Netflix’s ‘One Day at a Time’ (5 Cubanas Review it!)
Did you know this year’s Golden Globe Awards produced 3 Latino nominations this year (Gina Rodriguez, Gael García Bernal, and Lin-Manuel Miranda) along with the Chilean drama Neruda.
However, we got zero wins; as usual. It’s proof we still don’t have enough roles for Latino actors on television or in films.
But … Netflix’s new show One Day at a Time will undoubtedly change next year’s awards season! (see 5 Cubana review below).
Rising out of the ashes of the Latino sitcom graveyard (RIP Cristela and Telenovela) and already outdoing the glowing reviews Jane the Virgin pulled in after its premiere, this Cuban family comedy is guaranteed to garner loads of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for its dynamic leading ladies.
Set in East Los Angeles and starring Rita Moreno as a flirty abuela who never leaves the house without a full face of makeup on, it shines a spotlight on Cubans living far away from the exile community in Miami. Detractors have questioned the choice to set it in Echo Park, a neighborhood often thought of as a gentrifying Mexican barrio, but the area’s Cuban ties go back 50 years.
In the sixties, after Castro’s revolution turned Miami into an overcrowded makeshift refugee camp, the US government began a voluntary resettlement program. It’s estimated that 14,000 Cubans moved to California. Soon after, bakeries selling pastelitos and restaurants serving ropa vieja began sprouting up nearby.
It’s not by accident that in the opening episode single-mom Penelope (played by Justina Machado) carries home a bag from Porto’s, the famed bakery that’s been serving Cuban pastries and delicacies to hungry Southern Californians for more than forty years.
It’s those small moments that offer a peek into the showrunners’ commitment to authentic details. It’s Cuban-American writer and producer Gloria Calderon Kellett‘s insights that lend such specificity to the show.
After joining up with Mike Royce to rework legendary showrunner Norman Lear’s classic sitcom, she and Royce hired a team that could dream up storylines that resonated with non-Cuban Latinos. In a roundtable interview last week, Calderon Kellett broke down the demographics of their writing room. “Well, half of our room is Latinx. So it was really fun because we’re different [kinds of] Latinx. So it’s Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Cuban, Mexican. As you’re telling stories you’ll remember things. You’ll remember little moments and go, ‘Oh, we have to do this.’” It’s these same discussions amongst the show’s scribes that help them decide when to sprinkle Spanish words into scripts. “Basically what would happen is, if me or one of the writers would pitch something in Spanish and the room of non-Spanish speaking writers would laugh we’d say, ‘Why’d you laugh? Oh, because it means this, right?’” But how would Netflix viewers, who’ve shown their aversion to Spanish-language content, react?
Calderon Kellett took it one step further in the subtly subversive decision to not translate the Spanglish dialogue.
It’s a way of normalizing the Latino experience, of un-otherizing a culture seen as foreign to many in the United States. She explains: “It was a creative choice not to have subtitles. I mean when I was growing up I didn’t know what a Bar Mitzvah was until I saw it on TV. And then I went to my Encyclopedia Britannica and looked it up.” It’s her hope that viewers will be motivated to research words they don’t understand. “We took pains to make sure that there wasn’t so much [Spanglish] that hopefully it would not alienate people but would make people perhaps, dig even deeper and have a two-screen experience and maybe do some Googling as they’re watching,” she said.
One Day at a Time‘s creators sought to write a series that reflected the unique experience of Cuban exiles in the US, while still appealing to a heterogenous Latino audience, and to land jokes that would make any viewer (Latino or not) laugh. It’s a lofty goal. What better way to test out if their formula worked than a focus group? I assembled a group of Cuban-American women to watch the first three episodes and chat on Google Hangouts.
On Why This Latino Sitcom Is a Winner!
Alex this moment is so cute. i love this family
Yara Simón I really liked it. I obviously don’t have the same ties as you guys do, because I was raised in a primarily Nicaraguan household. But I think it’s relatable for someone like me. I do have to keep reminding myself that their version of Cuban-American is different from what I saw in Miami, because they’re on the west coast.
Alex you know, i was really planning on approaching it with cynicism. i think we’re all used to being disappointed by media representation at this point. but i found it so lovely and smart and well-done.
Carolina Dalia Gonzalez i felt the same way!
Alex it feels like a really thoughtfully put-together show
Yara Simón yeah, and I also saw people reviewing it and saying great things about it, but I wondered if they weren’t of the culture, if I could really trust what they were saying.
Vanessa Erazo I think you are right, we are so used to being disappointed with a show about Latinos. We come in apprehensive. It’s hard to get a show like that right, to get the cultural references, generational differences, and then on top of that to land the jokes and have it be actually funny
Yara Simón It’s just nice to see Latinos on screen and not feel frustrated, and I really enjoy Jane the Virgin, but she’s supposed to be so flawless that sometimes it’s not relatable
Alex yeah. it did a good job of being culturally specific to cubans and to a distinctly latinx experience while also being universally relatable in so many ways. it’s inviting anyone into this story.
Carolina Dalia Gonzalez I agree! Yes!