by Jose Nateras
It’s no secret that women and minorities, Latino’s in particular, are hugely under-represented in film and television. How rarely are there accurate portrayals of females and Latinos, let alone Latinas themselves, that go beyond simple, two-dimensional, and often problematic, if not offensive characterizations of such a vital and growing population? It’s long overdue for TV to be enriched by the works of people like Eva Longoria, Cristela Alonzo, and many others , that are creating work allowing for an important experience to be portrayed on television. Especially because in doing so, they are not only providing portrayals of Latinas as actual human beings, but they are actually providing commentary on a lot of other societal issues at the same time.
Comedian Cristela Alonzo’s new show, “Cristela”, on ABC, is exciting for the obvious and previously stated reasons. Although it isn’t perfect (how many pilots/new shows ever are?), its strengths and fresh perspective definitely inspire hope for how it can develop and grow into, at the very least, a great sitcom.
“Cristela” is both refreshing and nostalgic. While the laugh-track provided by a live studio audience, including whoops scoring the entrance of the foil-type character, Alberto (played by Gabriel Iglesias), gets old fast (and seems to harken to the days of ‘Seinfeld’), there are definitely more than a few genuine laugh inducing moments. The humor manages to be clever and refreshing in its true-to-life handling of racial stereotypes and pre-conceived notions. Like when the entitled, blonde, white girl presumes to Cristela to be “Janitor to receptionist in less than ten seconds”. Among Cristela’s responses, “Is this really happening?” It’s funny and realistic because, how often do Latinos find themselves in this exact scenario? Pretty often; and many times that is the first thought that comes to mind. What can you do if you can’t laugh it off? Maybe, get everyone else to realize the absurdity and oft repeated stereotypes Latinos are faced with on a regular basis.
Hearing the audience react to some of the white character’s addressing of Cristela is great, because if people start to realize how often minorities have to deal with the cringe-inducing things people say, whether it’s played for laughs or not, perhaps they’ll start to think before they say such things. For example, upon admitting she never learned to swim during some typical interview banter, her boss quips, “Can’t swim? How’d you get to Texas?” The immediate “Ohhhhhhhs” from the live studio audience is an interesting indicator of how you’d think people would react to a blatant jab at undocumented immigrants, yet, segueing into a quick “Orale mija, just having a little humor, tu sabes” in a Mexican accent, would imply the rich white guy in the tie is in on the joke. Cristela’s response of a forced “Solid Stuff,” before noting she was born in Texas is a subtle statement of how we often have to smile and stomach such displays of white privilege while simultaneously defending our own identity as Americans. This makes her subsequent skewering of “The old buffoon” who owns the Dallas Cowboys, as a “Geriatric with Dementia” a nice, if problematic, reversal, as said Geriatric is the friend of aforementioned rich white guy in a tie.
It’s also worth noting that, despite playing for laughs in the typical and easily tired: set-up, punchline manner of many multi-camera sitcoms; the subject matter and handling of varied layers of social issues is cool to see in what could easily be a cheap play for the Latino viewer demographic. It’s not. Here you have an addressing of the ridiculous financial burden of pursuing a higher education, the way such a system marginalizes people coming from the middle and lower classes in contrast to, for example, the character of Josh, who’s parent’s were apparently able to easily provide for his education; not to mention ideas of privilege as seen through Cristela’s new boss and his blonde-haired, skinny, blue-eyed daughter, who in a blatent bit of nepotism, gets one of the internships Cristela had to work so hard for.
The portrayal of the character of Cristela herself, as an educated woman with a body and beauty that doesn’t conform to typical societal norms, avoids the typical sexualization (a lá Sofia Vergara) that so many Latina characters get pigeon holed into. She’s an educated, hard worker, who encourages her niece to play soccer over cheerleading. She’s witty, funny, outspoken, and able to speak her mind. All of these traits are great to see applied to any character leading a show, especially a female character of color; two categories where the mainstream media consistently fails to provide such examples.
While the show may at times lack a subtlety that would only help to set it apart from so many other run-of-the-mill sitcoms, and also plays to certain easy tropes for a Latino focused show also aimed at broad audiences; there are many exciting things to be seen in the handling of such rich material. Hopefully, the show will gets the chance it deserves to develop and exceed expectations, allowing it to provide a chance for Latinos to see a little of themselves and their lives on the small screen; and in that, maybe effect the way we see ourselves and the way others do to.
my mom is like that too! she will never admit that she is a feminist and she cetmlepoly is…she also raised 3 strong women. i loved reading this post! explaining a degree in women’s studies and the fact that it is important has been something i have been explaining for years.
on March 28, 2015
Thankfully my mom did understand, altgouhh it was difficult explaining how biological sciences & women’s studies fit together. But I usually go with “women’s studies is often a way for us to study a topic/issue from the viewpoint of women.” I know, I know, totally blows over so many things, but I think it’s a starting point for many. If I think someone gets that, I’ll go in further with examples.
on March 26, 2015
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