I’m not a watcher of any of the Love and Hip Hop franchise, but I had to take a moment out of my day to write about the controversy that flared up during the first episode of Love and Hip Hop Miami. In this clip, Dominican singer Amara La Negra face intense colorism and racism from producer Young Hollywood.
This conversation made me so mad. It's sad that people actually think like this. pic.twitter.com/bWofupXgdc
— I Luh God ✨ (@aVeryRichBish) January 2, 2018
Okay. Some points:
1. WHO is Young Hollywood? Not to play that “I don’t know her” game, but I don’t know who this is, and I know a lot about pop culture. I feel like if Young Hollywood were really important in the music industry, I’d certainly know more about him than his tragic presentation of himself on Love and Hip Hop Miami. Basically, what I’m saying is that Young Hollywood doesn’t seem as popular as he wants everyone to believe.
2. How disrespectful and racist can he be? It’s as if he went out of his way to be disrespectful. First, it’s the overt colorism and anti-blackness he embodies with comments about not being glamorous with an afro, mocking the Black Power fist, and calling Amara “Afro-Latina Queen” and “Nutella Queen,” not to mention questioning the validity of the Afro-Latina identity.
3. “NUTELLA QUEEN”??? Amara played this exchange much cooler than I think I would have. I’m actually not sure what I would have done, but it would definitely be something people wouldn’t expect from someone as quiet-natured as me.
4. Young Hollywood needs to check himself, because he’s a prime example of anti-blackness in the Latinx community. If you needed an example of one of the biggest issues facing Afro-Latinx, look no further than Young Hollywood’s interaction with Amara.
Last year, I interviewed several Latinx content creators for my longform piece on what it’s like being Latinx in Hollywood. All of them sounded off on the colorism and anti-blackness that affects Latinx who don’t look like, as Young Hollywood hinted at in his own words to Amara, the stereotypical “Latinx” person.
“…[T]here’s obvious merit in bringing in new talent because that director could be the next person who discovers the next [big] actor. I think that’s…something that’s very important,” said Kimberly Hoyos, filmmaker and creator of The Light Leaks, a website designed to support, educate and empower female and gender non-conforming filmmakers. “Even in my Latino community, there’s a weird emphasis on how dark you are or how light you are or where you’re from. I really feel like that’s an issue that translates to the screen as well. Even though it’s women of color, it’s much more valuable in media to be light skinned than dark skinned.”
“I understand my privilege as a light-skinned afro-Boricua woman. I have to– otherwise I contribute to the continued problems of colorism in both the Latinx community and within a larger worldwide context,” wrote Desiree Rodriguez, Editorial Assistant for Lion Forge sci-fi comic book Catalyst Prime and writer for Women on Comics and The Nerds of Color, in an email interview.”By favoring women who look like me, you erase the multitude of men, women, and non-binary Latinx individuals who don’t look like me. It’s important that media reflects the actual reality of the Latinx community, which includes a wide range of races, and even religious identities.”
“By ignoring those parts of our community, media creates a distorted image of our culture, which allows the continued whitewashing of our community, ignorance regarding our identities, and contributes to a lack of empathy of our struggles,” she wrote. “It also, I personally feel, encourages some individuals within the Latinx community to reject their indigenous or black ancestry in favor of whiteness. This can, and has, further contributed to the alienation of Afro and Indigenous Latinxs within our community.”
“Gina Torres is a proud Afro-Cuban American woman who, as far as I know, never gotten a chance to play a Latina woman on screen. She’s even gone on record stating how Hollywood wants their Latinas to look Italian,” she wrote. “If the producers of Supergirl wanted a Latina woman to play Maggie Sawyer, why not cast one? How many people know Meagan Good is part Puerto Rican? Or that Harry Shum Jr. identifies as Latino? Or that Alexis Bledel is Latina? Meagan good is Afro-Latina, Harry Shum Jr. is Asian-Latino, Alexis Bledel is a white Latina. But we don’t see this type of diversity reflected back on screen. It’s very one-sided, one-note, and done in a specific way that spreads ignorance and misinformation on the Latinx community. It is complicated, but we’re a community worth learning about, respecting, and feeling empathy for.”
“[Stereotyping is] very, very detrimental and limiting because when you think of Latin America, we’re talking about over 20 countries and yes, we’re talking about Spanish [as a language] there are other languages [as well]…so I will say that when it comes down to not just representation, but inclusion in Hollywood, a person has to be invested in learning about the culture because there’s so many different moving parts,” said Janel Martinez, founder and editor-in-chief of Ain’t I Latina, a site celebrating Afro-Latinas and Afro-Latinx culture. “You can be Latino, Latina, Latinx, but you can be black, you can be Asian, you can be white and Latino. There has to be a great understanding of the culture.”
As Francisco Herrera for Latino Rebels writes, to talk about anti-blackness and how it affects Latinx “isn’t to say that Latinos aren’t racialized and subjugated. Nor am I saying that anti-Blackness is a necessary, inevitable or inherent aspect of Latino identities.” What Herrera’s point is, he writes, “is that for a lot of us, especially non-Black Latinos, being subjugated in some ways has not precluded us from being complicit with anti-Black politics in the U.S. and throughout the Americas.”
“Destroying our complicity with anti-Black violence and making that violence impossible requires that we invest time in expanding our vocabulary about race, committing ourselves to being vulnerable with each other in service of antiracism, and holding each other accountable to practicing anti-racism every day. This everyday practice will look different for each of us but it must be guided by the fundamental idea that Black lives are fully human, deserving of our love, and that they matter. This last part is worth emphasizing again: we must all focus on turning our so-called love into daily actions that make the hate of anti-Black violence impossible.”
Amara is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, and her pride for her heritage and race makes her a positive role model for other Afro-Latina girls out there. The fact that Young Hollywood would question her beauty and her pride for her heritage, and then call her “psychotic” because she’s checking him on his bullshit, smacks of misogyny and his own insecurities about his masculinity and his racial identity. If your racial identity hinges on belittling others’ racial identities, while you’re profiting off of the same racial identity you’re belittling, you’re a fool. You can’t talk down blackness and then still try to act and sound black. Also, Young Hollywood, you’re a minority like the rest of us black and brown people. Learn your history and where blackness fits into your personal ancestry, because I’m sure it does.
5. Is Young Hollywood going to be kept around on this show just for the views? I’ve had issues with Love and Hip Hop creator Mona Scott-Young for a while, but keeping this guy around just for the drama just might be a new low.
The clapback has been real, and deservedly so; I’ve never heard of Young Hollywood, but it’s clear from this clip that he’s a racist, misogynist jerk, and that’s me being too kind. Here’s what everyone else had to say in much more colorful language.
this is pretty much what dark-skinned Latinas like myself have dealt with for most of our lives. this is sad but true. thank you @AmaraLaNegraALN for being able to deal with this and remain strong. it means a lot to me as a fellow afrolatina. https://t.co/9LQ54kk6PH
— Carmen Mojica (@Nana_Negrita) January 2, 2018
— Ghetto Queen👑 (@_zolarmoon) January 2, 2018
— lah-juh (@fabuLaja) January 2, 2018
— Oloni (@Oloni) January 2, 2018
I know this tiny little man, @YOUNGHO11YWOOD , is not taking about elegance with a whole face tattoo and racist attitude. Greasy hair and all trying to tell sis her afro isn't elegant. pic.twitter.com/hcBdRvHFp8
— Chubby Gal 🌹✨ (@Vixnnixn) January 3, 2018
Last night we watched #LHHMIA and watched as @YOUNGHO11YWOOD spewed vile, disgusting racism at @AmaraLaNegraALN @VH1 and @MonaScottYoung you have a duty to FIRE and reprimand racism. I will be writing letters to yalls sponsors until this is handled.
— Chels (@BEautifully_C) January 2, 2018
• My blood is boiling.
• My blood is boiling, even more, looking at this dumb, colourist PHUCK, @YOUNGHO11YWOOD, on my phone screen.
• Why’re people like this still walking?#LHHMIApic.twitter.com/nTdhrYVn1d
— GODDESS OF WAKANDA 🐾 (@AzaMakeda) January 3, 2018
— pullupwitamonstahautomobilegangstawithabadbitchtha (@kimtheproduct) January 2, 2018
— Michelle (@Ebony_Sable25) January 3, 2018
Have your parents educate your dumbass on your heritage. Go stop by Loiza, PR. You uncultured swine. @YOUNGHO11YWOOD
— HeadMistress (@MichyPanda) January 3, 2018
— Distract and Conquer (@distractconquer) January 2, 2018
— Kaliyah Danielle🥂 (@yosoyklee) January 3, 2018
You're a disgrace to the Latino community. pic.twitter.com/m4XuyvNQg9
— Tonii 👑 (@toniirocha) January 3, 2018
hey guys! just wanted to let you know that @YOUNGHO11YWOOD is poisoning the latin@ community with colorism and shaming afrolatinas! xoxo
— rene can't breathe (@cxnsxrxd) January 2, 2018
We can demand that @YOUNGHO11YWOOD be removed from the show so you don’t have to fight ignorance while u r trying to make it!The industry is tough enough without being setup to get disrespected! I will be the first one to buy ur album! But I’m done with the show!
— KATHY (@kathydantzler) January 3, 2018
Naaaaa @YOUNGHO11YWOOD is anti black as shit. The way he is speaking about her blackness and hair tis stomach churning. The sarcasm etc etc. Then he calls her psychotic for addressing it? People need to stop working with people like this.
— Richie Brave 🇬🇾🇲🇲🇮🇳 (@RichieBrave) January 3, 2018
Honestly can’t believe @MonaScottYoung co signed this smh
— This Life Is Vicious (@UKKelendriaa) January 2, 2018
The fact that he tried to spin it at the end and paint her as the stereotypical 'angry black woman' was the cherry on top
— Onahlicious (@onahlicious) January 3, 2018
— #PPNerdSaga (@UncleTimi) January 2, 2018
You’re racist traaassshhh. You don’t even deserve to work with someone as beautiful & talented as Amara La Negra
— Tootie. (@TheyHateTootie) January 2, 2018
@MonaScottYoung you REALLY need to remove @YOUNGHO11YWOOD from #LHHMIAMI #LHHMia The way he treated #AmaraLeNegra was DISGUSTING! Anyone who worked with this clown should be embarrassed & ashamed! C’mon this is not acceptable at all! pic.twitter.com/UzMZoq6Ysw
— KATHY (@kathydantzler) January 3, 2018
— CloOlogy (@CloOlogy) January 2, 2018
Hey, you’re an uneducated, uncultured swine and a disgrace to the Latino community. We come in all different sizes and colors, not just light skin tones. Fucking dumbass.
— 😎 (@darthvanna) January 3, 2018
Damn your career is basically deleted after that clip goes viral lmao
— life continues and things get better (@shownusgiggle) January 3, 2018
This guy @YOUNGHO11YWOOD needs to get canceled in 2018. His ignorance is an embarrassment to the Latino community. Qué asco!
— Carlos Andrés Osorio (@LosOsorio) January 3, 2018
#BlackTwitter Let's start the drag on @YOUNGHO11YWOOD apparently he hates Black people and dark skin but he's on a show where 90% of the Audience is @JoinBBC @MonaScottYoung GET RID OF HIM #BOYCOTTLHHMIA @TRINArockstarr @305MAYOR @VH1 https://t.co/VRmgpjhcat
— IVYKPENDLETON (@ivykpendleton) January 2, 2018
White supremacy ain’t entertaining
— Bryan (@IV_Names) January 2, 2018
As for the aftermath of this whole awful moment, Amara has come out on top. Not only does she have Love and Hip Hop Miami fans in her corner, but she’s also just signed a multi-album record deal with BMG and Fast Life Entertainment. According to Billboard, her first single will be out during the first quarter of 2018. Hollywood, on the other hand, is still being a butt.
I’ll end this piece with Martinez giving the last word.
I'm so glad to see Amara's inclusion on LHHMIA is bringing folks up to speed on the colorism that exists within Latin America. Like most issues, this is extremely layered and there's alot that has to be unpacked, starting w/ intentional erasure, violence (cues yt Latinos).
— Janel Martinez (@janelmwrites) January 3, 2018
I'd like to see the current conversation morph into action(s). The representation conversations are extremely important but we must also discuss the issues that stem from erasure and lack of representation.
I'm brainstorming ways b/c this is the time to act on these convos.
— Janel Martinez (@janelmwrites) January 3, 2018
But at this current moment I'm just happy and proud to see an unapologetic Black woman of Latin American descent — Amara — on my TV screen weekly. 2018 is off to a blessed start.
— Janel Martinez (@janelmwrites) January 3, 2018
What do you think about this? Are you still going to support Love and Hip Hop Miami? Are you excited about Amara’s upcoming single? And do you think Young Hollywood can change, or is he too less-than-smart to realize he needs to change? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Latinx representation in Hollywood is something that seems to be suspiciously under the radar, even though it’s highly important, as the Latinx identity is one that is diverse and multifaceted. Despite characters like Sofia Vergara’s Gloria in ABC’s Modern Family and the casts of Lifetime’s Devious Maids and TNT’s Queen of the South existing in the media, there’s still more that needs to be done in Hollywood, such as focusing more on darker-skinned tones, racial diversity, and whitewashing. For every Gloria onscreen, there’s only one April Sexton, Yaya DaCosta’s Afro-Brazilian role on NBC’s Chicago Med, or Carla Espinosa, Judy Reyes’ proud Dominican character on NBC’s Scrubs. Even the roles like Vergara’s role—which is a “sexy Latina” stereotype—need work in order to exist outside of the stereotypes that have been wrongly attached to Latinx characters and actors.
Two of the latest instances of Hollywood’s failure at Latinx representation are X-Men Sunspot and Dr. Cecilia Reyes. The Afro-Latinx characters, which will be part of the new X-Men film The New Mutants, will be played by Henry Zaga and Alice Braga. Zaga is Brazilian, but he isn’t black or biracial, which removes much of the context from Sunspot’s character, as his characterization stems from the racial issues he’s had to face as a biracial Afro-Brazilian. Alternatively, Braga is Afro-Latina, but being light-skinned, she’s able to exhibit a privilege that the original, darker-skinned actress up for the role, Rosario Dawson, can’t. Again, it takes an important piece away from a character that is not just Puerto Rican, but defined by her place in the African Diaspora.
Throughout this year, I spoke with several Latinx creators about how they feel about Hollywood’s Latinx representation and what can be done to make it better. This is a longform piece, so I’ll break this up into several sections:
- The roles afforded to Latinx actors in Hollywood
- Whitewashing and brownface in Hollywood
- The good and bad of Hollywood’s Latinx representation
- Wrapping up—why you must take Latinx representation seriously
The roles afforded to Latinx actors in Hollywood
Latinx actors, like many POC actors, are offered less than their fair share of meaningful roles. When they are offered roles, they’re often racist.
“When Latinx actors do get roles, I feel they’re oftentimes stereotypes,” wrote Desiree Rodriguez, Editorial Assistant for Lion Forge sci-fi comic book Catalyst Prime and writer for Women on Comics and The Nerds of Color, in an email interview. “The Spicy Latina, the Buffoon, the Tough Chick Who Dies, the Sexual Exotic Fantasy, the Drug Dealer, the Gangster, and so on.
“…What I find frustrating is when Latinx actors do get roles, it’s a struggle and they are locked into stereotypes,” said Rodriguez. “I’m a huge fan of Diego Luna, but the first role I saw him in he played a Cuban – when he is Mexican – man who was basically the exotic fantasy for the white female lead in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. This isn’t even getting into how Afro-Latinxs, Asian-Latinxs, and other mixed raced Latinxs are barred from roles because they don’t fit Hollywood’s pre-packaged idea of what being Latinx looks like.”
“I think currently, while we are seeing more visibility, the current roles that are offered or available to Latinos are the role of a servant position, like a maid or something that falls in line with the stereotypes people have about Latinos, like maybe a sidekick or a criminal,” said Janel Martinez, founder and editor-in-chief of Ain’t I Latina, a site celebrating Afro-Latinas and Afro-Latinx culture.
“For example, in Orange is the New Black, a lot of people were hyped about the fact that there was a great representation of Latinas in the actual show, which is awesome, but when you look on the flipside of that, this is a show about women in jail,” she said. “Also, Devious Maids, [co-produced by Eva Longoria], it’s a full cast of Latinas, two of them identifying as Afro-Latina, and they were maids. I think people are seeing the visibility, people are excited to be able to say if you’re watching the show, you’re seeing our representation…but I think it’s still in a very limited scope. I find that it’s not just a Carrie Bradshaw or just someone who happens to be a Latina but maybe they’re the magazine editor in the movie. Their identity, while it’s important, isn’t in line with stereotypes and then manifested in the character that they essentially embody.”
“Typically, I see lots of immigrant, day laborers and criminal roles going to Latinx actors,” wrote Gerry Maravilla, Head of Crowdfunding at Seed and Spark and writer-director of Cross, in an email interview. “I think this comes from often lack of interaction on behalf of writers and filmmakers with Latinx people in the real world. As such, they rely on what they’ve already seen in films or what they see from the vantage point of their more insulated experience.”
“By ‘insulated,’ I don’t mean that they live secluded or antisocial lives, but rather the lives they lead don’t actually include Latinx people in any meaningful way,” he said. “Instead, they see the Latinx peoples working in roles like day laborers or think about Latinx gang culture because of its coverage in the media.”
“I think the most important thing to remember about stereotypes is how detrimental they are to Latinx actors who are trying to be cast in roles that are meaningful [as well as] to creators and consumers as a whole,” said Kimberly Hoyos, filmmaker and creator of The Light Leaks, a website designed to support, educate and empower female and gender non-conforming filmmakers. “As a Latina creator, I’m not going to write a character that I wouldn’t personally maybe want to act as. I wouldn’t create someone who is my ethnicity that doesn’t represent something larger as a whole. As a consumer growing up, that’s what I would see, maids and…anything that was oversexualized or overcriminalized. I think that in part pushed me to be a creator so I would be in charge of what was being produced.”
Amy Novondo, singer and actor, said that several people she knows are frustrated with the lack of quality roles.
“[Hollywood] thinks of that over-dramatized telenovela atmosphere and [they think that] Latinos are only capable of that kind of acting their minds,” she said. “I know a couple of Latinos who are really mad about this because we barely get a chance to get into the audition room and when we do, we’re stereotyped right out of the box. It’s like, come on—I want a little more than that.”
Why have these stereotypes stayed around, and why have they kept their power? The answers lie in the pervasiveness of media itself, wrote Rodriguez.
“Media has a lot of power. The images we see, coupled with the words we read or we hear imprint on us however subtly,” she wrote. “It’s something of an irony that the Latin Lover trope can be attributed to Rudolph Valentino’s – a white Italian man – performance in 1921’s The Sheik, while stereotypes like The Domestic – where Latinx characters are gardeners, maids, etc – are perpetrated by popular, well known Latinx actors like Jennifer Lopez. And in Lopez’s case, we have an instance where Hollywood shows how deeply entrenched it is with its discomfort and ignorance dealing with the Latinx identity.”
Rodriguez references The Wedding Planner and Maid in Manhattan, which exhibit Lopez in two roles that reinforce racial and ethnic hierarchies.
“In The Wedding Planner, Lopez plays an Italian woman who is, for all intents and purposes, highly successful and comfortably well off. In Maid in Manhattan, Lopez plays a Latina woman who works as a maid in an expensive hotel, just scraping by as a single mom, and only finds success after she falls in love with a white man,” she wrote. “This creates a distorted image. As an Italian woman, Lopez’s character is an independent and successful career woman who eventually finds love. As a Latina woman, Lopez’s character is a single mom (enforcing the idea that Latino men are absentee fathers/bad family men), working as a maid until a rich white man “saves” her; then and only then does she find success.”
“This is, perhaps, a cynical viewing of what are two separate, and admittedly tropey romantic comedies. But again, media has power. Consciously or not, there’s a negative message to be had in the fact that Lopez’s Latina identity was erased in favor of an Italian one in The Wedding Planner,” she wrote. “By erasing our Latinx identities in favor of white ones, either by erasing the very existence of our Latinx identities or whitewashing them with white actors, media contributes to misinformation about what being Latinx is. Who we are as a collective culture and people – which is highly diverse and layered. Yet these stereotypes are upheld by this continued enforcement of ignorance and whitewashing.”
“[Stereotyping is] very, very detrimental and limiting because when you think of Latin America, we’re talking about over 20 countries and yes, we’re talking about Spanish [as a language] there are other languages [as well]…so I will say that when it comes down to not just representation, but inclusion in Hollywood, a person has to be invested in learning about the culture because there’s so many different moving parts,” said Martinez. “You can be Latino, Latina, Latinx, but you can be black, you can be Asian, you can be white and Latino. There has to be a great understanding of the culture.”
“…I think the work that is needed to really depict a Latino hasn’t been done and I think, specifically, when it comes to the representation, a lot of times they don’t even specify the nationality of the Latino [character]. …[Viewers] don’t even know if this person is Ecuadorian or Puerto Rican or if they’re from Honduras or Nicaragua or wherever because whoever wrote the role[.]”
Martinez also talked about how the different languages, slang words, and other cultural identifiers that make up Latin America aren’t taken seriously as characterization tools.
“When we see the portrayals on our screen, those things are not necessarily taken into account,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a strong grasp on what it means to be Latino, either Latino in America or Latino abroad.”
Hoyos said that stereotypes are at their most insidious when people don’t even recognize them as such.
“I think the most dangerous thing about stereotypes is that to the untrained eye, they’re not seen as anything negative…To the average viewer, if they see one crime movie with Latinx as they gang members or the thugs, they may not even call that movie racist,” she said. “They might be like, ‘Oh, other movies do that.’ It becomes a normalized thing, and I think that’s why need to educate ourselves as a whole. I think a lot of that goes to correcting others when we see problematic media as a whole.”
Maravilla echoes this point by examining the news’ portrayal of Latinx Americans.
“I think these stereotypes originate from a similar place as the kind of roles that go to Latinx actors. They come from an isolated or insulated experience from Latinx people that prevents them from seeing or understanding them as complex, three-dimensional people,” he wrote. “When you look at other films, Latinx people are often criminals, immigrants, blue-collar people, and when they look at news coverage, this is also typically our depiction.”
“As filmmakers try to balance telling an engaging and affective story, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of making a narrative work at a story level, he wrote. “Because their focus or interest isn’t necessarily on accurate cultural representation, they rely on stereotypes to satisfy their story needs, but end up not fully realizing (and in some cases just not caring) about the harm these stereotypes are doing.”
Next: Whitewashing and brownface in Hollywood
NEW YORK, Oct. 26, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Latina magazine— the first in its space and the number one destination for the 35 million acculturated, second and third generation American Latinas—celebrates 20 years with a look back at the progress Latinas have made in Hollywood over the past two decades.
The magazine celebrates it’s platinum anniversary with a cover of the most influential Latinas (Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Gloria Estefan, Christina Aguilera, and Sophia Vergara, among others) that combined creates a photomosaic of the legendary Selena Quintanilla (www.latina.com/20years).
“We chose Selena because, unlike other Latino stars who at the time made it big by modifying their names and ‘passing’ as white, Selena turned to her culture first, rediscovering her roots to find her voice,” said Latina Editorial Director Robyn Moreno. “And through her voice, American Latinas found theirs and learned they didn’t need to change to make it big.”
The thought bomb of Christy Haubegger, Latina became a pioneering force for Latinas underserved by the general market and Spanish language media. Latinas were, for the most part, invisible to mainstream culture during most of the 80s and 90s. For the past two decades, Latina has played a central role in helping readers connect to their culture, while also helping shape and launch the careers of some of the biggest Latina stars.
Through the help of Latina’s covers, J.Lo became a queen, Christina Aguilera crossed over, and Selma Hayek gained A-list status and was the first Latina to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
In the words of some of Latina’s most influential celebrity cover interviews on the progress Latinas have made in the past 20 years:
“When Hollywood starts considering me for roles where ethnic background doesn’t matter, that’s an even bigger step in the right direction for me.” – Jennifer Lopez (Summer 1996)
“A lot of my fans are young girls, and they go ‘You’re someone young Latin girls can look up to’ because there really aren’t many.” – Christina Aguilera (December 1999)
“I want to empower young women like me to fulfill their dreams. I hope I can inspire somebody to get focused on what they want out of life instead of just taking what’s given to them.” – Jessica Alba (March 2008)
We just got finished praising Melissa Villaseñor for breaking the glass ceiling for Latinas on Saturday Night Live, and not nearly a week later, we’re already going onto the next with Villaseñor in our rear-view mirrors because of some tweets she made on her now-private Twitter page.
I had just written about Villaseñor exactly eight days ago as of the time of this post. And before my post could even become old news, Buzzfeed along with other outlets, had broken the news that Villaseñor has had a long history of tweeting insensitive, racist statements. Not even real jokes per se; there was literally no way to find what she wrote amusing in any form.
What am I talking about, you might ask? Here you go:
— April 👉🏾 (@ReignOfApril) September 22, 2016
— Shanelle Little (@ShanelleLittle) September 22, 2016
Villaseñor’s tweets make me reflect on something we should stay cognizant of at all times; that there’s more than just one type of Latinx identity and that Afro-Latinx face a multi-layered form of discrimination and racism, some of which us Americans, black white or otherwise, don’t even know about.
America typically denies the multi-layered experiences of Afro-Latinx people, opting for the idea America usually adopts when thinking of Latinx and/or Hispanic people; a person who is either European-looking or tan-skinned. This denial is clearly an undercurrent in Villaseñor’s tweets, but it’s also an undercurrent in other Latin-American and South American countries as well. In many ways, the discrimination black diasporic people face in these countries are linked to America’s own issues with race-based colonialism.
Take for instance Mexico. Americans typically don’t think of “black people” when they think of Mexico, but they are there. Black Mexicans have never fully been integrated; you don’t see many (or any) black Mexican actors and actresses in the telenovelas that make it to American shores. We also don’t hear of black Mexican singers or painters or leaders. Mexico itself hasn’t come to terms with its own history, in many cases refusing to believe black Mexican citizens about their own heritage. Clemente Jesus Lopez, head of the Oaxaca state office for black Mexicans, told the BBC that he can remember two instances in which the Mexican government didn’t believe black people were a part of Mexico, both instances involving women.
“One was deported to Honduras and the other to Haiti because the police insisted that in Mexico there are no black people. Despite having Mexican ID, they were deported.” Lopez said that Mexican consulates were able to bring the women back, but the Mexican government itself offered no apology or compensation. However, for the first time in 2015, citizens were able to check “black” on the Mexican interim census, so Mexico is showing some subtle movement of the needle, but that’s only the starting point.
Related: #DifferenceMakers: Janel Martinez’s “Ain’t I Latina” Reps for Afro-Latinas Left Out of the Conversation
It’s also worth pointing out that there are also Asian Latinx and Asian South Americans as well. Asian Mexicans make up a small percentage of Mexico’s population, for example. And Brazil has the largest percentage of Japanese citizens outside of Japan itself; many of whom we saw during this past Olympics winning for Brazil. There are also quite a few Asian-Hispanic/Asian Latinx American actors in Hollywood, including Kirk Acevedo, Harry Shum, Jr., Tatyana Ali, Tyson Beckford (both of whom are also Afro-Latinx as well), Enrique Iglesias, Bruno Mars (who is also Ashkenazi Jewish), Kelis (who also has African American heritage), and many more.
While Latin America and South America have their own work to do, America has some things it needs to suss out for itself, and Villaseñor’s mistakes can be used a learning point for most of us.
The fact that we, as a melting pot nation, don’t generally recognize part of the black diaspora as part of the Latinx identity, is something that speaks directly to our ideas about race, ideas that are reflected squarely in Villaseñor’s now-deleted tweets. We, and I guess Mexico and other countries as well, expect for blackness to be a self-contained, monolithic identity. Blackness doesn’t just equal one thing; blackness can be multilayered. You can be Afro-Latinx, just as much as you can be a black Native American, blasian, and of white and black heritage. So when we (and Villaseñor) label “black” as just being one thing, we’re erasing entire groups of people. The erasure is doubly so when blackness is equated with being ugly and subhuman.
Thankfully, there are people out there doing the hard work of providing a space for Afro-Latinx to feel included, such as Janel Martinez’ Ain’t I Latina?, which focuses on news and entertainment centered around the African diaspora throughout Latin and South America. But each of us can do our part to end this discrimination. First, we can start with addressing our own ideas about what constitutes blackness. Second, we can demand those who are figures in society to think outside of themselves and think of those they’ll impact the most with their words. For some like Villaseñor, if you’re going to become a role model for other Latinx coming up after you, shouldn’t you make sure you’re inclusive and represent all Latinx?
Third, With those of us who are championing diversity or getting more diversity on the screen, we need to ask ourselves if we are inviting all voices to the table, and not just the voices we think represent the whole of a people. When we fight for diversity, we need to make sure all racial and cultural experiences are accounted for. When those of us in power to cast actors in an inclusive way, we need to make sure that our idea of “Latinx character” includes all races and ethnicities, since Latin America is multicultural as well. Those of us who are media creators need to make sure that we think outside of what we’ve been told a Latinx character should look like.
Ultimately, though, while we can all learn lessons from Villaseñor’s transgressions, the biggest lesson should be for Villaseñor herself; now that she’s in the public eye, she’d better what she says as well as what she tweets.
What do you think about Villaseñor? Give your opinions in the comments section below.
Saturday Night Live is finally breaking another glass ceiling; they have finally hired their first Latina cast member. The question is: Why did it take so long?
According to Complex, the NBC staple has added three new castmembers, Alex Moffat, Mikey Day, and Melissa Villaseñor. Villaseñor, the first Latina SNL cast member, is a multi-talent; she’s a stand-up comedian as well as an actor, musician, graphic designer, and voice actor, which credits such as Family Guy and Adventure Time.
Naturally, to be on SNL, you have to be pretty funny. She certainly is: she made it to the finals of Season 6 of America’s Got Talent doing amazing celebrity impressions. Take a look:
Flama has more of her impressions:
NBC News goes into more depth, stating that Villaseñor “has over 10 years of comedy experience [and] has headlined over 100 clubs and colleges around the country.”
So with all of that, the question remains: Why did it take so doggone long?
The clear reason is that Saturday Night Live, and by extension, Lorne Michaels, didn’t think it pertinent enough to find a Latina comedian to join the ranks.
Saturday Night Live has been in the news for being less-than-diverse before, which led to the hiring of black women comedians like Leslie Jones, Sasheer Zamata and LaKendra Tookes. But the show has also been in the news for disrespecting its Latino and Hispanic audiences. Last year, the show ignored the protests of outraged citizens and allowed for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to host, despite his then-recent comments stating that Latino and Hispanic immigrants were rapists and murderers.
Turning a blind eye to the needs of part of its demographic is something that the show has had to grapple with, especially since inclusionary casting has become more and more of a necessity. The Guardian‘s Luis Miguel Echegaray gets at some of this new reality:
Despite the fact that this [casting] is less about show boss Lorne Michaels’s rebellious ingenuity and more about an inevitable decision to diversify, the hiring of Villaseñor is cause for celebration for the Hispanic community, because it opens a door which was once presumed locked. It’s difficult to comprehend the value of diversity when you’re not directly affected by it, but the issue is particularly acute in entertainment.
Despite a slight upswing this year, Hispanics are the least represented speaking roles in film and television. Earlier this year, meanwhile, a study by Media, Diversity and Social Change initiative noted that out of more than 11,000 speaking characters in film and TV, a mere 5.8% were Hispanic.
Villaseñor’s introduction to the late-night schedule might not answer everything, but SNL’s huge influence on today’s millennial and digital culture is a platform that can help her (consciously or not) inspire other young Latinas who are struggling just to get in the door.
Lorne Michaels does have to be given credit, though, for partnering with NBC Universal Telemundo to find new talent. With NBC Universal Telemundo and his Broadway Video, the online comedy channel Más Mejor was born. As Echegaray writes, Villaseñor was a huge part of the channel, and that playing ground gave her the foot in the door to Saturday Night Live.
Hopefully, Villaseñor’s hiring will mean that Saturday Night Live will hire more people of Latino and Hispanic background. It’s past time for there to be more meaningful representation, and Villaseñor is just the beginning.
What do you think of Villaseñor becoming part of Saturday Night Live? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Disney Channel fans (or family members of fans), take note: Disney’s first Latina princess, will make her debut on Elena of Avalor, airing Friday, July 22 at 7 p.m.-8 p.m. ET.
Princess Elena of Avalor will finally be presented to the world in a one-hour premiere event. Gaby Moreno, Latin Grammy Award winner for Best New Artist, will perform the theme song; Aimee Carrero, the voice of Elena, will also sing Elena’s anthem, “My Time.”
The show is set to star tons of talent, such as Switched at Birth and George Lopez star Constance Marie, movie star Danny Trejo, Jane the Virgin’s Jaime Camil and Ivonne Coll, Ugly Betty and Devious Maids star Ana Ortiz, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Tituss Burgess, movie and TV star Hector Elizondo and other guest stars. Here is a ton (and I mean a TON) of info, some of which is especially pertinent for those of you with the Disney Channel App and Disney Channel VOD.
Set in the enchanted fairytale land of Avalor, the series tells the story of Elena, a brave and adventurous teenager who has saved her kingdom from an evil sorceress and must now learn to rule as crown princess until she is old enough to be queen. Elena’s journey will lead her to understand that her new role requires thoughtfulness, resilience and compassion, the traits of all truly great leaders.
The stories incorporate influences from diverse Latin and Hispanic cultures through architecture, traditions, food and customs. Magic, mythology, folklore and music also play an important role, with each episode featuring original songs spanning an array of Latin musical styles including Mariachi, Latin Pop, Salsa, Banda and Chilean Hip Hop.
A full-length preview of the first episode, “First Day of Rule,” will be available for verified users on the Disney Channel app and Disney Channel VOD platforms beginning Friday, July 1. Following its U.S. debut, the series will roll out globally in 33 languages in 163 countries on Disney Channels worldwide.
In the first episode, Elena officially becomes crown princess and rescues her sister, Isabel, from Noblins, elf-like shapeshifting creatures based on a Chilean peuchen myth. The episode also introduces Zuzo, Elena’s spirit guide in the animal world, based on the belief of a Mayan tribe in southern Mexico. In the second episode, titled “Model Sister,” Elena is torn between a promise she made to help Isabel and fulfilling her royal duties.
This fall, Disney Channel will air a special TV movie titled “Elena and the Secret of Avalor,” which explains how Elena was imprisoned for decades in her magical amulet and eventually set free by Princess Sofia of Enchancia.
Extensions for the series include Disney Parks & Resorts, which will welcome Princess Elena at Walt Disney World Resort this summer and at Disneyland Resort in the fall; print and e-book titles from Disney Publishing; and dolls, role-play products, accessories, home décor and apparel from Disney Store and licensees including Hasbro, Jakks Pacific, Franco Manufacturing and Children’s Apparel Network. Products will begin setting later this month at Disney Store and will continue to roll out at mass retailers throughout the summer. Walt Disney Records will release Elena’s anthem titled “My Time” as a digital single on iTunes Friday, June 24, followed by a seven-track EP featuring songs from the series on Friday, July 22, and Disney Studios will release an episode compilation DVD later this year.
“Elena of Avalor” stars Aimee Carrero as the voice of Elena; Jenna Ortega as Princess Isabel; Chris Parnell, Yvette Nicole Brown and Carlos Alazraqui as the jaquins Migs, Luna and Skylar respectively; Emiliano Díez as Francisco; Julia Vera as Luisa; Christian Lanz as Chancellor Esteban; Jillian Rose Reed as Naomi; Joseph Haro as Mateo; Jorge Diaz as Gabe; Keith Ferguson as Zuzo; and Joe Nunez as Armando.
The recurring guest voice cast includes: Constance Marie as Doña Paloma, Magister of the Traders Guild; Lou Diamond Phillips as Victor Delgado, a debonair villain who uses his charisma to deceive the people around him; Justina Machado and Jaime Camil as siblings Carmen and Julio, who run a restaurant in Avalor; Rich Sommer as Captain Daniel Turner, Naomi’s father and harbormaster; Tyler Posey as Prince Alonso, a charming prince from the Argentine-inspired Kingdom of Cordoba; Lucas Grabeel as Jiku, the leader of the Noblins; and Echo Kellum as King Joaquín, a monarch from the Caribbean-inspired Kingdom of Cariza, who is a trusted and close friend of Elena.
The guest voice cast for season one includes: Tituss Burgess as Charoca, a magical volcano creature based on a Chilean myth; Ana Ortiz as Rafa, Mateo’s mother; Ivonne Coll as Doña Angelica, an absent-minded and overly dramatic ghost; Hector Elizondo as Fiero, a wicked wizard; Odette Annable as Señorita Marisol, Isabel’s enthusiastic young teacher; Danny Trejo as Antonio Agama, a popular Avaloran hero; Anthony Mendez as King Juan Ramón, a monarch from the Argentine-inspired Kingdom of Cordoba; Eden Espinosa as Orizaba, an evil moth fairy banished to the spirit world; Marsai Martin as Cat, a budding scientist and adventurer; Aasif Mandvi as King Raja, a monarch from the Indian-inspired Kingdom of Napurna; and George Takei as King Toshi, a monarch from the Japanese-inspired Kingdom of Satu.
Latin Grammy Award winner Gaby Moreno performs the series’ theme song and will also voice a guest role. Born in Guatemala, Moreno performs her music, which ranges from blues to jazz to soul to R&B, in both English and Spanish. In addition to winning the Latin Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2013, Moreno was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music in 2010 for co-writing the theme song to “Parks and Recreation.”
“Elena of Avalor” was created by Emmy Award winner Craig Gerber, who also serves as executive producer. Silvia Cardenas Olivas is the story editor, and Elliot M. Bour is the supervising director. The series’ cultural advisors are Marcela Davison Avilés, founder of The Chapultepec Group, co-founder of the international Latino arts initiative Camino Arts, and Director of Humanities Programs at the FDR Foundation at Harvard University; and Diane Rodriguez, Associate Artistic Director of Centre Theatre Group and co-founder of the theatre ensemble Latins Anonymous, who was recently appointed by President Obama to be a member of the National Council on the Arts.
Check out some of the pictures of Elena and Isabel below. What do you think about Elena of Avalor? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Two shows I’ve been looking forward to as we head into the midseason are Superstore and Telenovela, both coming to NBC. Superstore and Telenovela are both new additions to the increased visibility of Latinos, specifically Latina lead characters, on television, which is important in its own right, and also, just as a fan, I want to see what kind of characters America Ferrera and Eva Longoria are playing this time around. Thankfully, we’ll all get to see what we’re in for when both shows preview after The Voice late November and early December.