Panamanian American founder of Blactina Media Nydia Simone is dedicated to amplifying Afro-Latinx stories and also mourns the lack of visibility in the U.S. and Latin America. She was inspired to create Blactina Media in 2017 to represent Afro-Latinx and Caribbean stories through film, digital, and television with an emphasis on women, combating the stereotypical stories in the media where Black Latinx stories revolve around daunting themes of prostitution and slavery. Simone, who has worked for notable companies like ABC, NBC, and Disney where the resources to bring several stories to life is abundant, wants to be the one to bring these resources to Latin America.
“I wished we [Afro-Latinos] had the infrastructure to create stories that accurately reflected our lives or dreams. I wish we had studios, financing, and distribution companies instead of making our stories palatable enough for executives that did not understand our life experience,” Simone tells HipLatina.
The New York native seeks to produce authentic stories that mirror the Afro-Latinx/Caribbean experience instead of the pain embedded into their history. Although being educated on slavery and colonization in Black history is vital, Blactina chooses to amplify Black Latinx voices through storytelling inspired by positivity.
“We acknowledge Black people in Latin America exist outside of prostitution and slavery. If you watch any piece of content where Afro-Latinx people are acting you notice quickly they are portrayed as slaves like in Netflix’s Siempre Bruja, gangsters like in City of God, or prostitutes. The tone of my work and content is playful, relatable, celebratory, and aspirational so it’s different from the norm.”
Unfortunately, Simone is not only going up against toxic stereotypes pushed by white-owned media companies whose connection to the Afro-Latinx experience is non-existent, but she is also facing the same from non-Black Latinx media companies. Although receiving anti-Black sentiment is expected from white-owned media companies, receiving the same from non-Black Latinx companies is a battle that is rooted in not only racism, but in anti-Blackness and colorism. Media companies who push anti-Black narratives and feed into the erasure of Afro-Latinxs through their content do not seem to care about the harm that they are inflicting on the image of Black Latinx individuals.
“They (non-Black media companies) fed into it by pushing anti-Blackness narratives on screen and in print. Afro-Latinx people are fighting to be seen and heard as we are. A current example of us being erased is with the new push to change how race is counted in the USA. They want to make Latinx a race and we all know Latino is an ethnicity and not a race. you can be Asian Latinx, Black Latinx, White Latinx etc,” she says, adding she supports Latino is Not a Race, a movement that opposes this initiative.
However, Simone knows that the work to amplify Black Latinx voices in the media starts from within the companies meaning that the employees behind the camera should be as diverse as those in front of the camera. Her pursuit in standing up for Black Latinx visibility has the power to break the cycle of using the token Black or Latinx character as a means to diversify shows. At Blactina the role of an Afro-Latinx in media surpasses the tokenized mixed friend in sitcoms, instead, they are the producers, writers, showrunners, directors, main characters, etc. Simone is putting in work to not only represent the people whose skin color and race should be acknowledged that’s not closely aligned with struggle but also get Afro-Latinx/Caribbeans rightfully paid their due. Her mission has evolved past representation but also takes into consideration the pay gap between white people and people of color, especially women in media.
Through Blactina media she has been able to launch the Plátano Pipeline, an initiative to amplify and empower Afro-Latinx and Caribbean professionals in Hollywood with a focus on television and film. The initiative meets once a month to highlight a Hollywood insider and seeks to give Afro-Latinx and Caribbean professionals a space where they have access to opportunities and resources that will only take them further ahead in their desired career fields.
So far, the Plátano Pipeline has showcased the Cuban American writer and producer Gloria Calderón Kellett, showrunner for One Day at a Time and Amazon Prime’s With Love. The initiative has also showcased Dominican executive producer and writer Santa Sierra, a writer on the television crime series, Power Book III: Raising Kanan. The Plátano Pipeline not only sheds a spotlight on Afro-Latinx and Caribbean professionals but also serves as a source of inspiration for those who want to work in media but are intimidated by the lack of representation that the media has. The initiative offers support to professionals but also sends the message that Afro-Latinxs exist in these careers, and with the help of our own people our presence in the media will only keep multiplying. “I was really passionate about having Black women who were actual writers on TV talk to us, that was honestly the best panel I’ve ever had in my life,” Simone shares.
With the highs though, there are lows including the struggles that come with finding funding for projects that she wants to put out. But she has accomplished quite a few things without having to appease those who are not willing to understand her vision. Instead, she has relied on herself and the support from her own people to make her vision a reality. In December, she did a panel with Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) in DC with Friends of the National American Latino Museum, anon-profit and the only initiative dedicated to the creation of a Smithsonian National American Latino Museum.
“I’m really proud of the way I represented myself and my position as an authority in the Afro-Latinx community but still gave space to other Latinos to be their full selfs. It made for a really vulnerable and nuanced talk and it brought us together as Latinos with our differences.”
If there is anything to say about Nydia Simone is that she is constantly dreaming big, finding new ways to uplift the Afro-Latinx community. Simone is gearing up to put out new projects like a cooking competition show and a summer event series for Martha’s Vineyard called “Dorothy’s Corner” inspired by Dorothy West, a Black writer of the Harlem Renaissance. She is also focused on strengthening some of the projects that she has already put out like the Plátano Pipeline by building partnerships with different studios and media companies. She is ushering the change she wants to see and acting as a bridge for her community and Hollywood.