael. But as the show progresses, these two stop competing and start working together — all the while remaining vastly different and finding themselves in healthy, regular conflict. I still remember the exchange they had while Jane was helping Petra shop for her new babies in season two:

Jane: Raf and I have this glider. We love it because it is so comfortable, especially if you’re gonna be up long nights, feeding the baby.
Petra: I’m not worried about late nights. I have a night nurse…
Jane: Okay, got it…So, pacifiers?
Petra: Oh, yes, definitely pacifiers. Wait, how about those?
Jane: Two for $12? No, that’s ridiculous. Look it, five for ten.
Petra: Yeah, but don’t you think there’s a reason for the price difference?
Jane: Yeah, they’re trying to scam you.
Petra: Or they’re better.
Jane: Maybe.
Petra: Definitely.

This conversation is perfect. Even though at this point, we’re used to sympathizing with Jane, Petra’s point of view is presented as just as valid. Later Petra says Jane “made me feel bad for wanting the best things for our kids” and call her “a martyr — she has to do everything herself.” Meanwhile, Jane has her own version of events with Petra “buying all these overpriced impractical things just because they were more expensive” and “talking about around-the-clock nannies.”

But as the show makes clear by interspersing these two accounts, neither is “right.” These two women, these two mothers are just different! And that’s okay! In fact, it’s more than okay. By the end of the show, Petra and Jane have both become successful mothers and individuals, finding happiness inside their families and outside them. It turns out the road to fulfillment isn’t determined by your feelings towards $6 pacifiers or even night nurses. Instead, it’s about learning to be honest (Petra) and flexible (Jane).

And it’s not just the women who can grow and change. Think about the central male characters — Michael, Rafael, Rogelio, and even Jorge. They all get to be attractive, “real” men while displaying totally different versions of masculinity. Instead of conforming to a masculine type, Jane the Virgin asks its men, just like it asks its women, to be good people: to respect others, to fight fair, to be honest.

It’s rare that a show manages to do so much: to break important barriers in representation in terms of race, gender, sexuality, motherhood, while also, fundamentally, asking all of us to be better people. Even in its darkest darks (and there were some dark times — Jane’s grieving of Michael, his heart-wrenching return), Jane the Virgin was always a light. It never betrayed the fundamental approach of empathy in building its world. And for that, in particular, I will miss it.

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It’s Time To Stop White-Casting Period Pieces

I’ll never forget when my mom showed me my first period piece. I was 10 years old and the film was The BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries (the best version of the Jane Austen classic, no other arguments will be considered) starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. From the moment my mom popped in the worn VHS tape, I was hooked. But it wasn’t just the romance, it was the characters Austen had created, specifically Elizabeth Bennett. She was smart, witty, loved reading, and the only female character not interested in getting married. As a 10-year-old, I quickly labeled her as my 18th-century heroine of choice. I mean boys? Gross. What were they even good for?

After watching Pride and Prejudice, I quickly moved on to Austen’s other creations in both film and book form. PersuasionEmmaSense and SensibilityNorthanger AbbeyMansfield Park, all were tales of female heroines falling in love, exchanging only the wittiest of remarks in flawless British accents. I held these movies (and mostly the BBC itself) as the gold standard for romance, one that I continued to hold up and revisit time and time again.

But there’s something I haven’t mentioned yet, something I ignored the majority of my life — these women, these strong 18th century ladies are something I will never be. White. Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, both Jennifer Ehle and Keira Knightley all (lovely) white ladies. When I was younger, I accepted this telling myself “oh, of course, they’re all white it’s wealthy 18th-century England, that’s all they have.” Yes, spiritually I had identified with Elizabeth Bennet. But when I closed my eyes, whether I was 10 or 21, the media had taught me to see one thing, a woman I could never be.

Then I saw Mr. Malcolm’s List, a short film directed by Emma Holly Jones for Refinery29’s ShatterboxShatterbox is an anthology of women-directed short films with the goal to get more women behind the camera. This 8-minute film starring Gemma Chan from Crazy Rich Asians and Freida Pintofrom Slumdog Millionaire casts people of color in a traditional period piece a la Jane Austen.

The story surrounds Mr. Malcolm, an elusive bachelor, played by Sope Dirisu. Following him is a long list of desperate debutantes and their matchmaking mothers. What these women don’t know is he has a particular list of qualifications for his future bride. One woman, Julia played by Gemma Chan, is determined to capture his heart but perhaps she needs a little help.

In 8-minutes, Mr. Malcolm’s List proves that traditional, all-white cast is simply weak and lazy. People of color should be cast in these period pieces not only because it’s time we have media that represents everyone, but because people of color existed in the 18th century.

Mr. Malcom’s List allows people of color to see themselves in a genre that we’ve been taught was off limits (unless we were willing to play a sidekick or follow an exploitative storyline). To see Gemma Chan and Freida Pinto here is not just groundbreaking it’s necessary. Luckily several film studios agreed: according to Deadline, Mr. Malcolm’s List is going to be made into a feature-length film and I can’t wait. It’s essential for the next generation of young women and girls to see themselves reflected in film, regardless of the genre or time period. I hope this is just the beginning. Because personally, I’m waiting for the ultimate remake of Pride and Prejudice starring John Cho and Lupita Nyong’o.

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The Emotional, Impossible Season 5 Premiere of “Jane the Virgin”

The CW’s Jane the Virgin is back for its fifth and final season, causing Latinos everywhere to tearfully rejoice that we get more time with the Villanuevas, however limited. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their thoughts on the season premiere and why this show is so great.

CRISTINA: I missed Jane so much! This is one of the rare shows that makes me feel seen and I’ve just been aching for it.

NICOLA: Agreed! This show will always and forever have a special place in my heart. For five seasons, the Villanuevas have been my favorite family on TV. I’m sad to see them go but so excited for this season.

CRISTINA: The premiere didn’t disappoint. It turns out Michael, Jane’s beloved, thought-dead husband is back but with amnesia. It’s classic telenovela and in true Jane the Virgin form, done with such a thoughtful, emotionally honest (and devastating) way. After all, we spent the second half of season three grieving Michael with Jane. So to see him come back just when Jane was getting happy again was rough. Add on to that the fact that he’s not really back. His body is, his smell even, but the man we knew is not.

NICOLA: I know. If I got a nickel every time a character on a telenovela got amnesia, I’d be a rich lady. But somehow one of the most overused tropes in the telenovela complex felt like the perfect choice to set up the season. Devastating for sure but excellent for storytelling. Jane has this history of seeing her life and relationships through romantic-novel rose glasses. So to have Jane, whose based much of her own narrative on finding, loving, losing, loving, then finally losing Michael (Jason) forces her to reflect and makes for very powerful television.

CRISTINA: Yes! And that power/pain was shown perfectly in the seven-page, single shot monologue Gina Rodriguez delivers, walking us through just how impossible her situation is. Is she married? Is she not? Who is this person who call himself Jason and likes dogs instead of cats? Why did this happen? How is she supposed to respond? Why does nothing make her feel better?

Watching it, I welled up several times but was so captivated by the performance it was like my tear ducts forgot how to cry. As her co-star Justin Baldoni said, if Gina doesn’t get all the awards, something is very wrong.

NICOLA: Totally agree, that monologue was not only technically crazy difficult but such a wonderful connection point between the audience and Jane. We’ve been with her for four seasons, watching her fall in and out of love, finding herself as a writer and as a mother, and dealing with unspeakable tragedy. And when we left her last season, it seemed like Jane was in such a good place. So this season, seeing her perform seven-pages of her rapidly asking all the questions we have, at a rate of about five questions per minute, felt like the perfect scene to connect us back to our favorite protagonist.

CRISTINA: Petra also had a fun B-plot this episode, dealing with her ex-husband Milos, getting dumped by Rosario Dawson’s JR, and being checked out by Jason/Michael. I love how they’ve rehabilitated her character, taking her from villain to hero without actually changing the core of who she is. I’m certainly rooting for her (and wishing I could pull off/access her wardrobe).

NICOLA: Petra’s character has always been one of my favorites and truly showcases the talent and intent of the Jane the Virgin writing team. I’m definitely sad to see that her relationship with JR might be over. Clearly, I am not ready to accept that one — we need more Rosario! I am excited to see Milos back and him in the teddy bear was hilarious. I could “bearly” stop laughing.

CRISTINA: Then there’s the matter of poor Rafael. He’s in the toughest spot here. Upon finding out that Michael was alive, he made the deal to bring him back for Jane even if meant sacrificing his relationship with her. It’s another impossible situation and one that Rafael deals with grace and honor, even as it’s clearly tearing him up inside. For me, it showed just how good Rafael is for Jane, even if she’s not always good for him. Nicola — what do you think? Time to join #TeamRafael?

NICOLA: Ugh I’m not sure. I’ve always been torn between the two. Mostly, because I love Jane so much and I’m fairly convinced there is no man good enough for her. That aside, I feel like it’s a incredibly difficult decision, one that the show creators crafted with complete knowledge of how confused and crazed they’d make Jane and us, the audience, feel. I do like the possibility of getting at a greater, more existential, question: can you truly compare two people you’ve loved?

Jane the Virgin has taught us a lot about the different forms that love can take and how love can transform and change people (cough Rafael cough). Jane and Michael had a wonderful relationship but it definitely took them awhile to get there. The same could be said of Jane and Rafael: they went through definite trials and tribulations and the Rafael from season one is definitely not the Rafael from this season. I genuinely feel at this point that you can’t compare the two: one’s from her past and one is in her present.

CRISTINA: I have no idea what Jane’s going to do but I doubt she’ll end up with “Jason,” unless he morphs back into Michael somehow. That said, the central question for me has never been what guy she picks, but rather how she finds happiness. And I loved seeing her process it all through writing. Also, that scene where she pushed her father out of the way so she could use the mirror was priceless. If Jane the Virgin has to end, can’t Rogelio get his own spin off?

NICOLA: I am definitely here for that! I could talk forever about what a gift Rogelio is to television, and how he does not get the credit he deserves. I feel like he definitely has earned a show of his own. Or maybe a crossover episode on the freshly renewed One Day at a Time? Dear TV networks I hope you’re taking notes.

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White Men and the Media: A Love Story

On Friday, Gallup released a report on the favorability ratings of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The article was entitled “Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Better Known, but Image Skews Negative.” After I read the headline, I was disappointed believing that the hype around the new congresswoman was dissipating. Then I actually looked at the numbers. It’s true she is growing unfavorably among three audiences: men, white people, and people older than 55. However Ocasio’s popularity is increasing with women, people of color, and people ages 18–35.

Last time I checked women are still 50% of the population and white people only make up a little more than half of the population. This headline and the surrounding conversation shows how the media considers white men the default. Since the beginning of modern times, mostly white men have controlled the world’s power, just look at 44 of our last presidents. The assumption Gallup was making is not new. Because men and white people are finding Ocasio-Cortez less appealing, her image must be considered overall negative. The white guys set the narrative. Because in the media’s eyes, without men and white people, a politician could never stand a chance.Apparently, only certain opinions matter, only their experiences define normal. As we near the 2020 election, I feel uneasy with media coverage that continuously and overwhelmingly favors white male candidates.

Last Thursday, Beto O’Rourke, currently the candidate with the least experience and whose claim to fame is his narrow loss to Ted Cruz, announced his intention to run for president. Now let me be clear — I have nothing against Robert “call me Beto” O’Rourke, however the way he has been embraced by the media with little to no criticism compared to the other candidates confirms my fears for this election.

Consider how Amy Klobuchar’s announcement was greeted. Immediately stories about her reputation from being a difficult boss emerged. And while I don’t admit I know what it’s like to work for Klobuchar, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that no male senators have had New York Times exposes citing their workplaces as difficult. Or when Kamala Harris launched her campaign in Oakland and and estimated at 20,000 people came, where were the headlines?

Prior to his announcement, O’Rourke was given the star treatment — an artsy spread in Vanity Fair complete with photos taken by Annie Leibovitz. The fact is none of the women in the race or people of color (Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar) got the same media attention that Beto has.

Particularly glaring for me is the contrast between O’Rourke and Julián Castro. I single out Castro because of their natural similarities. First, obviously, they are both straight men from Texas. Yes, despite Beto’s claim that “There’s one candidate who’s there who can talk about the profoundly positive impact that immigrants have had on our safety and our security, as well as our success and our strength,” he is not the only one. Castro not only comes from an immigrant family but was born and raised in San Antonio. San Antonio is not only the home of the Alamo, historically it was a part of Mexico, and currently over 60% of the population is Hispanic or Latino. At the age of 26, Castro became the youngest city councilman to serve in San Antonio’s history. In 2009, he became the youngest mayor of a top-50 American city and was named Time magazine’s 40 under 40 list for America’s up and coming political leaders.

Yet, time and time again, white men continue to get the upper hand in the name of charisma, wide appeal, and a “fresh perspective.” It seems that Beto, unlike some of the other candidates, has the option to lean and run on personality rather than a list of detailed policy plans and decisions. This week, it was released that O’Rourke raised $6.1 million online in the first 24 hours of him campaign according to The New York Times. This officially surpassed Bernie Sanders for the most money raised in one-day by a Democratic candidate. It seems every news outlet across the country plastered this headline over and over. However, while this statistic shows promise it definitely isn’t indicative of who will win, or who should win, particularly when considering gender. According to The Center for Responsive Politics, while women make up half of the population, they donate less than 30% of all campaign contributions. Last year, NPR discovered that democratic men running for congress out-raise democratic female candidates on average by 500,000 dollars. The fact is that mostly men hold the purse strings to political money in this country and to use the amount of money raised as an indication of success is not accurate. So yes, O’Rourke raised an outrageous amount of money, but he did so without a detailed policy plan or outline of what he was running on.

Not only is O’Rourke one of the least experienced, according to Vox, his voting record is actually more conservative than the average Democrat. In the 113th U.S. Congress, from January 2013 to January 2015, O’Rourke voted more conservative than 76 percent of Democrats. And in the 114th Congress, he was more conservative than 79 percent of Democrats. And in the 115th Congress, he was more conservative than 77 percent of Democrats. This is more conservative on average than Harris, Booker, Gillibrand, and Warren. So the idea that O’Rourke is somehow a liberal breath of fresh air to the Democratic party is built on personality, not substance.

In this upcoming election, the coverage and hype factor has consistently favored white men. Whether it’s the young newcomer from Texas, Beto O’Rourke or two veteran politicians like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, candidates who are people of color or women are not given the benefit of the doubt. Instead they are consistently expected to politely step aside and wait in line. Too often political coverage is gendered. Too often female candidates receive coverage for their clothes, makeup choices, or a lip syncing breakfast club style music video. Too often people of color are criticized for using divisive language or have to endure coded racist descriptions. Too often women of color are dismissed or worse forced to endure racist actions from their own constituents. Too often men receive the benefit of the doubt, leaving policy decisions in the background while reporters anoint them with labels like charisma and electability.

I hope in 2020 we do not repeat the mistakes of the past — that our media covers and outlines policies instead of personalities. Elizabeth Warren has already released a plan to end Washington corruption. Kamala Harris has released her plan to fight inequality with LIFT the Middle Class Act, while Julián Castro has called for universal health care and reparations. These are the issues that reporters have a responsibility to cover. We cannot have another election where an escalator ride receives more coverage than a comprehensive plan for criminal justice reform. We cannot have another election where the media plays right into the hands of a racist and sexist President. America might not survive it.

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“Roma” and the Pressure to Represent all of the Latinx Experience

“I’m Mexican.”

That’s something I say sometimes. Mostly to people who are (rudely) asking “where are you [really] from?” And sometimes to those who take my light skin as an invitation to say something racist. Every once in a while to a fellow Latinx person as we share experiences.

The thing is, though, I’m not really Mexican. I’m the descendant – the granddaughter to be precise – of people who immigrated from Mexico. When I go see my extended family, I go to Los Angeles. I don’t know a single relative who lives in Mexico. And even if I did, I’d be too embarrassed by my Spanish/Spanglish to really connect. So yeah, I’m not really “Mexican,” I’m more Mexican American/Chicana/Latinx, a product of a culture that systematically was forced to mix and assimilate.

All the same, I went into Roma expecting to see myself or at least my family reflected back to me. Latinas are the least represented group in US media when compared to our actual numbers and here is a ten-time Oscar nominee with two of Latinas as the stars! I couldn’t wait to watch it and get the rare glimpse of my identity on screen. After all, we do buy the most movie tickets every year AND have the highest rates of Netflix subscriptions.

Latinas are the least represented group in US media when compared to our actual numbers and here is a ten-time Oscar nominee with two of Latinas as the stars! I couldn’t wait to watch it and get the rare glimpse of my identity on screen.

Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleodegaria Gutiérrez, one of two indigenous maids and the primary caretaker of a white Mexican family, living in the upper-middle-class Mexico City neighborhood of Roma. The film follows Cleo through a year in her life, starting in 1970, during which big events shake her life and the broader world she lives in. This is the year the patriarch and Cleo’s employer leaves his family – his wife, four children, and extended household, never to return. It’s the year Cleo gets pregnant and experiences her own abandonment with the child’s father disavowing her. It’s also the year of El Halconazo or Corpus Christi Massacre, in which government forces kill around 120 people for participating in student demonstrations in DF. And it’s the year Luis Echeverría becomes President of Mexico, seizing land belonging to the likes of Cleo’s mother. Throughout these events, both personal and political, Cleo stands in the center with the male characters relegated to supporting roles.

Roma is a biography of sorts for writer, director, and cinematographer, Alfonso Cuarón. One of the leading voices in the Nuevo Cine Mexicano (along with Gonzalez Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro), Cuarón based Roma on his own memories of being one of the children in the aforementioned family. The film is shot in black and white and brings into focus the small details of Cleo’s life – where she puts the dishes before turning off the lights, the song she sings to wake up the children, the sounds it makes when she cleans up the dog shit.

In the film, the children are a gaggle of ill-behaved, loved, and loving creatures who Cleo manages and clearly adores. We also see the family’s mother Sofia, played by Marina de Tavira, alternate between cruel and kind to her children, herself, and particularly Cleo as she adjusts to her new position as a woman without a husband.

Roma is nominated for all the awards and I’m particularly excited to see Latinas finally breaking barriers in their categories. If Yalitza Aparicio wins for Best Actress, she’ll be the first Latina to do so and the first indigenous woman at that. Gabriela Rodriguez could be the first Latina to win a Best Picture Oscar and Marina de Tavira would be only the second Latina to ever win Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars (shout out to Rita Moreno for being the first)!

That’s who I come from. A mix of White and indigenous folks who left Mexico and got jumbled together because, even though colorism is real and dangerous in these Estados Unidos, once anyone from Latin America crosses the border, they become just another ‘dirty Mexican.’

At this moment, Roma is THE movie about the Latinx experience in the way that Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther represented those communities. And yet, as a Mexican American/Chicana/Latinx person who loved the film, cried watching it, and tries to catch everything Cuarón does, I didn’t see myself in it. You see, my family story is hard to square with the world of Roma. If we exist at all in the film’s universe, it’d have to be long before Cleo goes to work for Sofia. My family is more like if Cleo’s grandmother’s sister and Sofia’s grandfather’s cousin both migrated to the US separately, met and got married here, and started a whole other family. That’s who I come from. A mix of White and indigenous folks who left Mexico and got jumbled together because, even though colorism is real and dangerous in these Estados Unidos, once anyone from Latin America crosses the border, they become just another “dirty Mexican.”

I’m not saying the differences between White and Indigenous Latinos do not exist. Or are not substantial. In fact, I’d argue the opposite – the racial divide among Latinx people is often ignored in the US to our peril. Roma is telling an important story. It’s just not a story that includes large portions of the population, like me. And that would be fine except if Roma somehow becomes the end-all-be-all of how we understand the Latinx experience. Certainly, it’s the only movie about us that’s broken through this year. And when you look back at the record, it’s the only film about Latinas that’s EVER received this level of attention (remember how Rita Moreno is the only Latina to have won an acting Oscar? And for West Side Story way back in 1961 – a film that came out over 50 years ago and is arguably not about what it means to be Latina…).

The thing is, I don’t fault Roma for not including me. It’s not fair to expect any single piece of art to represent a group as vast as the Latinx community – we’re talking about more than a continent full of people here! But the pressure is still there, the hope, and the expectation.

The thing is, I don’t fault Roma for not including me.

Because I so rarely get the chance to see myself on screen, each time is fraught with more meaning than it should hold. It’s not like I’m a white guy who sees the complexity of my experience everywhere I go. As a Latina, we don’t have much. We have the commodification of Frida Kahlo. The emerging consensus that original EGOT-winner Rita Moreno deserves a lot of backdated respect. We have Jennifer Lopez in that green Versace dress now and forever. And we have Sofia Vergara’s paycheck. Note that none of them are Mexican American like me (even though we make up more than half the Latino/Hispanic population in the US).

I hope Roma wins all the awards. I also hope it leads to more representations of the Latinx experience. After all, it’s a beautiful story that centers Mexican women in a way you almost never see. It’s just not my story and that’s ok.

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Jane, Eve, Issa

Some 75% percent of our media comes from the white, male perspective and it all feels the same to me: tired. Men have been speaking for so long, it’s like they’ve run out of things to say (not that the prospect of repeating themselves is getting them to shut up).

Luckily, there’s a lot of amazing, women-centered media out there from comedies to thrillers to prestige dramas. To help you avoid the same old, I’ve pulled together the ten shows I’m most looking forward to in 2019 — that all just happen to center women (last year’ spoilers ahead):

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies

The award-winning first season of Big Little Lies featured Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley as mothers in the elite community of Monterrey, CA, subverting the superficial suburban mom trope and portraying domestic violence in a more thoughtful way than I’ve seen before.

The second season, set to premiere in 2019, is a bit of coup — partly because the first season wasn’t supposed to be a “season” at all but rather a self-contained mini-series and partly because it was based on a book with no sequel. But the market talks and season two is bringing in none other than Meryl Streep, promising more of Zoë Kravitz’s character Bonnie Carlson, and (finally) featuring a woman director. Count me in.

Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife

Taking place in 1960’s London, each episode (for seven seasons and counting) of Call the Midwife features at least one birth, depicted with unusual candor, sympathy, and heroism. The show has not been great on race (the first two plots with Black characters featured interracial babies born of affairs between Black men and white women) but Call the Midwife added a Black nurse in season seven and has since been clearly trying to address its wrongs.

Centered on women and our bodies — both the act of giving birth and the physical nature of nursing — Call the Midwife dramatizes aspects of the human experience we rarely see. With season eight coming in 2019, tune into this show for beautiful costumes, a warm vision of humanity, and women as nurses, nuns, and mothers.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Round Up

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

This musical comedy exploring mental health issues and the false romance narratives that bombard women, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend manages to leave you humming and thinking. This year will complete its final and forth season and lots of questions remain: what does a happy ending look like when it comes to mental health? Will Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca end up with one of her past flames? Or would she be better off alone?

As I’ve written before, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a feminist project, featuring a diverse cast and re-writing the rules of who can be loved. It’s also one of the least watched shows on television so it’s good to support and show content makers that audiences will tune into quality, feminist content. Plus, there’s lots of salty pretzels.

The Crown

The Crown

Netflix’s budget-busting juggernaut, The Crown, is back for a third season with a new cast as the Queen and her royal family age. I’ll miss Claire Foy’s ability to be emote without emoting, simultaneously expressing power and insecurity. That said, I trust the show creators to cast well again and this time hopefully without a gender pay-gap from the beginning.

I’ve learned a lot of history from this show as the Queen engages in nearly seven decades of world events. And while the colonial perspective can be rough (who cares how the monarch feels when its millions of brown people risking their lives for their self determination?), the show explores the difference between public and private personas beautifully while offering a unique insight into privileged British life.

Grey’s Anatomy

Set to become the longest running medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy will finish up its 15th season and probably run the first half of its 16th in 2019. Shonda Rhimes is no longer involved in the day-to-day but seasons 1-7 veteran Krista Vernoff is at the helm and bringing the show back to its old stalwarts: love-triangles, extreme medical situations, steamy hospital romances. I love Grey’s and having it made it this far, plan to see it to the end.

Grey’s Anatomy has always featured a diverse and inspiring depiction of leadership, excellence, and sexuality and that hasn’t changed. And as the titular Dr. Grey has gone from starry-eyed intern to widowed, award-winning physician, these fifteen years have allowed us the rare treat of watching a complicated woman’s evolution and continued adventures, sexual and otherwise, into middle age.

Insecure

Insecure

I’m excited for the fourth season of Issa Rae’s Insecure, coming out in 2019. Following a group of “basic,” 30-something Black women in LA, Insecure deserves all the awards for its hilarious exploration of identity, romance, and what it means to be a striving Black woman. It’s fixed everything you hated in Girls and Sex in the City, somehow making you nostalgic for your old, shitty apartments and ringing humor out of racial injustices large and small.

Season four promises to be just as good with the group’s lives only getting messier as Issa and her best friend Yvonne Orji’s Molly Carter date roommates and Issa seemingly going into business with her ex’s current partner. Bonus points of you watch live with Black Twitter.

Jane the Virgin

It’s Jane the Virgin’s final season and I’ll miss the Villanuevas. This Americanized telenovela started with an accidental, artificial insemination and has built upon this fantastical premise to explore motherhood, class, racial identity, Catholicism, and immigration to name just a few. The original love triangle seems to be back with Brett Dier of Michael Cordero fame returning in the season four finale to mess up the expected proposal between Justin Baldoni’s Rafael and Gina Rodriguez’s Jane.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a more thoughtful, fun, and heartwarming portrayal of Latina identidad on television. In fact, the show’s secret weapon seems to be its compassion for all its characters — mothers of all stripes and types, people rich and working class, women with hugely different attitudes toward sex — allowing the viewers to sympathize with each end of spectrums we normally find so polarizing. Also Jamie Camil is an international treasure.

Killing Eve

Killing Eve has everything spy aficionados could want: globe trotting, international intrigue, double crosses, and murder. Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri, the bored M16 operative, became the first Asian women nominated for a lead actress Emmy and is set to host the Golden Globes. Her talent is met by Jodie Comer’s diabolical assassin, Villanelle. The binge-able BBC hit is now on Hulu and season two is slated for release in 2019.

With all the trappings of a traditional thriller, the woman-ness of Killing Eve is unmistakable. Both the killer and detective are women and that opens up new avenues of psychological intrigue like when Villanelle, obsessed with Eve, fills her suitcase with beautiful, perfectly fitting clothes and sends it to her house, managing to fulfill a female fantasy and threaten her love object at the same time. The sexual tension between Eve and Villanelle further heightens the drama (particularly in contrast to Eve’s relatable but boring relationship with her husband) as does the female-gaze of the camera work. With Oh and Comer signed up for the second season, 2019 is sure to bring more of the steamy, pulse-racing fun.

Shrill

Based on the book by the same name by Lindy West, Shrill is set to premiere in 2019 starring and co-written by Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant and produced by Elizabeth Banks. Those names are enough to get me excited — especially because I love Lindy West. She came up as a journalist under Dan Savage, helped pioneer Jezebel, and has since graduated to a feminist New York Times column and writing best-selling books.

Shrill is West’s memoir, telling the story of a fat young woman who’s striving to improve her life and career but not her body. All of which makes it the perfect vehicle for Bryant and I can’t wait to catch it on Hulu.

Vida

Vida

Latinas are the least represented demographic in media so a show that’s Mexican, queer, and ambitious has me tuning in. Starz’ Vida follows two Latinx sisters returning to Boyle Heights to take over the family business after their mother’s death. There, they confront gentrification, their mother’s lesbianism, and aspects of their own identity.

Picked up for a second season in 2019, Vida is clear in its intention to expand the portrayal of Latina and Latinx experience on TV. Latinx show creator Tanya Saracho has spoken out about how she uses her success to lift up la raza and the show even has a Latina behind the camera in Carmen Cabana — this despite the notoriety of cinematography for how few women fill its ranks even in the sexist entertainment industry.

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Am I Missing The Point of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”?

I love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This feminist-musical-dramedy manages to make me laugh, think critically about society, and hum its original tunes days after watching. The show centers around Rebecca Bunch, a woman with profound mental health problems, who is trying to figure out who she is in love and life. I’ve never consumed a piece of media – book, movie, podcast, TV show, you name it – that more meaningfully takes on mental health issues with this level of compassion, clarity, and humor.

The show is feminist at its core. It centers women with the most important relationships being between Rebecca and Paula. And while both these women are white and straight, the show widens with their circle of friends and coworkers to include the panoply of Southern California’s diversity. The West Covina of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is rich with Latino, Asian, Black, White, and mixed-race characters who also happen to be straight, gay, and bi while of different ages, weights, and socioeconomic classes. You know, like life.

And when it comes to romantic relationships, the show disrupts the usual tropes. Yes, the plot of the first two seasons revolves around Rebecca trying to win the affections of one Josh Chan. An Asian American man, already Josh is not your usual love object: on screen Asian men are more likely to be discounted as possible romantic partners or erased entirely. And while he blessedly does not end up with Rebecca, Josh remains attractive throughout the show. Further subverting the typical romance narrative, his most attractive feature is NOT his bulging biceps (although him carrying a desk with a single arm in a recent episode was impressive) but rather his large heart and sweet nature. And taking it to the next level is the fact that Rebecca and Valencia (Josh’s girlfriend at the start of the show and thus, Rebecca’s primary rival) end up as friends. No women as natural enemies here.

Now in its fourth and final season, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has shown Rebecca outgrowing her obsession with Josh Chan and learning to define herself outside of her relationship status. This progression is central to the show, evidenced everywhere from the show’s title to its theme song, which changes each season. In the first song, Rebecca is called the crazy ex-girlfriend of the show’s title and so defined from the male point of view. In season two, she’s taken the reigns but her identity still revolves around Josh (the refrain goes “you can’t call her crazy, ‘cause when you call her crazy, you’re just calling her in love!”). By season three, Josh is out of the picture and Rebecca’s theme (and the season) is all about what it means to be “crazy” aka mentally ill. Now, in the fourth and final sequence, the opening song doesn’t feature love or craziness at all but rather Rebecca sitting on a bench being somehow hard to define. She’s come a long way baby.

So yes, I’d argue watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is an inherently feminist activity. Particularly because the show remains among the LEAST watched shows on prime-time, network TV three years running. Except, watching this final season, I can’t help hoping that Rebecca ends up with Nathaniel. Yes, I know I just said the whole point of the show is for Rebecca to learn that she doesn’t need a man! And I’m into that. But I still want her to get back together with him. And for those of you who aren’t watching, no Nathaniel isn’t some feminist-sanctioned ideal mate. He may be the exact opposite – straight and skinny and white and rich and an asshole. He’s privilege embodied and has the entitlement to prove it. The show’s creators joked they cast him because they thought having at least one “typical” character (aka a conventionally attractive white guy) would up their ratings.

So how could this woman-centered, gender-equality love fest have me turning to Roxane Gay for comfort about the state of my feminist card? Am I a Bad Feminist? How could I possibly be rooting for Nathaniel to end up with our girl Rebecca? Well, to start, they have a lot in common. For one, he’s just as messed up as she is. They both have done terrible things like ordering hits on people only to back out later. They both have terrible family lives. Rebecca’s deadbeat dad and overly critical mother are matched by Nathaniel’s withholding, perfectionist parents – with both kids still stuck in the trying-to-earn-withheld-love cycle of self-hate. And they both have bought into false narratives about what will make them happy. Rebecca’s spent all four seasons chasing damaging ideas about what love and success looks like for a woman, believing the right guy or promotion will solve her inner turmoil. Likewise, Nathaniel tries all these extreme masculine things to feel better (or nothing at all) like a survivalist camping experience to name just one of the more ridiculous. Obviously none of it works. Fulfillment is not to be found in some sort of gender-essentialist identity script.

This similarity in their journeys makes me think they could be happy together. They could learn how to be better together. Isn’t that type of mutual growth the real relationship goals? Now Rebecca has done more work than Nathaniel. He’d definitely need to start regularly going to therapy for them to have a chance. But I could see that happening. After all, Josh Chan is learning how to turn his sunny disposition and propensity toward kindness into emotional intelligence via therapy – surely Nathaniel can experience similar growth. Also, Nathaniel’s already learning the old patterns don’t work for him and is trying new things. He recognizes that he needs love and that having sex, working out, and making lots of money no longer fulfill him. He’s trying to be kinder, opening up to Heather and Bert in a recent episode, practicing basic human decency at work, learning that doing the right thing can actually feel good. He’s on the path to change.

Now I’m not saying Rebecca would be completed by teaching some asshole guy how to be whole again. Or that she needs a relationship to be happy. BUT one of the things that draws me to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is how it leads with compassion for each of its characters, no matter how silly or unlikable.

In most shows, we wouldn’t be rooting for Rebecca, the crazy ex-girlfriend, not to mention the rest of the misfits that surround her: a middle-aged mom who looks like your neighbor, a bisexual male attorney who’s only real skill is parenting, a beefy surf bro who doesn’t surf. And yet we do because the show leads with compassion while unblinkingly portraying people who make mistakes and do bad things. It’s pretty revolutionary. And what’s more revolutionary than the feminist rehabilitation of the privileged white man? Not much. Certainly if we could change them, we’d have changed the world. So maybe that’s what I’m rooting for when I ship Rebecca and Nathaniel: the destruction of white patriarchal norms, replaced by empathy and hot, consensual sex. Or maybe I’m just a bad feminist.

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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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