Latinx diversity finds outlet on STARZ show ‘Vida’

By : Brian T. Carney OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LGBT MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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On Sunday, STARZ breaks down some serious barriers with the premiere of “Vida.” Set on the Eastside of Los Angeles, the series was created by a queer Latinx woman who also serves as showrunner, features a non-binary actor in a lead role and has a writer’s room where the entire staff is Latinx and most of the team is LGBT and/or female-identified.

The series got started when executives at STARZ called Tanya Saracho in for a meeting. Saracho is a Chicago-based writer who has written for “Devious Minds,” “Girls,” “Looking” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” Her plays include “Mala Hierbe” and “Fade,” which was inspired by her experience as a “diversity hire” for a television studio.

“They asked me if I know what a ‘chipster’ was, and I said, ‘Of course. It’s a Chicana hipster,’” Saracho says. “Then they asked me if I knew what gentrification was. Then they asked, ‘Can you do a pilot about it?’ and I said, ‘yeah.’”

Saracho recalls that the outline of the series came quickly.

“It’s all very simple really,” she says. “It’s about two girls who come home and find out a secret about their late mother. Using this area of L.A. as backdrop, everything just kind of filled up around them. These girls are very much my children now.”

A novice showrunner, Saracho learned that time is money in television.

“The first scene I turned in was seven pages,” she says. “My producer said, ‘You know, it costs $100,000 to shoot a page of dialogue. Do you think you have a $700,000 scene here?’”

She didn’t and she cut the scene in half.

She also noticed TV is more diverse.

“I do think there is something happening in TV that is really cool and I want theater to catch up,” she says. “I’ve been in the theater for 17 years. We’ve been talking about diversity and inclusion and LGBTQ narratives and brown narratives and Latinx narratives for years. But, the theater seasons still look the same as when I started.”

Things have happened more quickly on TV, she says.

“From my lived experience, I feel very supported in the conversations I’m having with STARZ,” she says. “They might not have the right terminology all the time, but they’re being active. It’s not just talk.”

This commitment to tackling complex social issues is embodied in the plot of “Vida.” When Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and Emma (Mishel Prada) return to their childhood home for their mother’s funeral, they discover that their mother has come out as a lesbian. As they deal with their grief and anger, they must also deal with their own sexual identities, childhood memories, new and old lovers, suspicious neighbors and saving their mother’s bankrupt bar from developers who are trying to gentrify the neighborhood.

The sisters must also come to terms with their mother’s lover Eddy Martinez, played by non-binary actor Ser Anzoategui who uses the pronouns they/them/their. They are a Los-Angeles based writer and performer whose work as an “artivist” brought them to the attention of fellow theatre artist Saracho. Anzoategui is proud to bring this character to life.

“Eddy is this beautiful soul who looks intimidating,” Anzoategui says. “I think Eddy will break stereotypes and expectations and reach everyone’s heart. This character lives in truth, where a lot of the other characters are trying to avoid the truth. It’s really fantastic to show viewers who Eddy is because Eddy reflects a lot of LGBTQ-plus people in Los Angeles.”

Anzoategui says the time is right for a show like “Vida.”

“We need this show right now,” they says. “The word ’vida’ literally means life and this show is literally a lifeline. ‘Vida’ may not leave you with answers. It’s not like this nicely wrapped-up beginning, middle and end and here’s the resolution. It’s real, like you’re living a life with these people. This amazing show opens up the eyes and the mind to what else is possible when you honor the communities you are telling a story about.”

Photo courtesy of STARZ

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