During ATX Television Festival’s virtual edition, trailblazing Latinx TV creators Gloria Calderon Kellett (One Day at a Time), Tanya Saracho (Vida), Steven Canals (Pose) And Ilana Pena (A Diary of a Future President) discussed a breadth of issues that revolved around the topic of celebrating authentic storytelling.
The pre-recorded panel came before the series finale of Saracho’s Vida and on the eve of the Pan Pacific Park/Fairfax protest. The ramifications and resistance as a result of George Floyd’s death were very much present.
Saracho talked about how the climate has weighed heavy on her heart, and how she couldn’t put into words how she felt. “Inaction doesn’t seem like the answer,” she said.
Kellett added to the sentiment, saying that although tweets and donations are important, they tend to feel hollow considering the magnitude of the current circumstances. “How do we, in these times when we have to stay at home — how do we get the message out? How do we band together and let the Black community know that we see them and we are going to raise our voices when we see someone speaking out against them?”
Pena said that the social media posts and donations may feel hollow, but it is something. More importantly, we need to listen to the Black community and what they have to say. “A lot of them feel like they have been shouting this into a void and the country has not been listening,” she said. “They are the voices we need to hear and they are being silenced.”
Having a family that is Puerto Rican and Black, Canals said that the issue is very personal to him. He thinks about his cousins and uncles who are those Black men that can be affected by this and be targeted.
“This is a systemic issue that has been going on for quite a long time,” he said. “The last four years has emboldened a certain amount of racism, as well as homophobia, sexism and misogyny.” He adds we need to amplify voices on the front lines and band together. “It’s not enough just to say, ‘I support the work other people are doing…we need to come together and say that this needs to stop.”
In terms of putting their emotions about the current landscape into their work and bringing authentic storytelling to it, Canals cites Toni Morrison saying that now is the time to pour their fear and hurt into their work. “For all of us, the work is wholly personal, and comes from a place of seeing our humanity as people and reminding the world that we are so much more alike than different,” adding that we are different, but we should celebrate those differences.
Kellett talks about being seen on TV and how growing up, she didn’t see typical TV tropes apply to the Latinx community. She felt invisible, and now, she makes TV for her 14-year-old self. “I hope that is not the way people have to go through any more,” she said.
When it comes to progress, there’s a vibe that Hollywood is moving forward, but at times it feels like a false progress — especially with Latinx shows. Vida has been canceled, and the Party of Five reboot was as well. Kellett said that we needed more than just three seasons of Vida, and we need more of Pose and shows of the like. Pena points out that the dominant culture needs to see shows from Latinx creators succeed in order to take chances. She was grateful that she was able to refer to Saracho, Kellett, and Canals’ shows in order to move that needle with her work.
“Gatekeepers are understanding the ‘no-story-without-them’ notion,” said Saracho. “We’ve been told our narrative for decades. The dominant [culture] has been telling us who we are and we are consuming it and it becomes this artificial poison because we believe it.”
There is progress, but there are lower budgets for projects from Latinx voices. Saracho points out that they have to “Latinx-cellent” with less resources, and they will get it done. But it sucks that the “obstacles are doubled.”
Kellett talked about her own journey with co-showrunning One Day at a Time, and how, at the beginning, people would go to Norman Lear for advice about the show and he would tell them to talk to her. Eventually, they would go to her directly, but they needed Lear’s permission — which is a problem, obviously. However, Kellett is grateful for Lear amplifying her voice.
Pena’s experience in the writers’ room for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend speaks to progress, as they had an inclusive room that helped amplified her voice. “They wanted my voice in the room,” she said. She tries to give that vibe in her writers’ room, and gives the opportunity for everyone to use their voices to the fullest potential.
For Canals, he had to jump over so many hurdles before Pose made it to FX. People said the show was too queer, Black, and just too risky. The show has since become a success, but even after season one, his credit as a show creator and producer wasn’t enough. “Even then, I was having to prove my worth,” he said. “The subtext to that is: ‘We are having a hard time believing a person like you got to where you are,’ and that’s the industry we operate in.”
Even so, Canals hopes that Hollywood will recognize the value of shows like Pose, Vida, One Day at a Time and Diary of a Future President and how they put an authentic spotlight on the Latinx community.
“I have sat in so much gratitude that I am sick of saying ‘Thank you’,” Kellett admits when it comes to her career. “I’m ready to say ‘You’re welcome’ because what we have is valuable — and we have said ‘Thank you’ a lot.”