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Television

SBTB Key Art

The Saved by the Bell reboot premiered last week and it appears to be… good? There’s nostalgia yes, but that doesn’t usually equal rave reviews from the establishment (like the New York Times). Of course, we believe its success can be found in its latindad – it stars TWO Latinas in Haskiri Velazquez and Alycia Pascual-Pena and Maria Lopez (you may know him from The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia) is a producer. But what do Latinas think? Turns out, we’re pretty into it.

SAVED BY THE BELL -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: Haskiri Velazquez as Daisy -- (Photo by: Casey Durkin/Peacock)

Meet Saved by the Bell’s Haskiri Velazquez, Bayside High’s new Zack Morris

For EW, our favorite Station 19 fan Rosy Cordero notes that the new Zack Morris is a Latinx woman (and interviews the actress who plays her): “Haskiri Velazquez is taking over Zack’s power to freeze time and break the fourth wall as the character Daisy Jimenez on Peacock’s Saved by the Bell revival… [And] she’s elated about what the character will mean to young Latinas.” Read her full coverage.

SAVED BY THE BELL -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mitchell Hoog as Mac Morris, Josie Totah as Lexi, Alycia Pascual-Pena as Aisha, Haskiri Velazquez as Daisy -- (Photo by: Chris Haston/Peacock)

TV Review: Saved by the Bell Hilariously Returns on Peacock

Meanwhile Diandra of Diandra Reviews it All raves, “Saved By The Bell (2020) is fantastic, and the funniest show to come out this year, which, again, is surprising. The original Saved by the Bell (SBTB) was not really funny. It was campy, colorful, and one of those shows that was so bad it was good. The reboot embraces the original’s 90s colorfulness and camp and vamps it up with Gen-Z’s flashiness, activism, and irreverent humor.” Read her full review.

Meet the Reinvented Saved by the Bell Leading Latinx Ladies, Haskiri Velazquez, and Alycia Pascual-Peña

For Hola!, Jovita Trujillo interviewed not one but both Latina stars, declaring, “Fans of the original show can expect to find easter eggs throughout the season. But even more exciting, they can expect to fall in love with the new Latinx leading ladies Haskiri Velazquez and Alycia Pascual-Peña. Pascual-Peña is a young, up-and-coming, Afro-Latina actress from New York. She’ll next be seen in the upcoming film Moxie, directed by Amy Poehler. On the other hand, Velazquez is a multitalented up-and-coming actress making her mark as one of the most exciting newcomers in the industry.” Read the full interview.

Saved by the Bell original cast

Saved by the Bell Reboot: Is it Worth Your Time?

EIC of Fangirlish and friend of LatinaMedia.co, Lissete Lanuza Sáenz is also a fan (in spite of herself), writing “New characters, a new outlook and some diversity make this the right reboot for the year 2020, and I cannot believe I’m typing this, one of the best reboots so far… A Black teenager and two Latinas, one of them Afro-latina, carry this reboot to new heights, not just because they’re allowed to be who they are and sometimes argue in Spanish – but because the show is never about their identities, but somehow those identities aren’t sanitized either.” Read her full review.

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Eater's Guide to the World

Remember restaurants? I do — even if I haven’t eaten in one since March. I used to love going to fancy and hole-in-the-wall places trying familiar dishes or new foods entirely. It was fun and communal and it’s gone now, thanks Coronavirus. Cooking at home is not the same, no matter how healthy your sourdough starter. Luckily we still have food TV.

Pardon my metaphor but cooking shows are the comfort food of television, both unchallenging and pleasant to consume. Hulu’s Eater’s Guide to the World is all these things but it’s also a vision into what our media would be if it reflected actual reality. You know — if it weren’t so white, so male, so in love with the powers that be.

In Eater’s Guide to the World, Los Angeles is as important as New York, each getting their own episodes and cameos. Latin America takes up two-out-of-the-three trips abroad (it IS the closest) with episodes focusing on Mexico and Costa Rica (and the third, Morocco). In a slight to colonizers everywhere, the show doesn’t even bother with Europe, something those of us with roots in the global south have to cackle at. In this world, cabbies have as much culinary insight as academics. In the New York episode, we spend time at a 24-hour badminton club mostly filled with cab drivers (and one student!) learning about their favorite snacks. And Eater’s Guide to the World takes their late-night gastronomic preferences as seriously as it does Dr. Sharon Suh who appears in the first episode and presents her theory on mindful eating. Both groups get equal time and the same tone, making them of equal interest and giving them the same level of respect.

Eater's Guide to the World
This close-up of a NY empanada makes me want to check my frig and do my nails — not usually impulses I get at the same time!

This is the world I actually live in. It’s delicious and brown and egalitarian. I don’t define a person’s worth by the power, money or accolades they have. Instead, I try to treat everyone with respect, knowing everyone has a story and something to contribute. Now I don’t normally turn to cooking shows for validation of this worldview or political commentary. But as a Latina TV critic, it is rare that I see a mainstream show that makes me feel seen and Eater’s Guide to the World does just that.

I’m not saying it’s perfect. Maya Rudolph is a great narrator but the mix of edgy and earnest lines they stick her with can feel forced. For example, there’s lots of swearing in the show but it doesn’t really do much, just signal that they’re trying to be cool. I mean, I’m an adult — I only notice swearing when it’s trying too hard (and it’s trying too hard here). This attempt at edginess is particularly silly when paired with lines like calling the Costa Rican abuela “95 years young” — talk about cheesy and precious at its worst (even if Rudolph does what she can with it).

Plus, for me, the entire concept of the first episode “Dining Alone in the Pacific Northwest” doesn’t work. You can’t really capture what it’s like to eat alone since by having a film crew there the eater’s not alone, particularly when they’re speaking directly to the camera,. But thankfully, the other themes are compelling (eating on the hood of your car in LA, where to stop on your way to the airport), so go ahead and skip the first episode, circling back if you’re still hungry at the end.

Eater's Guide to the World
Have had this. Would recommend.

Overall, this show’s appealing view of humanity manages to be both sweet and savory (get it? wink, wink). The culinary delights mostly come from POC hands and the white folks that do appear are not more “normal” than their darker counterparts. The implied viewer is adventurous and multicultural, as interested in what drag queens eat after finishing their sets as in lost maiz varieties having a renaissance in Mexico. It’s nice. And it’s a reminder that food is a universal language, one that Eater’s Guide to the World uses to show it is both normal and delicious to be Latina, Black, queer, Asian, etc. ¡Buen provecho!

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Presidents Better than Trump

The man has been voted out of office and we are breathing a sigh of relief. In fact, we’re ready to have the last laugh That’s why we’re imagining the fictional (actual or would-be) Presidents who would have done a better job the last four years. This is definitely not a list of best TV and movie presidents (there are many of those). No one played by Harrison Ford, Geena Davis, or Dennis Haysbert appears on it. There’s no President Bartlett or his equally improbable and impressive peers. We’re not talking the greats here. No, this is a list of presidential villains, traitors, and idiots. A list of fictional ne’er-do-wells who would all make better Presidents than the 45th person who actually held the office. Shall we?

House of Cards (2013–2018)

There are three Presidents on House of Cards per my count and they’re all better than one Donald Trump! There’s Garrett Walker, who’s kind-hearted but easily influenced. There’s Frank Underwood, who’s an evil murderer and master manipulator (or what you might call a skilled politician). And there’s my favorite, Claire Underwood, who is cold, calculating, and ruthless but actually interested in governing. See how they all have an upside?

Wag the Dog (1997)

To distract from a sex scandal, the President in this film fakes a war, distracting the American people and hoping to look like a hero. He’s clearly ok with lying but at least appears to know the difference between fact and fiction. Plus, the idea that a sex scandal is embarrassing (rather than something to be proud of) and the military is myth-making magic (rather than comprised of “losers”) undergirds Wag the Dog and reminds us of simpler times.

Veep (2012–2019)

We’re going to focus on the titular Selina Meyer here since she does become President and we never see President Hughes anyway. Like someone else we know, she’s an incompetent narcissist who lacks basic human abilities but at least is genuinely funny. Plus, while she may be racist, her brand of prejudice is more the microaggression kind and less the refuses-to-condemn-white-supremacy, separates-you-from-your-kids kind.

Dave (1993)

In Dave, a random guy who does Presidential impersonations ends up taking the office after the actual President falls into a coma during a love affair gone wrong. Titular everyman Dave turns out to be a good person, more driven by doing what’s right than seeking power, fame, or fortune. I’d take a Trump impersonator who cares about things like the homeless and full employment instead of what we had any day.

SCANDAL – “Transfer of Power” – In the final days of his presidency, Fitz uses his power to make some unexpected changes, on “Scandal,” airing THURSDAY, MAY 18 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Richard Cartwright) TONY GOLDWYN, BELLAMY YOUNG

Scandal (2012–2018)

Scandal’s Fitzgerald “Fitz” Thomas Grant III is not a great guy. He cheats on his wife, abuses his mistress, and you know, undermines democracy. Sure, he doesn’t know his team steals the election for him but he does know about the secret, extra-governmental force B613 and is cool with it. Yet, I’d rather have him (or his (ex)wife Millie) as President than Donald — at least you’d know that hyper-competent if morally-questionable Olivia Pope would really be at the helm.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004 and 1962)

Yes, the would-be-President in question here is brainwashed and mind-controlled, but he fights the powers that would see such a comprised figure in office, resisting his programming to the point of turning his gun on himself. Manchurian Candidate Raymond Shaw is a tragic figure, but ultimately a hero unlike, say, someone who willingly collaborates with a foreign power for personal gain…

Homeland (2011–2020)

Our (white) girl Carrie Mathison makes it through several US Presidents and while none of them make the best choices, we’d still take any of them over the Donald. There’s Elizabeth Keane, a stand-in for the actual 2016 favorite Hilary Clinton. Keane survives an assassination attempt only to turn on the entire intelligence community and endanger American ideals (like innocent until proven guilty). She’s a complicated figure but she does the right thing in the end, resigning so as to heal the country. A Biden-like centrist takes over but is quickly dispatched (helicopter goes bye-bye) and replaced with the most Trump-like character on this list, President Benjamin Hayes. He’s an idiot who’s quick to be influenced by other idiots and sees what he wants to see. But! He eventually learns, believes, and responds appropriately to the truth. Sounds pretty good, huh?

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Justina Machado in One Day at a Time

It’s no wonder that Justina Machado broke out on Six Feet Under. The show centers on the whitey, white, white undertaker Fisher family and the quietness that consumes them. Machado plays Vanessa Diaz, wife of expert corpse restorer and eventual partner Frederico. And she pops against Six Feet Under’s muted background, stealing every scene she’s in with warmth, humor, and humanity. In the nearly ten years since Six Feet Under premiered, we’ve learned to expect such amazing performances from Puerto Rican Machado. And we’re grateful for it.

It’s hard to make a Latinx show without her – she’s Carmen on Elena of Avalar, Reina on Devious Maids, and Maya on Superstore. And even when she’s surrounded by loud and proud fellow Latinxs, she stands out. Remember Darci Factor on Jane the Virgin? As the match-maker reality star, Machado met our favorite Jamie Camil’s Rogelia De La Vega toe to toe, managing to be just as silly, ridiculous, and likeable. She also got possibly the best line on Queen of the South (“Is America as bad as everybody says it is?”) believably playing an over-the-top street-smart, kept Mexican woman who learns how to run her own product after her cartel-member husband is executed for his lack of loyalty. And she did it wearing “leather” jeggings for half a season. A true reina.

With that killer resume, Machado is having a much deserved moment right now. She’s killing it on Dancing with the Stars, making it to the top tier with no sign of stopping. Her One Day At A Time just aired three episodes on CBS, having made the leap from Netflix to CBS’s Pop. And by all accounts, (and our bias) she’s a genuinely nice person.

That’s what makes her Penelope on ODAAT so great. Yes, she’s funny and relatable as the veteran mom trying to raise two kids with the help of her aging but unstoppable mother (national treasure Rita Moreno). But the real reason the show works so well is just how much we root for Machado. We want her to succeed at work (get your RN), at home (get those kids to college), in love (climb that mountain of a man), and really everywhere she goes. She’s the heart and soul of the show and we can watch her do that forever.

In fact, Justina Machado is one of those actors who you’ll watch whatever they’re in because they’re in it. This is our love letter to her, a Latina queen in a time when it’s pretty hard to even get on TV. One Day at a Time should be a studio-exec no brainer but it’s fighting for renewal again because of the prejudice against Latinx content (don’t tell us it’s the ratings – it’s not). There’s still not enough parts for Latinas, even as Machado’s talent obviously is keeping her pretty busy (did you see her dramatic side in the 2020 Netflix film All Together Now?). For now, we just want to celebrate Latinx excellence and excellence is Justina Machado.

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Scandal, Killing Eve, and Roswell

We have no idea what’s going to happen. We don’t know who’s going to win the election, when we’ll know the results, or how Trump and his cronies will respond to any of it. We do know that sitting in front of the TV, watching mostly white male pundits flap their jaws in the face of all this uncertainly sounds like torture. They don’t know what’s going to happen either and they’ll mostly just repeat themselves as facts trickle in.

It’s only the future of the free world at stake! There’s got to be a better way. So while we’ll definitely be following favorites like Soledad O’Brien and Maria Hinojosa on Twitter, we need something to watch so as not to go insane. And we bet you do too.

Flowers
No

The Political

If you just can’t think of anything besides politics, we don’t blame you. It’s pretty all-consuming right now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn off CNN and escape the 2020 election cycle for a hot minute, assuming you already did your thing in terms of participation (and I bet you did because voter turn out is HIGH and I got A LOT of texts about the candidates/propositions/etc.).

So if you want to feel optimistic about the power of democracy, check out No. Starring our forever crush Gael Garcia Bernal, this delightful film follows how Chile overturned brutal dictator Pinochet through optimism and voting. Sounds good right?

If you’re more reveling in cynicism, go back to 1999’s Election, starring Reese Witherspoon. This high school satire has a scathing view of ambition, politics, and general human nature so it just might be what you want to watch right now.

Or if you’re more in the middle, feeling neither hopeful nor an impending sense of doom, go ahead and re-watch Scandal. At least in this fictional universe, everyone in office is beautiful and election rigging is purely a domestic affair.

Jane the Virgin

The Warm and Fuzzy

But maybe you want to get as far away from politics as humanly possible. Maybe you just want to watch something under a warm blanket that makes you feel cozy and optimistic. In that case, binge our favorite family comedies and restore your sense of basic human decency.

Jane the Virginwill always hold a special place in our hearts and now that we know how the whole love triangle thing ends, we can watch without worrying. So perhaps start your re-watch election night and just keep going until we know who the next President is?

Or take this moment to enjoy One Day At A Time. It’s one of the rare shows about a Latinx family being made right now and its star power is undeniable (as they said on the premiere of This is Us, “you don’t cancel Rita Moreno”).

If you’re too worried about your actual family to watch a Latinx show, let us suggest Schitt’s Creek. Make it through the first few episodes where every Rose family member is undeniably horrible and you’ll find a show that critiques whiteness and privilege as it celebrates humanity’s flaws, foibles, and capacity to change. Comforting, right?

Killing Eve

The Ultimate Distractions

But perhaps you’re not in the mood to be comforted. Maybe you just need something that will distract you long enough to know what the next fight will be. If that’s your situation, watch Killing Eve. You’ll be dying to know what happens next, what Villanelle wears next, and how Sandra Oh manages to be so incredible at everything she does.

If lady spies aren’t your thing (or you’re watching with a man-friend), slip into early aughts nostalgia with the newest Roswell. I believe it technically takes place today but the songs and costumes harken to an earlier era. Plus star Jeanine Mason is the heroine we need right now.

Lastly, let us recommend Away. Go ahead and skip the first episode of this Hilary Swank vehicle if you want to get distracted and you’ll quickly be sucked into the real-life dangers astronauts face. This series gets so much drama out of a spacewalk, a case of mono, even just watering a plant, it’s amazing. Plus, you know, human goodness triumphs in the end.

Flowers

So happy viewing — we’ll make it through this all together and as AOC says, no matter who wins, “We have to be better. We’re not good enough right now.”

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Latinxs in Space

Latinxs in Space

by Cristina Escobar

Sci-fi is singular because of where it can take us— with Star Trek, I get this sense of hope that humanity will learn to rise above the prejudices that define our current world. With Battlestar Galactica, I question fate and the limits of human ingenuity. With Star Wars, I delve into the delightful idea that all living beings are connected and that life itself has its own power (the Force — you dummies). It’s a way to reflect on and examine our current reality without having to look directly at it, like when you watch an eclipse’s reflection rather than looking directly at the sun.

And that holds true even for race. While most shows in space have done away with the social construct of race as we know it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still affect how we view those shows. We, the audience aren’t living in a post-racial reality so, of course, our understanding of say Blackness colors our interpretations of a Lando Calrissian or a Captain Benjamin Sisko. Shows like Battlestar and The Expanse use their futuristic setting to comment on the present in ways that other shows can’t (or won’t), further lending their sci-fi credentials to a social justice framing of our modern times.

All of which is to say, I just want to see some Latinxs in space. In these dark times, I want to envision a future where we keep our culture and our difference but our fates are not determined by them. I want to visit a future where together we “boldy go where no one has gone before.” You know? And I want that future to include Latinxs. For our stories, our bodies, our futures to be just as important as everyone else’s. So join me in celebrating these, my favorite Latinxs in space:

Captain William Adama

Battlestar Galactica: Edward James Olmos as Captain William Adama

Can humanity survive itself? Maybe not! But our chances are a lot better with Edward James Olmos (and Mary McDonnell) in charge. Olmos plays Captain William Adama and while it’s not clear that “Latinxs” exist in a future in which humanity doesn’t even know where Earth is, the name “Adama” paired with the casting of Olmos is surely a nod to our continued existence. Plus, Olmos plays a Latinx type we can all recognize — the sidelined leader sticking to the old ways, long after they fell out of fashion. I certainly wish we had more of this type of leadership, now throwback to Stand and Deliver.

Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres

Star Trek: Roxann Dawson as Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres

Sometimes I think we’d be better off ditching “Latinx” and instead embracing a term like “mestizo” (mestizx?), one that recognizes that our identity is not founded in the place of Latin America but rather in the aftermath of colonization and the ensuing, fraught mixing of our ancestors’ cultures. We’re “ni de aquí, ni de allá” no matter where we are or presumably, how far we go. That’s what makes Roxann Dawson’s half-human, half Klingon B’Elanna Torres so Latina even as there’s no such thing in Star Trek. Played by a Latina, Torres’s name, identity struggles, and stereotypically “hot” temper clearly make her one of ours. And as a kid, I watched her week in and week out, rooting for Engineer Torres without really knowing why (it was her latinidad).

Shout out to Voyager for actually featuring TWO Latinx actors, the other being Robert Beltran as Commander Chakotay. As the first (and I believe still only) Native American main character in the Star Trek universe, we can’t claim him as “Latinx” though. And indeed Chakotay knows clearly who he is and where’s he from, making him B’Elanna’s opposite even as he is her ally. Who else recognizes that dynamic?

Other notable Star Trek Latinxs include Wilson Cruz as Doctor Hugh Culber in Discovery and of course the formidable Ricardo Montalbán as Khan. I will always love Cruz (and Claire Danes for that matter) as watching My So Called Life was a formative experience for me. Doctor Culber starts off boring but gains depth once he comes back to life and must decide which aspects of his former life he wants to resume. Montalbán was amazing throughout, his delicious evilness made the movie, arguably the best of the original series’ films. That said, evil and savage isn’t really the direction I’m looking for. Plus Kahn was white-washed in the reboot with the part played with much less vigor by the Anglo Benedict Cumberbatch (loved him as Sherlock thorough — maybe stay in your lane?). So honorable mentions to both.

Zoe Alleyne Washburne

Firefly: Gina Torres as Zoe Alleyne Washburne

Like so many before me, I’m still lamenting that Fireflyonly got one season (kind of like Pearson) but that doesn’t stop me from celebrating Gina Torres as Zoe Alleyne Washburne (plus, Serenity was fun). Yes, she’s second in command and yes, she’s married to a white guy, but that doesn’t keep Alleyne Washburne from taking center stage and delivering some of the best lines of the show (see “big damn heroes”).

Captain Andor

Star Wars: Diego Luna as Captain Cassian Jeron Andor

My favorite thing about Diego Luna’s Captain Cassian Jeron Andor is his accent. Imagine a future in which we travel the planets meeting entirely new species with the assistance of sentient robot helpers AND still have to learn English as a second language. It’s delightful! Seriously though, Luna showing up and speaking English like he normally does, even in space, is a powerful reminder that an accent doesn’t define a person, their intelligence, or potential.

And of course, Luna isn’t the only Latinx in the Star Wars universe. We also have Oscar Issac as Pilot Poe Dameron and Pedro Pascal as The Mandalorian. Which means Latinxs TOTALLY exist in Star Wars, just as long as you’re male, white-passing, and incredibly attractive (plus, hopefully, paired with a powerful brunette).

Naomi Nagata

The Expanse: Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata

Dominique Tipper’s Naomi Nagata is a badass. She manages to be the smartest person in the room, the most compassionate, and the best in a crisis while never falling into the trap of “strong Black female.” Nagata’s accent alone deserves a dissertation and The Expanse pairs her with a diverse cast and a troubled premise — in this future, we’ve just found more ways to divide humanity into false hierarchies. So of course, it falls on Afrolatina Tipper to reluctantly save us. ¡Gracias Mamá!

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Five Hopes for the Third Season of “Charmed”

Are shows starting to film again? The Conners is back in production,The Witcher is filming in London. With so many seasons cut short last TV year, the one show that keeps pulling on my imagination is the CW’s Latinx reboot of Charmed.

The first season of Charmed was fantastic, led by Jane the Virgin showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman. The powers that be didn’t love it though and they rebooted the reboot in the second season with new showrunners, a new setting, and a new vibe. Just one problem — it didn’t work. And I’m not the only one in Charmed fandom who noticed.

That said, the second season was starting to turn around. They were beginning to comment on the stale setting of a co-working space (yawn) by critiquing the extremely wealthy techie who owns it. It turns out that type of power messes you (and the rest of the world) up. There were more nods and interest taken in the Latinx/POC casting with Melissa’s dad Ray becoming a more fleshed-out character. But there’s still a long way to go. So here are some ideas (I’m giving them away for free!) on how to make the third season of Charmed, well, good again:

1. Make it About More

Charmed

I love brujas as much (really a lot more) than just about anyone but the magical universe of Charmed just isn’t enough if it doesn’t acknowledge our current reality. The first season tackled rape culture and identity issues while the second season… didn’t. So for the third season, may I suggest something topical? I’m not usually one to root for Coronavirus programming but Charmed is perfectly set up to handle it. What if the pandemic resulted from the season two collision of the magical world and the human one? Can’t you imagine a Trump-like demon delighting in their destruction? Wouldn’t it be AMAZING to see three brown and Black women save us by working together? Pay attention CW and make my dreams come true!

2. Ditch Abby

Abby of Charmed

Maggie’s ex’s half-sister has to go. Her connection to the Charmed Ones is tenuous (did you follow all those degrees of separation?) and her (love) interest in Harry makes no sense (he’s just boring). She’s not a good foil to “good-girl” Macy either, who has literal demon blood. There’s enough difference between the three sisters — we don’t need a fourth lady in the mix. With her whiteness (she’s so white, she’s British!), Abby takes over, commanding far too much attention. Add in the misogynistic way they portray her bisexuality (here for male consumption!) and there’s nothing redeeming about Abby. I, for one, am ready to say goodbye!

3. Give Harry a Personality

Harry of Charmed

As the stuffy chair of the women’s studies department, Harry had quirks, jokes, and a personality. In season two, he’s got nothing. He doesn’t bake. He has no interests and no back story (his memories have been whipped so I guess there’s some rationale for the lack of complexity…). But the fact that Abby and Macy fight over him is beyond belief. He’s walking white bread. Now a nerdy, good white guy can be fun but he can’t be all earnest looks and skinny jeans. Make Harry have a personality again, perhaps by re-merging him with his dark-lighter and giving him back his memories. That would certainly set him up to be more interesting. Just don’t get confused — he’s not the focus (and take him off the stupid posters while you’re at).

4. Keep Ray Around

Ray of Charmed

I enjoyed Ray’s episode, his role as the well-meaning but fumbling Latino Dad. He brought complexity to Maggie and Mel’s relationship, revealing a bit of their childhood and how they responded differently to the same situation. More than that, it allowed our Latina heroines to relax in the way you only can with your gente. They’re mostly in mixed spaces and while I appreciate that, it’s nice to have some moments with people who know where you’re coming from. Plus, Felix Solis’s comedic timing is just a joy.

5. Focus on the Sisters

Charmed Sisters Hugging

So in conclusion, make Charmed about its three WOC stars. Really that’s it. If the show’s team can acknowledge, understand, and dramatize the ways women of color exist in this world we’ll have compelling TV again. I’m talking badass women who save the world with our natural and supernatural abilities, working together, even as we disagree. If that’s hard for this team to imagine (and it was for the second season’s team, hence all the time spent with Abby and Harry), then hire some new folks! Get some Black and brown women in there. Let us tell our own fairytales already.

This story has been corrected. A previous version mixed up the sisters’ names. All those M’s…

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The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia

I was going to be a scientist. I finished all the math classes available at my public school as a sophomore. I loved physics. It spoke to my nerdy soul. I got to college and registered for the courses. I did well. My professors encouraged me. But then I looked around.

. . .

 

There aren’t exactly a lot of Latina scientists in popular culture. We’re more likely to be portrayed as maids or spicy (profession-less) temptresses. We’ve got Liz Ortecho on Roswell: New Mexico, but remember the character was whitewashed in the original TV version (despite being Latina in the books). We’ve got Callie Torres in Grey’s Anatomy, but in a show full of an ever-changing roster of doctors, one or two Latinas is not enough. One of the sisters, Macy, on the Latinx Charmed reboot is a scientist. She’s played by a Black actress, but it’s something, I guess.

That’s why The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia is important. Ashley isn’t just a Latina scientist, she’s a Doogie-Howser-level scientist, a kid genius who’s more perplexed by the behavior of her fellow teens than breaking barriers in robotics.

. . .

 

The physics program at my college was small. I’d be spending four years with the same dozen kids (less as folks dropped out) pursuing the major. There was one other girl in that group. The boys either couldn’t look me in the eye (nerds) or thought they were God’s gift to womankind (athlete/engineer/hotshots). I wish I’d befriended that other girl. But I was 18 and inexperienced and didn’t (she was perfectly nice). Instead, I tried to fit in with the jocks. Back then, I was enjoying the freedom from my smartypants high school reputation. I wanted to at least try on being cool. It was fun for a while. But it wasn’t me and I knew it couldn’t last.

. . .

 

Ashley Garcia and friends
Look at this friend group! Our girl Ashley is living the dream, a Veronica Lodge with her own show and without the murder

We meet Ashley after she’s graduated. She’s done with school having gotten her Ph.D. and landed her dream job. But we do learn about her time at university and she did better in the friend department than I did. Yes, she founded a club with no other members (“Girls Code” or should it be “Girl Codes”?!?). But was her lack of popularity because of her age, personality, gender, race, or some combination of all of them? We don’t know but we do know she wasn’t always alone.

She had at least one good friend, Ava, who becomes her colleague at JPL and the season one-love interest of her uncle/father-figure. Ava and Ashley don’t get into too much trouble — Ashley’s still never kissed anyone, hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol, despite graduating high school, college, and graduate school. No, these girls do things like make (and perform!) a song about meteorites to explain Ava’s research. It is both very nerdy and very cute. If only I’d been so lucky.

. . .

 

There were no meteorite-related performances for me, although something large-rock-adjacent would have been my type of fun. Being (or trying to be) “cool” limited my options. The nerd boys were probably more interesting, more kind than the set I fell into. But they were too scared to talk to me. If only they could have seen me in my high school band uniform, or watching Star Trek, or even in my glasses instead of contacts. But they didn’t, probably because I hid that part of me. I thought I had to choose.

. . .

 

JPL, Ashley's workplace, is woman-led
Ashley works at a cutting-edge engineering firm with lots of natural light, independence, and women-mentors. If only JPL were real…

Ashley gets to be nerdy and pretty. When I first tuned into the show, I was a bit worried. During the pilot episode, it seems like Ashley is all nerd and like with so much TV that features smart women, we’re supposed to pretend like we don’t see what a beautiful, charismatic girl she is. But by the second episode, they’ve done away with that concept and by the second season, Ashley’s dating the high school quarterback.

Tad is handsome and sweet and racially ambiguous (he says he’s “one-third” Mexican). His reputation as a player and his on-and-off-again dancer girlfriend aren’t enough to keep Ashley away. She gets the prize boy, helping him see himself as more than the handsome jock while he opens the door for her to enjoy teenage stuff like missing curfew. Tad likes her because she’s smart (and also pretty and kind). They go to the dance together, they kiss, he helps organize her surprise quince. What could be a better fantasy?

. . .

 

At some point, I decided I didn’t want science to be my life. I didn’t want to spend my time at college with these people, let alone the rest of my life. I had other loves, other interests. I jumped ship. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I’d kept going, become a physicist. Would I be a professor now? Would I work in a lab? Would I be a trailblazer? Or a burnout?

. . .

 

Ashley with boyfriend Tad
How many shows have you seen where the smart girl gets the quarterback without having to change a single thing about herself? And, she’s a woman of color!

Ashley’s universe is pretty awesome. Her’s is a sanitized version of the teen years — there’s no sex or drugs. At one point, the kids drink soda out of red cups. And they’re of all racial groups without a microaggression insight. Her work life is great as well. There are apparently men at JPL but we don’t hear much from them. Instead, it’s Ava who we see as Ashley’s main co-worker and Dr. Ling as her boss. This is a woman-led engineering firm and I’m here for it.

There is some acknowledgment of the turbulence the rest of us experience. We learn about Tad’s background because he knows all about the Chicano Movement — he had an uncle who wrote for La Raza. And in my favorite episode, season two’s “Failure Is Not An Option,” we see Ashley struggle when her robot isn’t selected for the next space mission. She’s accustomed to always being the smartest one in the room and when she’s not, she reads it as failure. She has no idea how to learn and cope with not being the best. Ashley’s reaction — to assume that there’s something inherently wrong with her, to mope and try to hold it in — is exactly how so many of my accomplished women friends act. Our entire gender’s been socialized to respond this way, to see the regular bumps and bruises of learning as signs that we should give up. Some of us do. I have. Ashley doesn’t.

You see in “Failure Is Not An Option,” Ashley admits that there aren’t a lot of Latinas in her field. And she feels tremendous pressure to represent us, both by being the only one in the room and by holding the door open to the next. Over the course of the episode, Ashley learns that “rebounding from failure is more important than never failing in the first place.” It’s a heartening reminder that real Ashley’s face obstacles, exist, and succeed.

. . .

 

Back in college, I couldn’t imagine a life like Ashley’s — one where I got to be myself and be successful in science. One where picking physics didn’t mean I’d always be alone. I wish I’d had the opportunity to pick between my interests without measuring their gradients of inclusiveness, sexism, diversity, and racism. But I didn’t.

I wonder if it would have been different had The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia been around when I was a kid. Maybe. And I hope it is different now for the young Cristina’s and Ashley’s coming up. Let’s expand the universe for them.

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Straddling Two Worlds in “The Baker and the Beauty”

There’s a lot of talk in The Baker and the Beauty about the “two worlds” our protagonist Daniel Garcia must manage. There’s his Latinx “world” in Little Havana. In it, he’s the oldest son of the humble Garcia family, living above the bakery he’ll one day inherit. The other “world” belongs to celebrity Noa Hamilton and her entourage. That one’s flush with funds, paparazzi, and skinny white folks. As the first season draws to a close, the two worlds seem set on a collision course with Daniel having to choose where he belongs.

Certainly, the difference between a collective and individualistic orientation is in full effect on the show and it’s one of the biggest divides we Latinxs must bridge. Before 2017’s Coco, I’d never watched anything where the value we place on family was seen as a positive. It had always been something to overcome, a needy, demanding family holding the ambitious individual back. Luckily, Latinx representation has come a long way and now we see much more nuanced portrayals of what it means to be in one of our tight-knit families.

On The Baker and the Beauty, that means we see the Garcias fight with and for each other every episode. Middle brother Mateo has to give up his recording session to work in the bakery but his dad eventually builds him a DIY studio when he realizes how serious Mateo is about music. Youngest sibling Natalie comes out as gay and even though her mother has a hard time accepting it, she never stops protecting her daughter. Father Rafael has always dreamed of owning his own cafe and his wife Mari pushes to do it even when he doubts himself. They’re a unit, for better or worse, but mostly for better.

In contrast, Noa is largely alone. We meet her mother and father but they’re not daily presences in her life and both cause her pain. Her real kin is her entourage with manager Lewis serving in the father-figure role. But Lewis is so high strung that, even with his cancer diagnosis, he remains the least sympathetic character on the show. Certainly, people you pay don’t and can’t provide the type of love the Garcias give each other. As Noa’s boyfriend, Daniel has to figure out how to balance his family obligations and keep up with Noa’s me-centered, white life, facing such tough questions as: should he drop his work at the bakery to go with Noa to Morroco?

And, perhaps more importantly, does he shift his ambitions from running the family business to becoming a food personality? In a recent episode, his dad Rafael lambasted that idea, calling Mateo’s years-long commitment to music “a dream” while labeling Daniel’s recent foray into food content “a fantasy.” It stung because of the truth behind it. Daniel’s ambition isn’t just new, it was Noa’s idea, an attempt to bring him closer to her world. It fits her ideal of success — fame, fortune, and status. But what happened to Daniel’s previous definition of “success” — being a meaningful part of his family, both its business and its relationships? And while Rafael is meaningfully pushing against Daniel’s shifting priorities, he is perhaps putting too much value in hard work. Success — whether in music or TV — is as much about your background as it is about talent and dedication.

Luckily, he exists in the world of The Baker and the Beauty, which sees the value in each of us. Noa may be the female romantic lead but the show hasn’t forgotten his ex Vanessa, the Latina real estate agent who proposed to Daniel after four years of dating in the series premiere (he said no). Even though she’s not right for Daniel, Vanessa is beautiful and smart and hardworking. She deserves love and success and the show allows her to have those things without predicating her happiness on Daniel’s or Noa’s. In fact, these two women, the round-the-way girl and the starlet, are equals in character and class even as they represent “two different worlds.”

The thing is, we Latinxs are used to living in “two worlds” (if not more!) as we navigate across our various cultures. As someone wiser than me said, we’re both 100% American and 100% Latinx all the time. Daniel’s case may be extreme but it’s not out of the ordinary and I, for one, am rooting for the “two worlds” talk to end and a more thoughtful exploration of what it means to be bicultural to begin. The Baker and the Beauty is certainly set up to do just that.

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From Dolores to Shirley, Mrs. America Centers the Wrong Story

A stylistic period piece, Mrs. America delves into the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment. Everything about this show oozes beauty, from the perfectly quaffed hair of Phyllis Schlafly’s followers, to Gloria Steinem’s glasses, to Shirley Chisholm’s graphic jacket-dress ensembles, but good television should be about more than just the nostalgia for its time period. And that’s where Mrs. America falls short.

Following the example set by Bombshell, Mrs. America makes the mistake of centering the life and history of a conservative white woman. Don’t get me wrong I love Cate Blanchett and her performance as Phyllis Schlafly is as smart and nuanced as we have come to expect from Blanchett as an actor. I believe the fault lies with the creators of the show and in a way, I can’t even place the blame completely on their shoulders.

In a time where intersectional feminism seems to be at the center of every diversity conversation, t-shirt, and tote bag, many television and movie projects miss the mark. Certainly,  the execution and practice of this theory has a little to be desired. A 2019 study by USC Annenberg found that across a sample of 1,300 films, the number of people of color in lead or co-lead roles was only 17%. And only 4.5% of all 47,268 speaking or named characters across the past 12 years were Latino, as were a mere 3% of lead or co-lead actors. I doubt when Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectional feminism” she was thinking of tote bags but that’s what it’s been distilled to, disconnected from its original meaning and easy to obtain. 

When there are nine episodes of Mrs. America and only one focuses on a woman of color, is that truly capturing the feminist movement? I argue not only does it miss the mark, it continues to perpetuate a dangerous narrative that feminism is for and by white women. Shirley Chisholm, played beautifully by Uzo Aduba, was not the only woman of color in congress working to pass the ERA. The fact that the show uses Chisholm and two other activists as the token characters delegated to supporting roles as opposed to Cate Blanchett’s Schlafly is, to put it simply, a mistake.

Mrs. America features Flo Kennedy, played by Niecy Nash, and Margaret Sloan-Hunter, played by Bria Samoné Henderson, both important and influential feminist activists. But neither of them receive their own episodes. In fact, the only Black editor at Ms. Magazine, Margaret is the only the second BIPOC character, other than Shirley Chisholm, who has received her own storyline. We watch her ideas get sidelined, questioned, and overlooked as she pitches a story about tokenism in the workplace. Margaret says in the meeting, “This phenomenon that happens where one minority is propped up to cover the experience of an entire population. Like the white population, we are diverse within ourselves.” The ironic part is the creators didn’t take their own message to heart.

The inclusion of Shirley Chisholm, Flo Kennedy, Margaret Sloan-Hunter, and other activists show that the writers and creators made a concerted effort to try to avoid the “white feminist” narrative pot hole. But inclusion is not enough. Feminism was founded, built, and created by queer women of color and non-binary people. To not center them in a show about the ERA feels like taking one step forward while realizing you’re on the wrong escalator.

This point is only affirmed when looking at IMDB’s list of the eleven writers and directors on the show. Only three are Black, with no Latinx or Asian writers or directors listed. This doesn’t surprise me. We know when there are diverse voices behind the camera, stories become more nuanced in their diversity. To not include Dolores Huerta, a Latina activist who helped lead the feminist movement including working with Gloria Steinem in the 60’s, continues the erasure of Latinx people in the feminist movement. To not include Patsy Matsu Takemoto, the first woman of color and first Asian-American congresswoman elected (who also helped pass Title IX and Women’s Education Equity Act in 1974), continues the erasure of Asian American people in the feminist movement. To not center Shirley Chisholm in every episode, instead of Phyllis Schlafly, continues the erasure of Black people in the feminist movement. These choices show us how far we have to go and who still holds the power. Because if Shirley Chisholm isn’t the iconic embodiment of what feminism should be, I don’t know what is.

If we are going to create shows and films to tell the untold story of the feminist movement, we need to include all feminists. Take the opportunity and challenge to show how diverse feminism is. Show the struggle that women of color and queer people went through to be accepted by the white feminist movement. These are the stories that should be front and center now. Intersectionality isn’t a fleeting theme, it’s a lens to see the invisible, to understand what’s really going on today and how we got here. Everyone who holds the strings to our culture should be using it to create media. Otherwise, we just end up with another useless metaphorical tote bag.

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