In the nineties, mainstream America had 90210, Melrose Place, and Saved by the Bell. People of color had A Different World. Now, we all have Insecure. As another season of the cultural unicorn and ratings gold primetime show begins to heat up (spoiler alert: Lawrence is back?!), many of the cast and crew are beginning to feel like this generations’ “cool kid crew.” Yet, unlike the golden age of primetime television where television shows followed linear storylines that felt uniquely developed for all white audiences or all black audiences, and despite an all brown cast, Insecure has captured the hearts, minds, and Sunday evenings of pretty much everyone of every race. And in it, the creative work of a Black woman and a Latina.
Directed by Jamaican-Cuban filmmaker Melina Matsoukas and executive produced by Issa Rae, the show has developed the kind of ubiquity typically reserved for shows with white casts. White viewers now compare elements of the show to their own lives the way they once did with iconic HBO shows such as Sex and the City. Instead of calling a guy their “Mr. Big,” women have begun referring to guys as their “Lawrence.”
Together these two women have created something that not only celebrates the lives of black and brown people but finally normalizes it to a place where we can all see ourselves in the characters.
“You don’t have to be one color to relate to a story,” Melina has been quoted saying in the past. “I grew up watching a lot of non-people-of-color whose stories I related to in my way. But everybody’s worth is as important as the next person. And we need stories that are different. Understanding about other people leads to acceptance, which is something that we need desperately.”
When given her first role directing for the small screen by the visionary writer and producer, Issa Rae, Melina absolutely slam-dunked the opportunity — ensuring that brown bodies (blacks and Latinxs) were portrayed and glorified as they’ve never been before on television. Their partnership has become exemplary of the impact Latina and Black women may have when they open doors and continue to amplify one another’s stories.
Fortunately, their story is not singular. Director Laura Gómez of Orange Is the New Black fame (known for her role as Blanca Flores) has repeatedly used her platform to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Meanwhile, outside of Hollywood, we’ve seen Latina and Black women band together to fight for social justice and ultimately improve the lives of those who are disproportionately affected by racist policy— women of color especially. From allegiances between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley to the leaders of the Women’s March, magic is undoubtedly made when Latinas and Black women come together for almost any pursuit be it creative or civic.
Many Latina women have identified distinct ways that they can be more supportive of other women of color, particularly Black women, in their own lives— whether it’s through dismantling colorism or simply recognizing some of their own privileges and having the difficult conversations among their own friends and family.
“I’ve found that Latina women are glorified in pop culture, and they don’t do the same with Black women,” said Denise Penagos, a Colombian-American New Yorker, 32. “I think some Latin women love that we’re glorified, but when you’re ignoring that other people are being seen in an entirely different way when they still have beautiful attributes … we do ourselves and Black women a disservice. We can take the moments when we’re inappropriately glorified for reasons that aren’t important and educate. It’s not just about educating other people, it’s about educating ourselves. It’s going to be long, uncomfortable discussions, but that’s really the only way. We have to make ourselves uncomfortable.”
If not for the sake of creating safe and supportive spaces for our Afro-Latina sisters, who claim both their Black racial identity and Latina nationality and/or ethnicity, it’s critical that we continue to celebrate healthy symbiotic relationships between both groups and that we seek opportunities to exist and create collaboratively.
When everything from the pay gap to healthcare iniquities to the entertainment industry continues to disenfranchise us, our voices become strengthened when we use our collective volume. And, as we continue to see Latina women gracefully ebb and flow between the lines of what it means to be a brown woman, now more than ever we owe it to ourselves to celebrate our sameness.
Not to mention, there are countless beautiful examples of past allegiances that led to cultural breakthroughs (which would otherwise cease to exist). Those should be more than enough reason for us to continue to hold each other up as we march towards deeper freedom, justice, and equality.