Frida Kahlo is a beloved icon and one of the most revered and talented artists of all time but how would people feel about the eccentric Mexican artist today? That is the question that inspired creator/writer/director Juan Rodriguez and co-producer/writer Christina Igaraividez to develop the web series My Friend Frida, premiering next year. Kahlo was known for her passion, communist politics, and her fierceness overall, in addition to love affairs with men and women even while married to fellow acclaimed Mexican artist Diego Rivera.
“I loved the idea of a ‘modern Frida’ but also the commentary on how we view artists today vs. in the past. Do we treat them with the same respect? Do their differences make then unique or weird? What constitutes as art today? What have we gained or lost in our obsession with our historical heroes?” Igaraividez told HipLatina.
Igaraividez is the co-creator of the social media comedy channel Latinaish TV. She is a member of the all-Latina theatre group Teatro Luna and she portrays Frida in the series. The show has been in the works for years after Rodriguez approached her with the idea, having worked together in the past and both being huge fans of Frida. In photos and in her self-portraits, Frida never smiled and there was an almost stoic stillness about her that Igaraividez says was her inspiration for the development of the modern-day interpretation.
“How do you play someone you have never even heard speak? I just thought of her bad-assery and her complete commitment to being herself no matter what. She always seemed very still to me, so the stillness was my inspiration.”
Rodriguez was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles and is best known for co-creating the web-series Hey Vato. He shared that he met Igaraividez via Youtube after they both followed each other’s channels and she was his first choice to play Frida.
He explained that the initial inspiration that sparked the idea of a modern Frida was a series of paintings by Fabian Ciraolo, where he depicted famous artists as hipsters. In his version of a hipster Frida, she wears a Daft Punk t-shirt and has tattoos on her arms. Rodriguez saw the image go viral but there was no context as to why Frida would be that person in today’s world and so set out to write the show as a way of providing a more detailed look at that version of Frida.
Drawing inspiration from the real Frida was just one aspect of developing the series as Rodriguez details how they purposely kept her signature attire and floral crown but gave her hipster characteristics. She loves what would be deemed “weird art,” drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon and wears self-made (obviously) lapel pins on her leather jacket with selfies because she’s the “OG selfie queen.” These quirks are just part of how Rodriguez imagines she’d live today as a hipster.
Each episode runs about 10 minutes and they’re infused with uncomfortable humor and situations with Frida painted as an outlier because, according to Rodriguez, “no matter what, the Frida in our story would be an outcast.” Visually she stands out but the show pairs her with a best friend — Luz played by Teatro Luna performer Maya Malan-Gonzalez — who is more of a straight-laced character who has assimilated and is preoccupied with climbing the ladder in corporate America. In the pilot episode, she hosts a party inviting her coworkers and boss, while Frida shows up and what ensues is a culture clash where Frida’s views and presence are in stark contrast to everyone else in the room.
Rodriguez explains that this bifurcation of Latinidad between both characters is a reflection of the immigrant experience where some people hold onto their heritage while others assimilate and sometimes lose parts of their culture. Both characters are Mexican immigrants and their paths are so different but their shared history is what maintains their friendship through its strained differences.
“[Luz] is not a great friend and she’s clearly lost her sense of self-acceptance — having a best friend like Frida. I can imagine Luz has changed quite a bit, but there’s a part of her that stays in touch with Frida and desires the company of her free-spirited friend,” Malan-Gonzalez told HipLatina. “While Luz wants success in a monetary and corporate sense, I hope audiences will feel there’s a part of Luz that wants to break free and be her true self much like her friend, Frida.”
Rodriguez drew inspiration from some of TV’s most famous outcast shows, Daria and Curb Your Enthusiasm, where both lead character didn’t really care about what other people thought of them and spoke freely. Viewers can expect a totally uninhibited Frida, which for Rodriguez is a rarity these days and all the more reason he believes she’d be an outcast.
“In speaking with Christina, there is a massive pressure on women and especially Latinas and women of color to be liked or be likable, in every regard of their life,” Rodriguez explains. “We want to show more stories of women having the ability to be themselves and flourishing regardless of their likability. And sometimes flourishing just means being able to live your life on your own terms.”
Each episode centers around social situations where Frida would be front and center as the source of discomfort and how that plays out. Rodriguez and Igaraividez brainstormed scenarios that involved common situations like going on a date and going on a paint and wine event and thought, “WWFD” (What Would Frida Do?)
In the pilot episode Frida gifts Luz one of her paintings and her reaction is more of disgust than awe, a particularly significant moment considering her art remains popular and beloved and is exhibited all over the world. Rodriguez drew from real life for that scene, recalling a moment when he showed his female friends (who knew of her and her popular artwork) her graphic birth painting “Mi Nacimiento” and they reacted with “eww gross” and pushed his phone away “That very real moment helped shape the series,” he said. “Just think about that scenario for moment, someone rejecting an original Frida Kahlo painting.”
This idea of being “other” permeates the show and as a common sentiment among people of color. It serves as a broader theme underneath the crude humor and absurdity. Rodriguez says the show invites the audience to be active participants and come up with their own conclusions about the characters with Igaraividez describing the show as intentionally character-driven. “[The show] maybe even serves as an allegory of sorts to [people of color’s] own plight and they wouldn’t be wrong,” Rodriguez added.
The show is still in development and they plan to show it at various festivals and in the meantime they created the Instagram account to keep fans up to date with casting news.
Frida died at the age of 47 in 1954 and yet she remains not just an artistic icon but a symbol of fierce Latina feminist strength, individuality, and perseverance. The web series is more than an absurd “what if” peek into what a contemporary Frida would look like and experience. It’s a look into the duality of how an icon is so revered yet if Frida lived today she’d most likely be outcasted and misunderstood. It’s also an exploration of that sense of being “other” and the multiple ways of being a Latina in today’s world. It’s also a look at how immigrants approach life in the U.S. differently and the ways that manifest itself and affects relationships. The show will undoubtedly appeal to viewers for different reasons but Frida’s spirit is the foundation on which it’s built, so fans of the artist can expect to feel a connection to this contemporary version of her.
“I want us to remember to celebrate the every day hero. The people who dare to be themselves in a world that won’t let them. I want audiences to see the complexities and nuances of being a Latina because we need more varied Latina stories. And I want them to have a laugh along the way, because sometimes it’s exactly what we need,” Igaraividez said.