“Vida” Enjoyed Three Glorious Seasons On Starz And Opened The Doors To More LatinX TV Series
Tanya Saracho is the showrunner behind the popular LatinX television series, Vida on Starz. Vida is more than a “diverse” TV series capturing the lives of the Latino community in Los Angeles. Adapted from the short story Pour Vida by Richard Villegas Jr. (who also wrote on the show), it is about real people, telling real stories in an unflinching and deeply personal way. It’s set in the Boyle Heights area of East Los Angeles, a colorful melting pot of the city’s Latino community. Vida explores themes often found in family dramas including sibling rivalry, secrets, and estrangement, but it stands out from similar TV series by focusing on the LatinX LGBTIQ community in all its glory. Saracho is also known for her work on Looking, How To Get Away With Murder, and Devious Maids.
Its central premise is derived when the two sparring Hernandez sisters Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and Emma (Mishel Prada) are forced to return to the old neighborhood they had long left behind them following their unexpected mother’s (Vida) death. The sisters are also obliged to stay in Boyle Heights beyond their mother’s funeral to help run her thriving bar.
Its rich characters and intricate family drama culminated in a dramatic crescendo at the end of the series when the warring sisters discover the truth about their mother as they try to make peace with their past, present, and future.
Vida was secretly married to a woman named Eddy. with whom Emma and Lyn (crassly nicknamed ‘Coconut Barbie’) are expected to share their mother’s bar and building which bears their childhood memories.
Vida wasn’t without her faults either. She was a stern matriarch who often withheld affection. She sent Emma away to her grandmother’s for being gay. The sisters faced their feuds head-on as they forged a path forward toward reconciliation and acceptance. They became familiar with the almost concept of intimacy through vulnerability and raw emotional honesty. Together, they experienced life-changing journeys and immense personal growth.
Importance Of A LatinX TV Writers’ Room
Vida is an important milestone in the television landscape because it gives permission and validation to the Latino community and their stories. Vida was largely staffed by a Latino cast and crew. This was a conscious decision, extending far beyond boosting diversity and inclusion statistics in the entertainment industry. Vida was almost exclusively written by female LatinX writers by design. This strategy delivered far more than giving under-represented film and TV writers a writing credit or pleasing the diversity crowd. It was about screenwriters reliving their life experiences through television.
Esti Giordani (a writer and executive story editor on the show) said, “I learned more about myself on Vida and how other people perceived me.” Christine Nieves who also worked on the TV series commented on the importance of having a Hispanic staff on the show rather than a few token writers to act as story consultants. “When you share a common knowledge of the community you can get into the nuances of the show much faster.” Lindsey Villarreal who also wrote a few episodes strongly supports this view. “It’s easier to write when you don’t need to explain why something is important to a non-Hispanic writer.”
Having like-minded writers together in the TV writers’ room also acted as a bonding experience to tease out the nuances of the LatinX community. “I didn’t feel like ‘the other’ in the TV writers’ room. I felt like part of the ‘we.’ WE combined OUR life experiences and got down to the storytelling,” added Gladys Rodriguez, another writer.
Not being the diversity hire on a quota list made being in a TV writers’ room less intimidating to the writers. “Vida allowed us to present a confidence we never thought was within us,” claimed Esti Giordani. The writing staff felt empowered because they knew they were in the room purely due to their storytelling skills.
Vida Is Life
Vida simply translates as Life in English. Vida explores life beyond the LatinX queer community. The TV series explored many issues Angelinos currently face including, “Displacement, gentrification, grief, loss, family, sisterhood, friendship, poverty, representation, identity, ICE, and deportation,” stated showrunner Tanya Saracho. “It was done with cultural specificity.”
The wide spectrum of thematic fuel ensured that Vida was not exclusively targeted at the queer or LatinX community. The themes had a universality to them that could be appreciated by a wider audience. In this regard, the TV series deftly straddled the line between broadness and specificity.
There is a currency and urgency to the show – Tanya Saracho
Vida also pushed the boundaries of traditional queer-themed shows. It prides itself on pioneering the gay quinceañera (queer-ceañera) or an episode featuring a Drag King. This represents the glorious tapestry of the LGBTIQ community that excited Saracho.
Being cut short after three seasons was an unexpected blow to Saracho. But cancellations happen.
It compelled the writing team to write efficiently. “When you come to season 3, you know it’s the end of the show and you’re only getting six episodes before you come to a stopping point,” she said. The writing team wrote down everything that needed to be included in the final season. There was a lot of story to pack into it, but there was a danger of stuffing so much into it that the essential storylines didn’t receive the attention they deserved.
There was a burgeoning love triangle between Emma, Baco (Raul Castillo), and Nico (Roberta Colindrez) that couldn’t get fully realized. It became secondary rather than removed. After all, Vida is a story about the love-hate relationship between two sisters, so the final episode had to focus on Lyn and Emma.
Vida thrived on its layered characters who could never be neatly categorized as either heroes or villains. Each character responded to a situation through the lens of their traumas, desires, and fears in the best way they knew how. Often it was messy which lends itself to the best drama.
The team that brought Vida to our screens has a lot to be proud of. “Starz gave us a platform to say what we needed to say. We said so much in a limited time,” stated Gladys Rodriguez.
Vida leaves a rich storytelling legacy in its wake and has hopefully opened the doors to more LatinX themed TV shows that capture their fully-realized lives.
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