Something that we don’t realize when we’re wide-eyed kids is that success is not linear, our careers will take many twists, and sometimes finding our calling takes getting knocked down a few times. The idea that after college we’ll immediately get hired at our dream job is just not realistic. The implied notion that we’ll be treated fairly and paid equally is exactly that — implied. Now more than ever, Latinas are creating their own lane not because they want to, but because they often are giving another choice. No one knows this better than internet sensation and The Kat Call creator, Kat Lazo.
Lazo graduated from the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School (the one from F.A.M.E) with the hopes of becoming an actress. But quickly realized that the roles she could play were very limited. “I had a manager, I was auditioning, and I got slapped in the face with the reality that no one gave two s**ts about me being classically trained. It was more of a focus on how well I could fit the stereotype someone had written,” she told HipLatina. “A lot of: Can you say that a little more urban? Can you put on an accent? Just the industry people and casting directors not understanding the nuances of Latinidad. Like if I’m Latina then I should have a Mexican accent or I should have a Puerto Rican accent. And anyone else outside of those two worlds is non-existent,” she says. Lazo is the child of Peruvian and Colombian parents. A minority within a minority in Queens and in the states.
She eventually decided to walk away from acting and try her hand as a casting associate, thinking that she could make more of a difference behind the camera. But once again, reality set in. “I had a great time but I was unable to make any type of change. The best thing I could do was tell my friends who are actors, ‘hey you can come audition — but you can’t change the depth of the roles.’ And my mom was about to have a heart attack. She’d be like, ‘I didn’t come to this county for you to not go to college.’’’
After a year, Lazo decided to go back to school to study marketing and advertising at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Her hope was that she’d be able to change the industry from within as a socially conscious ad woman. But after four years of being told by white men how she needed to advertise to women of color, she found herself bumping up against the same wall. “I was on the verge of graduating and what does a millennial with an identity crisis do? I started a YouTube channel,” she laughed. “I also used YouTube to teach myself lots of production and how to edit. I found free resources like the library. I would stay really long in the computer lab and I would teach myself Photoshop and Premiere Pro.”
As she taught herself more, she made more videos and began focusing on creating her own content — the kind of content that she could be proud of. The online feminist sphere caught wind that there was a young woman making feminist videos and Lazo was able to build a freelance career. Eventually, mitú came knocking and hired her as a video producer. “I’ve created a lot of content outside of The Kat Call, lots of profile videos on Latinx folks here in the city. Folks like Gabby Rivera, the first queer marvel writer. And Kleaver Cruz, the creator of The Black Joy Project. I did a lot of producing behind the camera,” she said.
Lazo’s perspective is a far cry from the Mexican centric voices on the west coast and the heavy Caribbean influence of the east coast. As a result Lazo’s videos have garnered mixed reviews. “The comments were really negative. Mitú at the time had a certain kind of content that they’d put out that I think the audience was comfortable with. It was very humorous and light. My content was focused on amplifying queer folks, Afro-Latino folks, and their work. And the comments were coming from ‘our own community.’ I was told don’t read the comments don’t let it get to you. But it wasn’t about me. It was about the people I was profiling who entrusted me to tell their story. It felt like a disservice if I was to dismiss all this hate speech,” she said.
Ultimately, Lazo felt the responsibility to make lemons into lemonade. She used the friction as inspiration for The Kat Call. “I thought, ‘What kind of content could I create that would create actual unity with all fellow Latinos?’ I took a format that was very accessible. I ask a question that starts with a skit I took in consideration with what the mitú audience was attracted to — skits, comedy, memes, and jam-packed with fast-moving information, accessible language and then ended with a skit,” she says.
Her first Kat Call video was called “Why are Novelas So White?” and got 7.2 million views on Facebook. From there she began sharing more of her razor-sharp observations about things like fat-shaming, homophobia, and white privilege within the Latinx community. Most notably though, was the backlash she got for the video she made about the term “Latinx,” which everyone still seems to have plenty of feelings about. At the time, however, Lazo’s video (Whats With the X in Latinx got over 1.1 million views) caused angry viewers to mobilize against her and demand that she be fired.
“There was a lot of rallying in the comments from folks being explicit that they wanted me to be fired, that this is not the content they came to the page for. That was possibly the only time I got pretty fearful about comments. This one felt like it could have a very direct impact,” Lazo says. “I reached out to the powers that be at mitú and highlighted this and whether they were going to take any type of action. Thankfully they were in support of my video. They wanted to actually invest more,” she said.
With season two of The Kat Call in full swing, Lazo has also been quietly working on a documentary about reggaeton with Raquel Cepeda. She’s not allowed to talk about it just yet but it’s going to be a game-changer. “I was approached by Raquel Cepeda to come on board as an associate producer for a socio-political feature documentary about reggaeton. Coming on board for an international doc was the best education to get after doing digital and transitioning into more film,” she says.
Lazo hopes to try her hand at new creative frontiers. Today she hosts and speaks at colleges. “I want to do everything. I’ve always been interested in documentary film making but I’m also very interested in challenging myself and possibly doing a scripted series. So I’m embarking on that,” she says. And her advice for other filmmakers is simple, “Write your own narrative, even if people don’t like it.”