Last week, WeScreenplay’s ACTIONS FOR POSITIVE CHANGE series continued with a panel on “Embracing the Nuanced Latinx Experience,” moderated by Joshua Noble (writer/actor/producer and WeScreenplay contributor). A trio of Latinx creative powerhouses gave their take on what it means to be Latinx content creators and what their hopes are for the future of diverse Latinx inclusion in the entertainment industry.
- Jenny Lorenzo is an actor, writer, and content creator who became a viral sensation with her beloved ‘Abuela’ character.
- Evangeline Ordaz is an attorney turned film and television writer/producer known for her work on 13 REASONS WHY, VIDA, QUEEN SUGAR, and EAST LOS HIGH, among others.
- Javier Grillo-Marxuach is best known as one of the Emmy Award-winning producers of LOST, creator of THE MIDDLEMAN, and his current work on THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE and COWBOY BEBOP – both for Netflix.
Check out the full, hour-long panel here. But if you don’t have time to watch the full interview (you should!), we’ve put together some key takeaways from the panel below to whet your appetite:
Diverse Latinx inclusion in Hollywood benefits BOTH Latinx and non-Latinx creators
Grillo-Marxuach told the story of how a friend asked him for a film recommendation that had a great dynamic between a male and female lead, and he recommended Romancing the Stone. When his friend asked, “Aren’t you offended by the portrayal of the Latinx characters in that?” Grillo-Marxuach replied, “If that ‘offended’ me, I wouldn’t watch movies!” He went on to explain:
“It is a pervasive truth of our industry that by and large, until very, very recently, the idea of Latinx leading characters was quite unusual and not really seen a lot. So for me, it really starts from that, with being able to see yourself on screen as somebody that you might want to be. As opposed to the villain, the drug dealer, or more recently the partner of the White cop who gets shot to show that the bad guy means business.”
Lorenzo cites the PBS show, ¿Qué Pasa, USA?, as the lone example of quality Latinx representation she had in childhood, and she’s spent the rest of her life seeking out similar things and not finding them.
It was Ordaz who framed inclusion as an opportunity for non-Latinx. She said:
“Representation is important, because people who wouldn’t ordinarily get to see me get to see me; get to know who my people are and know who my parents are and not see them as the ‘other.’”
Stereotypes can’t exist if the stories come from someone’s lived, authentic experience
All three panelists talk about the diversity within the Latinx community. In other words, there is no singular “Latinx Experience.”
Lorenzo talked about not fitting in even within her own Cuban-American community growing up in Miami, joking that she is basically a “Cuban Ellen Page.” When she started telling stories, she wanted to capture the diversity of her community. Her ‘Abuela’ character could be perceived as a stereotype, but it’s also genuinely who her grandmother is:
“I wanted to be able to showcase the people that I grew up around. Yes, I have the loud, angry characters. But then I have the goth Cuban girl who can’t speak Spanish and is vegan and pansexual. It all comes from love and authenticity. You’re not making fun, you’re putting in all the little details that form a person.”
For Grillo-Marxuach, his greatest moment of creating a Latinx character happened when he wasn’t even trying to create one. His cult classic show, THE MIDDLEMAN, features a young woman named Wendy Watson who, since he conceived the story in the ’90s when Latinx leads were not prevalent, was created as a “red-headed girl from Iowa.”
When the original comic was bought as a TV series, and ABC Family said they wanted a Latina lead. Grillo-Marxuach was hesitant, but only because poor representation can be worse than none at all:
“Look, you can cast whoever you want as long as I don’t have to change a single line of dialogue.’ Because the one thing I didn’t want to write was a character who breaks into Spanish when she’s angry, because she suddenly forgets she speaks English. I’ve never met a Latinx person who did that. I didn’t want salsa music to play whenever she walked down the street. I’m a white-passing neurotic, over-educated Puerto Rican who doesn’t like Salsa music, and whose favorite live acts are Philip Glass and Kraftwerk, so if you wanna put someone Latina with that taste, great.”
When Cuban-American actress, Natalie Morales, was cast in the role, he got his wish. The character became a hybrid of her experiences and his, creating a unique character that was undoubtedly Latinx, because it came from Latinx experiences.
Meanwhile, as Ordaz and her fellow Vida writers were creating those brilliant characters, she says that she was not only trying to subvert stereotypes about Latinx, but also stereotypes about women. Ultimately, the most important thing was to capture as much diversity as possible within this particular Latinx cast of characters so that “One person doesn’t have to stand in for the whole community.”
“We tried to make characters how we see ourselves,” she explains. “Not how White people see us.”
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Teresa Jusino is a native New Yorker and a proud bisexual, Puerto Rican, Jewish woman on her way to winning Intersectionality Bingo. Most recently, Jusino has done development work on several feature film projects at Jill Soloway’s Topple Productions after building a nearly decade-long career in pop culture journalism, including a three-year stint as an editor at the feminist pop culture site, The Mary Sue. In 2018, Jusino launched Pomonok Entertainment, a production banner that incorporates a mission of alleviating homelessness in L.A. into the larger mission of telling engaging, thought-provoking, inclusive stories.