Model Jillian Mercado has made a name for herself in the fashion world and now the 32-year-old Dominicana is venturing into entertainment with her TV debut on the upcoming queer series The L Word: Generation Q. According to Deadline, Mercado will play Maribel Suarez, an immigration attorney who serves as an emotional lifeline to her older sister, Sophie Suarez (Rosanny Zayas) a Dominican-American transplant from New York.
“For years and years, representation for the disability community [was not] even considered an opportunity to give. Although thousands of movies and stories have come out about us that have received awards in the highest capacity, our stories were never told by us, which caused stereotypes and unrelatable stories about our lives,” Mercado tells HipLatina. “It’s so important when you have the power and when you’re in a capacity to understand that representation and inclusion is important. We have to unite together and give opportunities and jobs to one of the biggest minority groups.”
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I’m sure this video is going to speak for itself so I’m just going to caption everything on the bottom. This is such a milestone in my career and I am so excited to share this with you all: Video 1: “ … I just did my first ever audition! …look how nervous I am like breaking out…for THE L WORD!! Ahhh!!…” About 3weeks later. “ I think I have taken this video probably 10 times already the video that I probably post in the future. Hi Jillian, today is June 20th, 2019 is a Thursday you’re in Los Angeles city by yourself in your apartment and you just got the most incredible news today today that you cried at least five times just randomly; first when I heard the news, then just like an hour later realizing, and then going oh my god this is this is happening to me right now and then disassociation – outer body experience that are very hard to explain unless you know the feeling that I’m talking about…where it’s like excitement and nervousness hyperness, I just wanna burst in the air and fly because of the energy or how much energy you have just for a simple news but this specific news is really so life-changing and historic and today I was just told that I got a roll on a TV show and I don’t even know how to react right now because I really never thought that I was going to be a public figure for any in any capacity and here I am being a model in doing that as you know is amazing and it means more than just being a model to me and now I get to expand that message of representation and how people with disabilities deserve to be heard and we can’t tell our stories without us in the conversation and that always been important to me and today I found out that I’m going to elevate the conversation on television and I am Maribel on The L word word!! I am going to be in your TV screens very very soon and I’m very excited and I’m very thankful and I am thankful for everyone who has joined me on this fight to be represented in the right way and I am so thankful to everybody that is currently in my life or just push me to be the best person and you know allowing me to be myself and authenticity is so important to me and is vital to my life and I love you all!!
Mercado has muscular dystrophy but it never stopped her from pursuing a career in the notoriously cutthroat and exclusive world of fashion. She’s signed with a major fashion agency — IMG Models — and is a vocal advocate for the disabled/differently-abled community. She’s modeled in campaigns for Olay, Bumble 100, Calvin Klein fragrance, Nordstrom, Target and Tommy Hilfiger. She was also featured on the cover of Teen Vogue‘s first digital cover and was in September issues of Glamour and Cosmopolitan, among others. Her inclusion in the series is part of the show’s efforts to be more inclusive and diverse, specifically in the LGBTQ space after the original — which ran from 2004-2009 — was criticized for being mostly white and not representative of the diversity in Los Angeles.
The model shared with us why landing this role means so much to her.
“Having an opportunity like this, I can embody a character that is the Latinx womxn who happens to have a disability,” she says. “And to have a character who is an immigration attorney puts me in a position where I can talk about my culture but also the power it is to cast people who have disabilities in a position that is powerful — that being an attorney. It’s an out-of-body experience for sure and I am so beyond grateful that I am able to keep the conversation going on a different platform.”
“I hope people are screaming at the TV, like, ‘Oh my God, she’s Dominican!’” Zayas told the NY Times, sharing that she had never seen another LGBTQ Dominican on television. In addition to Mercado, the show also added Latinas behind and in front of the camera with newcomer Arienne Mandi, as ambitious public relations executive Dani Nuñez and her girlfriend, played by Zayas. Colombian screenwriter Tatiana Suarez-Pico and Salvadoran-American Nancy Mejía joined the team of writers for the series.
Mercado’s role is undoubtedly a win for the Latinx community and the disabled community, both still significantly limited in representation in Hollywood. The amount of regular primetime broadcast characters who have a disability has slightly increased to 2.1 percent yet PEW Research found that in 2015 there were around 40 million people in the U.S. with a disability making up 12.6 percent of the population.
The model, who can now officially add actress to her list of talents, is also excited to be part of a show that touches on queer identity.
“And I am happy to say that I am queer as well, so it just all tied together so beautifully,” she adds. ” So I am beyond grateful and honored that the consideration was even there. It has been such a magical new adventure to be embarking on.”
When she spoke with HipLatina earlier this year, Mercado shared the importance of advocacy and how people can work toward helping to amplify the voices and presence of marginalized communities, even if they aren’t a part of that community.
“I definitely think it’s important to just listen to the community and see what is missing that they’re screaming about, whether it’s that they aren’t getting represented or talked about,” she said
It’s clear the showrunners have been listening and their intention to make the reboot a better representation of the world as it is will attract viewers seeking authenticity in a space that doesn’t often recognize the LGBTQ community beyond shows like Vida and Pose. The L Word; Generation Q premieres Dec. 8 on at 10 p.m. on Showtime.