“STARZ asked me to write a show about Latinx millennials. Latinx millennials are one of the people we want to reach. Millennials of color, they binge and they consume that way, people of color not just Latinx. Millenials in general, everyone kept saying God I wish I could’ve binged.” – Tanya Saracho
In 2018, the STARZ network took a chance on a Latina writer from Chicago to make a six episode show that would appeal to the Latinx audience. An audience that has felt neglected for many years by Hollywood because of the lack of initiative to put Latinos in lead roles or anything that doesn’t play to the negative stereotype. That writer and showrunner is Tanya Saracho and she had a tough challenge to prove to the “gatekeepers” that there is an audience for a Latinx show called ‘Vida‘. A show that would place two sisters back in the neighborhood which they were raised to face challenges of self-identity, family dynamics, and the erosion of culture in their rapidly changing community.
In season one, Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera) return to Boylan Heights because of their mother’s death, only to find out that their mother was gay. This subject matter sets the tone of the series as well as for Emma, which hits her emotionally hard because she was sent away (Chicago) because she was caught kissing another girl. Throughout the season Emma struggles with the anger she has for her mother and her place in life. This is where Mishel Prada shines as her performance is perfectly cold, distant and fractured. The topic of having LGBTQ+ family is a struggle for the Latinx community, it’s usually dismissed as shameful, not talked about or even leads to abuse because of the strong religious ties that Latinos have with Catholicism and Christianity.
With Lyn, she deals with grief differently by her need of returning to her posh way of life, shopping, sex and drug parties. Lyn’s character is a look into the exotification of Latinas in the American white culture. This is where Melissa Barrera’s performance is perfectly played to being innocent, naive and honest. In a beautifully crafted scene Lyn is parallel with a maid at a swanky party up on the LA hills. Her privileged friends treat her like a token Latina, sexualizing her, even describing her eyebrows as “Frida-Brows.” The juxtaposition was the maid cleaning up the vomit, as one of her friends says, “that’s why she is here for.” In a final powerful shot, riding downtown, Lyn is in a public bus with the maid and there is no difference between them.
The family structure is also challenged as Emma and Lyn find out that their mother married Eddy (Ser Anzoategui) and that they all had to share the inheritance of a building and a bar. Eddy is a lesbian on the show but is also the central cultural connection of traditions and compassion of the Latinx culture. Ser Anzoategui plays Eddy with such tenderness and delicateness that at times it is terribly heartbreaking for the loss of her wife. They’s performance is so strong that they steals scenes. Eddy is that mother, that father, that family member that reminds you of how proud you should be about your roots.
The neighborhood where ‘Vida‘ takes place is a character on its own. Boylan Heights is a well-known, strong Latinx community in Los Angeles, a barrio that is combating gentrification. In the show, the sisters themselves are seen as “Whitetinas” and “Gentefiers.” This label comes from Marisol (Chelsea Rendon) the youth representation of the show. Marisol is an activist that runs the anti-gentrification group, “Vigilantes.” She goes around her neighborhood on her bike, spray painting galleries and other business with “Chipsters” and “Fuck White Art.” She also interrupts white bloggers that claim discovery, even calls them “Beckies.” It’s a reflection of the “Defend Boyle Heights” activist group unapologetic tactics. Chelsea Rendon wonderfully plays Marisol with a rebels’ edge but yet with a weakness for love. Marisol is also the hard truth of what Latinas face with the pressure of taking care of the family. Besides running an activist group, she has three jobs and also her family responsibilities of taking care of her father and brother Johnny (Carlos Miranda).
What sets apart ‘Vida‘ from other failed attempts to capture the Latinx audience is the realness and seriousness of tackling current issues and confronting those taboo questions that the culture ignores. It is a breath of fresh air. In its first season, according to STARZ, viewership tripled since its premiere on May 6, 2018. The show grew by 171% capturing the largest Latino audience composition for a premium series. “Additionally, on the STARZ app, the series audience grew by more than 60% from the season premiere to the finale.” Tanya Saracho proved that there is an audience for an all Latinx cast with Latin American stories. She went on to sign a three year deal to develop shows for the Latinx audience as well as ‘Vida‘ getting renewed for a second season. One of the great qualities Tanya has is that she will find a way to support the Latinx community with representation. With Vida, she had an all Latinx writing room, for the second season the show includes all-female directors and crew.
In promoting for ‘Vida‘ season two, now with ten episodes, Latin Horror has caught up with Showrunner, Tanya Saracho and Cast, Mishel Prada, Ser Anzoategui, Chelsea Rendon, Carlos Miranda and Roberta Colindrez at the Tribeca Film Festival.
On the role of gentrification and its impact, Carlos Miranda who plays Johnny said, “A lot of people that I grew up with went to Oakland but now they’re gentrifying Oakland. They’re getting pushed out further and further out. And people are living in Antioch which is an hour away and they work in the city [Okland].” Chelsea Rendon who plays the activist Marisol also chimed in, “I was born and raised in Montebello, East LA and I go back sometimes when I want good food. There is my taco spot that I go to, Juan Great Fiesta, and I went after not going for a minute, there is a Chipotle in its inhabitance. Right next to it. And I’m like bro, why would you eat Chipotle when you got Juan Great Fiesta right next door? I drive forty five minutes for tacos not Chipotle.”
Tanya Saracho had her input about Emma and Lyn being part of Gentefication, “This is a story about two American girls, they’re Mexican Americans, you can’t forget their 2nd and 3rd generation so one maybe acculturated, one maybe assimilated but you know they’re Americans. So they present [themselves] in their different ways, and it worked in different neighborhoods, they went away for whatever reason, they have their own reason. When they went away whatever presentation worked for them. For Lyn it’s being a user friendly ethnic for whatever that means, I would be your Frida but in the neighborhood. Emma is just full on performance dominate culture, cause she thinks she will succeed that way. Coming back clashes with the organic nature of the neighborhood as embodied by homegirl [Chelsea Rendon], she calls it out in the first episode “What is this?” In the second season it’s Baco. Baco is a new hypermasculine energy that we didn’t have before, from a no nonsense part of the neighborhood, older than Mari’s and he’s “what is this?” too and calls it out right away. The neighborhood will call them out because they are performing a version of themselves and that doesn’t work there.”
Chelsea Rendon and Tanya Saracho speaks on the arch for Marisol on season two. Chelsea says, “she’s in a place of questioning where am I going? What do I want? And how would I get there and so in this season a little bit more conflict with herself that she ends up finding. Which is very interesting because if you would’ve ask her a week before if this was happening, what would you do? She would know what exactly she had to do. And in season two it’s like wait and she has to catch herself. It felt really fun playing with it.” Tanya talks about Marisol’s struggle between being Latina and a feminist, “her duty as a Mexican daughter she feels it so strongly, no my father is sick, I have to get out of school and I have to wash for him, make his meals and give him his medicine cause that is culturally also a truth. So she navigates both this woke feminist progressive activist and being a traditional Mexican daughter. And when it comes to her brother too, it’s like the three male energies in her life oppress her and she allows it. And to watch that is interesting because this is a “bad ass chingona” but she’s still part of this patriarchal society and she accepts it.”
Mishel Prada mentions Emma’s violent love, “I think a big part of Emma that’s important which she brings up is she has a very “violent love” for this neighborhood and it’s something that isn’t black and white, it exists in this giant gray area as so many of our emotions does. From a very young age she was essentially told that love wasn’t for her. The one thing that she was always really hard on herself was cause she was caught kissing another little girl which should be a beautiful, sweet moment but instead she was sent away. What that does to a child when you teach them that in their formative years that can be so damaging and so she gets sent away and gets taught that and what she does with it is actually even though it comes across as so hard is actually incredible because she’s choosing to really pull herself up from her boot straps and put herself through college in a way that neighborhoods a lot of women especially from these neighborhoods end up like Mari, working three jobs to support her family and yet still it’s the brother that gets all the glory. So she essentially becomes an island and I think that that’s a big part of her choice to not identify with her queerness. It’s not that she’s denying it, cause she’s very comfortable, Emma does whatever Emma wants she doesn’t want to belong to a group because belonging to a group causes pain and it causes other people to tell you how to be…, I think it’s important for parents to see what they can do to their children when they don’t accept them for something that should be so beautiful and should be a wonderful experience, like your first kiss, your first love.”
Ser Anzoategui gives insight on Eddy’s vulnerable and control, “I think being so vulnerable Eddy being completely broken and always still mourning for Vida, and physically that’s a whole other layer of guilt, a whole other layer of like feeling completely vulnerable myself. Which is something that Eddy and Emma have in common. Even though it’s different Eddy also needs to have control.”
Roberta Colindrez broke down here role of Nico and the reasons she didn’t want it:
“So Nico is the first character you meet on the show who’s not from East L.A., that’s not from the neighborhood, that’s not even from the block. It’s the first person that comes in with the perspective that doesn’t have to do with having left or fighting to keep it the same. So she meets Emma at a party/wedding and like instantly there’s some draw that’s there for both of them with each other, and it leads to Nico coming in and helping consulting at the bar, managing the bar. You know with everything that starts out as one thing becomes another. And I think Nico coming in and seeing what’s going on with the bar, seeing how Emma is in relation to the people in her life she’s like “I’ve got other work to do here.” And you know, so yeah, it starts to thread through the relationship Emma has with Lyn, and that Emma has with Eddy, and that Emma has with literally anyone that walked by. So it’s cool to see a person whose function is kinda to like… it’s one thing when your fighting with your family, your never embarrassed, of over-reacting to something, yelling, or losing your shit. I think Emma kinda like has to like you know it’s just like a person that’s new and doesn’t have any sort of ties to everything that’s let Emma down. Nico is not coming in as the coolest person on the block. I actually had a little bit of hesitation when Tanya offered the job because I was in a place in my career where I was getting offered a lot of gay roles without any another information about who people were. You’re a gay Latin women, come in. That’s fine and we do need to see a lot more of that on TV whatever but that’s not my job on earth. I talk to Tanya about it and I was like I don’t know, I had to be careful where I put my energy, where to put my representational power. She was like, listen dude you have to stop internalizing all the homophobia that’s been thrown at you. If you think that the world is only going to see you as a queer Latina then it’s your job to play the part and to show them that’s there’s so much more to Queers and Latinos than just that. That you’re not all the same, socioeconomically you’re not all the same ethnicity, let’s stop pretending we all share the exact same amount of ambition and like you know, like, interests and all this stuff. And I think that’s a huge part of the show. I think that’s what it’s doing is so much more than just portraying the life of family I think it’s also portraying and kind of allowing people kind of investigate for the first time that like Latinos are so much more than just one thing, Queers are so much more than just one thing.”
Latin Horror got to see ‘Vida‘ season 2 and it is a roller-coaster ride of emotions. This season felt more like a slow burn as the first three episodes were to reestablish characters as people that need to “clean-up their shit!” After that the series picks up momentum that leaves Emma, Lyn, Marisol and Eddy on new paths.
The series opens up with Lyn giving up her wild ways as she tries to take initiative to help with the bar but her obstacles becomes her self-esteem, her love for Johnny and a failed attempted of millennial lottery. At the lowest point Lyn finds herself in the bathtub trying to look at her ugliness on a hand mirror that eventually cracks. The reason why is because she had lost her sisters respect. Lyn’s journey this season was so fulfilling because you got see her growth as a person. You wanted to root for her and by the last episode her character growth just puts a smile on your face as Lyn finally gets the respect she so desired.
On the flipside, Emma slowly breaks apart as people she trust lets her down. We first find out that all of Emma’s assets are invested in the bar and building to keep it open for six months. After strongly bonding with her sister, Emma finds out that Lyn had committed fraud and they are deeply in debt again. I’m telling you that you’ll need a box of tissue for this scene as it is so powerfully shot. Emma develops a relationship with the new character Nico, who is fun loving and wise. But just like a lightning strike Emma is burned by Nico with the appearance of her ex. A depressed Emma is on the couch but to the rescue is the new confident Lyn. Emma’s character arch was humanized as layers were ripped off to show a caring and fragile Latina.
Marisol this season was growing up before our eyes as she dealt with a down swirl to the strain of love, work and family. After meeting a high school friend that got engaged and is going to grad school, Marisol starts questioning her life. She also gets fired from one of her three jobs. This self-doubt leads Marisol back to the arms of Tlaloc which ends with her getting kicked out of her home and losing her new boyfriend. Emma extends her arms to give Marisol a home and job which starts certain sisterhood between them. In the last episode Marisol finds herself in a difficult situation between her new life and her old life.
Break out that box of tissue again as Eddy’s love for Vida is challenged by everyone. First Eddy pees on herself in bed and terrified she begs Lyn not to tell Emma out of shame. Then the sisters tell Eddy that both the marriage and will are not valid. The dagger to the heart is that Marisol accidently washes a piece of clothing that bears the scent of Vida. By the end of the season Eddy finds out a secret that makes her feel betrayed.
‘Vida‘ season 2 leaves you wanting more because it leaves all the characters on a cliff hanger. It is a strong season for the show as performances and character development is the driving force to these brilliant ten episodes. I cross my fingers and encourage everyone to watch it as it is a great show but also a show that is breaking glass ceilings. ‘Vida‘ deserves a third season.
‘Vida‘ season 2 Premieres THURSDAY, MAY 23 – All 10 Episodes of the Second Groundbreaking Season Will Be Made Available on the STARZ App, and starting Sunday, May 26 on STARZ.