By Nicole Edry | TV | June 30, 2020 |
By Nicole Edry | TV | June 30, 2020 |
The role Hollywood plays in promoting “copaganda” is a nuanced, complex issue that deserves its own time and space to untangle. But it’s not what I’m here to talk about today.
Why, then, am I even mentioning it? Because I know it’s an inevitable part of any discussion around Brooklyn 99. Personally, I can absolutely see the merits of criticisms saying that the show offers a romanticized take of the way police and detectives behave. And yes, it does tend to focus on a rosier outlook that does not reflect many of the realities of our world today — although thankfully, it looks like they’re taking steps to course correct there.
But to me, the footprint they have left in their wake still has immense meaning. First of all, Brooklyn 99 has a truly phenomenal ensemble that I cannnot praise enough. They showcase BIPOC and LGBTIA actors playing stunningly well-written, thoughtful and authentic BIPOC and LGBTIA characters. While I love the entire cast and will forever have a bingpot-sized place in my heart for Captain Raymond Holt, this article is about two other characters entirely: Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago.
(Brooklyn 99 Spoilers Ahead)
It may be a cliché to call Rosa Diaz a badass, but that’s exactly what she is. Rosa is fierce, blunt, pragmatic, mysterious and deeply ride-or-die loyal. She’s supremely confident and unapologetically sexy without ever being one-note sultry or stereotypically “Latin Lover” in any way. She’s played by the incomparable Stephanie Beatriz, who put her considerable talents toward a deftly handled, imperfectly resolved and completely lovely coming out arc inspired by Beatriz herself. It’s all capped by an incredibly powerful scene with Captain Holt, where he offers the following universal words of wisdom: “Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place.”
Honestly, what can I say about Amy Santiago? I thought I was a complete nerd but I am not even in the same league as the iconic Queen of Binders played by the mind-bogglingly talented Melissa Fumero. She’s Type-A to the max, dorky as hell, utterly incapable of dancing like a normal person and pretty much always the smartest one in the room. Amy never compromises who she is, what her dreams are or how her moral compass guides her along the way. She is flawed, lovable, compassionate, unstoppable and a revelation every single moment she’s on camera. Just like Rosa, she is very clearly a proud Latinx woman but that is never the sum total of her identity.
I don’t think I have the words to express the way my entire being swelled the first time I saw these two on my screen. I am a mixed-race woman who is primarily Israeli and Dominican, and I come from an amazingly diverse family of immigrants. I’m also a complete goofball, a caring leader and an ambitious professional. Up until this show and the miracle of these characters, I don’t think I had ever seen myself truly reflected in society in any meaningful way.
I remember being a child, not yet aware enough to question why Latinx women (and men, too) were always depicted as one-dimensional sex objects, punch lines, crass stereotypes, violent criminals or other equally offensive characterizations. I remember growing up in East Coast Suburbia, torn and conflicted and rootless because no one else looked like me, had my mix of nationalities or spoke the same half-languages I awkwardly tripped over.
Because like many other first-gen Americans, I wasn’t raised learning the native tongue of my parents. Consequently, I often felt like some strange half-breed who was alienated from everyone. Different from my family, who could all speak multiple languages with complete ease. Different from my predominantly white classmates and neighbors. Different from every single face around me in real life and posters, album covers and advertisements, magazines and screens. I never saw my struggle as something anyone else could relate to. What’s worse, until I finally saw it being addressed on shows like Brooklyn 99, shows with real Latinx characters … I didn’t even realize how much I was missing it. When I finally watched Vida and saw the all-too-familiar challenges faced by Lyn, Emma and the others, I actually sobbed uncontrollably, filled with recognition, release and relief.
To those of you who think representation doesn’t matter, all I have to say is this. If I had seen myself reflected in society sooner, if I had found role models that felt like a true extension of who I was, I think that I would have been a lot quicker to stand up for myself and others. I would have been far less tolerant of the many, many instances of sexual and racial harassment I have had to quietly endure. And maybe, just maybe, if there were more characters like Jane, Lyn, Emma, Eddy, Rosa and Amy, I would have realized that my voice deserves to be heard, too.
Here and now, I choose to honor what Brooklyn 99 did by creating two Latinx characters who feel real and for creating a space where I feel seen. BK99 is not alone, either. On shows like Jane The Virgin, Vida, Roswell, New Mexico and more, we’re finally being written as three dimensional characters and not just plot devices, exotic barbies or fetishized objects. Yet of those three I just named, one has finished their run already, one just got canceled after just three seasons and the last is usually dismissed because it has committed the unspeakable crime of airing on the CW.
Today, I am also here to say that this is a start, but it is not nearly enough. Right now, Hollywood, pop culture and our society at large are going through unprecedented upheaval. Which is why now has to be the time we demand more shows with genuine, wide-ranging representations of BIPOC, LGBTIA and disabled communities. Now is the time to speak up and say that our voices are worth something, too. Now is our chance to raise our hands and tell the television gods that we need many more Amys and Rosas, por favor.
Nicole Edry is a professional chameleon working in a small-town digital agency. You can follow her on Twitter.
Header Image Source: NBC