Near the beginning of this afternoon’s PaleyFest panel on CW’s Jane the Virgin, star Gina Rodriguez joked that it seemed like the audience might continue to burst into applause every time the word “Spanish” was uttered.
This did not turn out to be the case. But the crowd reacted with cheers when Rodriguez invoked another powerful word: Empire — the new hit drama from Fox about a music company run by an African-American family dynasty.
Rodriguez and other panelists took the opportunity to speak out about Latino culture on TV. When it comes to taking roles, Rodriguez exhorted Latino actors not to stop and ask whether the casting director is looking for a Cuban or a Dominican or a Mexican. People from each of those countries can define significant differences with Latinos from other countries, but outsiders are much less likely to do so.
“We need to unite,” Rodriguez said. “They see us as one community — we need to be one community. Let’s do that, use our pwer as Latinos, whatever culture you identify with and celebrate.”
To appreciative laughter, she added: “Let’s get our viewership, just like Empire.”
The panel moderated by Jarett Wieselman included Rodriguez and co-stars Andrea Navedo, Jaime Camil, Ivonne Coll, Brett Dier, Justin Baldoni and Yale Grobglas. It also included Executive Producer Ben Silverman and EP/showrunner Jennie Urman.
Speaking out on another issue, Coll addressed the illegal-immigrant status of her character, Jane’s grandmother.
“I am so happy that I represent so many immigrants who come to this country and work so hard — we are part of the fabric of America,” Coll said. “It’s not just about ‘these Latinos.’ I am representing a demographic that exists. I put a human face on the hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens who are here who are not criminals, (who) are hard-working people,”
Showrunner Urman, who is not Latina, was asked how she manages to create realistc characters in a culture that is not her own. The key, she said, is to be specific. She said with a laugh that it has been much harder to write men than it has been to write for Jane, “a driven, Type-A woman who wants to be a writer.”
Added Urman: “I think it’s about writing people, not writing race.”