'Vida' Is Tanya Saracho's Love Letter to 'Brown Queerness' and Latinx Community (Exclusive)
By Elisa Osegueda
El amor, es el amor.
Love and acceptance are at the heart of Starz's new show, Vida, which chronicles the life of two Mexican-American sisters who return to Boyle Heights, their childhood neighborhood in East Los Angeles, to deal with their mother's sudden death.
"In a lot of ways this is a really simple story," Tanya Saracho, Vida's showrunner and creator told ET ahead of the show’s season finale on Sunday. "It's a story of family, of two sisters, but it's the world around it that we haven't gotten the chance to share."
The groundbreaking, six-episode series has received positive reviews since it premiered in May, as fans and critics have praised the writers for highlighting authentic Latin voices and experiences that historically have not been represented on the small screen. Much like Transparent and Orange Is the New Black, Vida is also becoming a vessel for visibility and cementing a new chapter of progress.
"[Vida] is a love letter to brown queerness that we don't often see on television," explained Saracho, who began her career as a Chicago-based playwright. "And, it’s also a love letter to brown females with agency, who are coming to terms with their power and trying to figure that out."
"We're allowing some of our characters to be ugly if they have to be, and complex," she continued. "A lot of the time, because we don't have many Latinx scenarios on the landscape, not just in television or film and other media, we haven't gotten the chance to tell our story from our point of view."
For those unfamiliar with the term Latinx, which has gained popularity in recent years, it is a gender-neutral term often used in lieu of Latino or Latina. The “x” replaces the standard “o” or “a” ending in Spanish forming nouns of the masculine and feminine genders, respectively.
Saracho describes it as a “gender inclusive term that takes away patriarchal gender notions. Let's say there are five females and one male in the room, you still have to call everyone Latino, because that's the language.”
“Now, the term is not trying to change all of Spanish, it's just trying to address how gendered people are identified,” she added. “We have a non-binary person on our show, they are neither male or female, they are not binary. So, the term really does describe our show.”
The show, which is entirely in Spanglish and unapologetically deviates from using subtitles, highlights urgent issues within the Latinx community, including gentrification, racism and homophobia.
“This last episode is how we really deal with [homophobia in the Latino community],” Saracho said. “In a sort of surprising way, because in the first five episodes you might be thinking, 'Oh, everything is fine. This neighborhood completely embraces Latino queerness,’ but then you realize that those are pockets of safe havens, because outside of that in our traditional machistaculture, and we can't deny that it's a reality, queers might not be safe.”
“My writer's room was mostly queer last year and this was by design,” she continued. “The season finale was a huge conversation. If we get a second season we will be dealing with the repercussions of that [final act].”
Saracho, who previously worked with Shonda Rhimes as a writer on How to Get Away with Murder, joins a small elite group of Latina showrunners in Hollywood.
“The Latinas in this industry are really supportive and stick together,” she said. “America Ferrera, Gina Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, and Salma Hayek have all reached out and have helped promote Vida, and it's because they get it. They really are about opening doors. The more there are of us, the more of a movement it will be, and it won't be just tokens.”
“I'm very conscious of who I work with,” she continued. “Because I want to develop and nurture my writers so they can have their own shows, take on whatever is next for them.”
“Opening those doors is my legacy,” she said. “I feel like I just arrived.”
Vida stars Mishel Prada, Melissa Barrera, Ser Anzoatequi, Chelsea Rendon, Carlos Miranda and Maria-Elena Laas.