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.”
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.