Everything old is new again, but this time around, it’s looking a little less white.
Everything old is new again, but this time around, it’s looking a little less white.
Hollywood’s recent tendency towards reboots and spinoffs has had some viewers begging for original stories and others imploring that their favorite shows be left in the past. While these reboots do remove the rosy coat of nostalgia fans like to gloss over beloved series, they also provide opportunity -- to tell stories we know and love with diverse faces instead of white ones.
Leading the charge on this trend is FX’s Mayans M.C., the spinoff of their popular Sons of Anarchy series, which ended after seven seasons in 2014. Instead of centering on Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) and his mostly white motorcycle club in Northern California (this became a plot point in the series), Mayans M.C. focuses on a new prospect, Ezekiel "EZ" Reyes (J.D. Pardo), as he navigates life in the Sons' rival turned ally group, the Mayans Motorcycle Club of Southern California.
Nearly the entire cast of Mayans M.C. is new to the SOA universe -- and Hispanic. Emilio Rivera makes a recurring appearance in his SOA role of Marcus Alvarez, the president of the Mayans’ Oakland charter.
“This is the first time I’ve seen this [many] people like me on one show, you get what I’m saying? Also, behind the scenes, Kurt [Sutter, the series co-creator] made a point of that and that’s how it’s been going. It makes me proud,” Rivera recently told ET of the show’s Hispanic cast and focus on U.S.-Mexico border issues. “At first, I was nervous about that because SOA was so good, you know. But when I saw what they had I wasn’t worried anymore. I’m just proud... We’ve been waiting a long time for this opportunity. These guys came to play, man.”
Play, they did -- and did it well. Halfway through airing their first season, Mayans M.C. was renewed for season two. That encouragement has helped ease some of the trepidation surrounding the Charmed reboot for its star, Melonie Diaz.
“In the beginning, of course, we want everybody to be welcoming and open, but I also understand that the show, for a lot of people, they really identified with it, and it helped them through hard times, and I think we all really understand that, and we all really want to respect that,” the Puerto Rican actress told ET of early criticism surrounding the reboot. “So we're not trying to change it. We're just trying to take it in a different direction for a different generation, and we hope that we are doing it well.”
The actress will be taking over Holly Marie Combs’ powers in the upcoming CW series, but not necessarily her character. Alongside new cast members Sarah Jeffery and Madeleine Mantock, Diaz plays Mel in the show, the family’s middle sister. She’s a proud feminist, Puerto Rican, and lesbian.
Feminist was the word that enraged both fans of the original Charmed as well as its cast when the show’s logline was first released, as the original arguably already was. What the Shannen Doherty, Combs, Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan-starrer wasn’t, however, was diverse.
“Culturally, I think there’s going to be a strong representation there,” Diaz told ET earlier this month of how fans will see that diversity play out on screen. “I think we just wanted our show to really reflect current times and the current environment… we wanted to create a world where it felt inclusive, where there was something for everyone.”
Also new this fall is CBS’ Magnum P.I. reboot, starring Jay Hernandez in Tom Selleck’s iconic ‘80s role. While Hernandez’s Hispanic heritage might not be as big of a focus in the show -- “We’re certainly not denying the fact that he’s Latino. It is something that is acknowledged, and we plan to acknowledge it throughout the series,” executive producer Eric Guggenheim said at the Television Critics Association press tour in August -- just having his face on screen is an important step for the actor.
“There’s a lot of negativity attached to people of color, so it’s really wonderful and bold and special to have this opportunity to put that imagery to tell stories and to be on TV and to have something up there that is in very stark contrast to a lot of what we’re absorbing on a subconscious level,” Hernandez told Variety in July.
The series -- which also attempts diversity by making the Higgins character a woman (Perdita Weeks) -- follows CBS’ 2017 reboot of S.W.A.T., a ‘70s show that previously featured a white cast, but now stars Shemar Moore as the head of the tactical team, which includes an Asian man, David Lim, and a Latina woman, Lina Esco. Their boss, played by Stephanie Sigman, is also Latina.
As Charmed’s Diaz noted while speaking with ET, “Latinas are the majority, and not the minority anymore. And our entertainment should reflect that. I think not only is it smart, business-wise, but it just should reflect the fabric of America. There's so many of us, and we want to be seen on screen and in television.”
Netflix, which has become famous for its reboots, exemplified this transition from white to brown TV with One Day at a Time. The sitcom, starring Rita Moreno and Justina Machado, puts a Cuban-American family at the focus of the show, which used to follow a white family in its 1970s version.
For Machado, it was important to give Latino families relatability for non-Hispanic viewers. “Even though you're seeing it through Latino eyes, it's a universal story and we're so happy to be able to do that to try and change that Latino narrative that's always being put out there,” she told ET at the 2017 Emmys. “I mean, we're happy to just be people.”
“That's true, but it's also about a family, and the final analysis," Moreno added. "Family is family, whether you're black, whether you're [Asian], whether you are whatever, it's a family, and if you live in America you're going to run into similar problems."
In September, Freeform picked up a Party of Five reboot that not only brings Hispanic faces to the forefront, but also Hispanic issues. The family drama of the ‘90s (starring Matthew Fox, Scott Wolf, Neve Campbell and Lacey Chabert) followed five siblings who are forced to raise themselves after their parents die in a car accident. The new show focuses on five siblings whose immigrant parents are deported to Mexico.
“I think once all our shows start to air, it's going to be a good thing. Growing up, I didn't see a lot of people like me on television, and that sucks, because you feel a little bit alone, like you're not welcome, like you don't matter,” Diaz said. “And I think that now, with all these new shows being made… I think what it's going to do for young people's self esteem is going to be invaluable.”
Of course, amid this surge of reboots with a Hispanic twist, there’s still the question of why we aren’t seeing more original, organic stories about the culture on television. One such example is Starz’ Vida, though during a June interview with ET, showrunner Tanya Saracho noted that’s what the series is: one example.
"[Vida] is a love letter to brown queerness that we don't often see on television," she explained. "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," Saracho 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."
That's not to say, however, that other Hispanic-led shows haven't been successful. The CW's Jane the Virgin (adapted from the Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen) is about to kick off its fifth and final season. The show received a Peabody Award, and its star, Gina Rodriguez, won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy in 2015.
The mostly-Hispanic principal cast of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, including Édgar Ramírez, Ricky Martin and Penélope Cruz, was praised by critics. The series won Outstanding Limited Series at the 2018 Emmy Awards. On the network side, America Ferrera has led NBC's hit comedy, Superstore, for the last three seasons, with season four premiering last week.
For Diaz, the lack of organic Hispanic stories on television is a valid concern, but one that needs to be addressed by “the people on the upper top tier of studios.” “[They] should encourage writers to create their own content, and have more original voices,” she implored, but said that for now, these reboots are making a difference. “We’re taking this idea, and really modernizing it.”
“I love entertainment, I love the movies, I love television, and I feel like it can really help you in different ways,” she said. “So the fact that we can be a part of that, I think this is why I do what I do."