News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Sunday, December 26, 2010

An author fights back against Latino stereotypes

  1. Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, author of the bestselling DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB was thrilled when her landmark novel was optioned for a TV series by Encanto Productions headed by Ann Lopez, ex-wife of comedian George Lopez. The thrill continued for Alisa when she learned NBC had signed for a pilot. Then things turned sour. 
    After being repeatedly shunned, Alisa finally got a copy of the pilot script. She read the script in shock at the gross misrepresentation of her characters. As Alisa explains in her blog...
    Put simply, she killed off all the black folks in my story. In her hands my black Colombian character Elizabeth becomes “a sizzling Colombian” (because we might as well employ cliched language in addition to de-Africanizing her); my mulatta Puerto Rican/Dominican character Usnavys becomes African American, non Latino, and ends up adhering to every stereotype of the fat-n-sassy oversexed negress “diva” that Hollywood has ever flung at the viewing public; and my Nigerian-British millionaire heartthrob, Andre Cartier, becomes Andre Carter, an East Indian by way of London. There is no discernible reason for these changes, other than anti-black racism. 

    To her immense credit, Alisa seems willing to pass on a TV adaptation of DIRTY GIRLS if it means compromising her principles. "The idea is to have a DIRTY GIRLS series on the air by next fall, but I must tell you this idea, given the end result of Luisa’s efforts, holds zero appeal for me."
    My hat is off to Alisa for taking a public stand against the vicious cycle of ignorance regarding the Latino identity in the entertainment industry. Like those involved in DIRTY GIRLS SOCIAL CLUB, many TV and film producers know full well they are purveying stereotypes. But they fear the U.S. public will not accept Latino characters that challenge conventional myths. As a result, the public ignorance continues.
    As I read Alisa's post, I remembered a review that criticized the “lack of diversity” among the characters in my first novel, AMERICA LIBRE. Looking over the review, I was stunned. One of the main characters in the novel was a blue-eyed blonde from Uruguay while another was an Afro-Latino from Panama. However, in the mind of this reviewer (and way too many others), “diversity” is a term reserved solely for the population of the United States.
    Raul Ramos y Sanchez


julito77 said...

Raul, it is very interesting to get another published Latino author's take on this. This issues speaks to so much, but mostly artistic control and what defines a stereotype.

It's funny, when I read AMERICA LIBRE, I felt that the characters were real and they happened to be Latino, instead of just single-dimensional Latino characters.

Nice post.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez said...

Regardless of ethnicity, Alisa's experience is every writer's nightmare who considers having their work adapted for film or TV.

Thanks for all you are doing with your blog and social media skills to help that cause.

Eileen said...

Dirty Girls is Alisa's creation. She has nurtured it and protected it like she does her own son. I am so happy she's fighting back!

Raul Ramos y Sanchez said...

Eileen, I'm grateful for the power of social media to help level the playing field and give Alisa and her supporters a voice.

Anonymous said...

I know Latino diversity well.

In graduate school -- it was a very competitive program -- there was a flap because a woman of German descent whose family moved to Argentina in the 1940s admitted she claimed to be 'Hispanic,' when applying for the program.

And, I'll admit, who am I to say she shouldn't qualify? She was a big Valkryrie looking woman, blond, blue eyes, quite Teutonic.

But, just to mess with our little graduate student heads even more another woman, who was Jewish and whose family had lived in Latin America for many years said did not claim to be hispanic because she felt that would be betraying her Jewish identity, or some distinction sort of eludes my not-so-politically correct brain.

So here we were, in a program that gave affirmative action to Germans but not to Jews. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Now, to be fair, I have no idea if my Germanic colleague actually needed to check the 'hispanic' box to get in, but it mess with our minds a bit.