‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ Screenwriter Talks Film and Latinx Stereotypes

It’s likely you weren’t able to escape the onslaught of love across social media for the Netflix romantic comedy To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Latina screenwriter HipLatina

Photo: Courtesy of Sofia Alvarez

It’s likely you weren’t able to escape the onslaught of love across social media for the Netflix romantic comedy To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. The film made stars of Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, but what a lot of people don’t know is that the woman behind the words that made them famous is a playwright with roots in Spain.

Sofia Alvarez, 33, took on the role of the film’s screenwriter after spending years writing for theatre. The film, released earlier this year, tells the story of a  sixteen-year-old half-Korean, half-Caucasian girl who writes letters to all the boys she’s loved that eventually lands in the hands of those boys. The girl is then forced to confront her feelings.

The movie was inspired by the 2014 young adult novel of the same name by Jenny Han. “The producers were looking for a writer and so my agents sent me the book. I read it and immediately fell in love with it,” Alvarez tells HipLatina.

It’s not only a heartwarming and relatable story but it’s also groundbreaking with an Asian lead (Condor is Vietnamese) in a romcom and a half-Korean family.

Alvarez herself knows what it’s like to be the minority in Hollywood and she’s experienced the good and the bad of it. She calls herself “lucky” to be working in this era versus 15 years ago.

“I’ve  had many, many meetings where I received a version of the comment, ‘you are not who we were expecting’. Meaning I did not fit whatever stereotype of a Hispanic person was expected to walk into the room.”

Her great grandfather was born in Spain and Alvarez identifies as Hispanic. She recalls a conversation she had with two Latina friends, Mexican-American director Michelle Bossy and Venezuelan writer Alex Beech about how together they would make up the Latina stereotype by combining Alvarez’s name, Michelle’s look and Alex’s story.

One particular moment that stands out to her occurred  in 2013 when she was interviewing for a staff writer position for a show with a largely Latina cast but no representation in high-level writing or producing positions. As someone of European descent, she strives to ensure she’s not the only one in the room expected to represent the Latinx experience and yet the ignorance she encountered still stuns her til this day.

“We sat down, she looked at my resume and said – ‘I see here you grew up in Baltimore and went to Bennington and that’s not reading very Hispanic to me and we’re really just looking for someone to tell our showrunner whether it’s Mexicans or Cubans who celebrate Cinco de Mayo.’ I could not believe how blatantly racist it was.”

In 2013, the Writers Guild of America West released a report showing that the number of Latino TV writers had  grown from 1.1 percent in the 1999-2000 season to 4 percent in the 2011-2012 season. In 2016 only 3 percent of speaking characters in the top 100 films released that year were Latinos, according to a University of Southern California study. This despite the fact that Latinos comprise 18 percent of the population and that number is only going to get bigger.

For her part, Alvarez aims to “write the character as a person first and let their ethnic background be part of what shapes that character—rather than the other way around which is, I believe when we end up with stereotypes,” she says. 

Alvarez grew up in Baltimore and knew she wanted to be a playwright since writing her first play in 4th grade. She went on to study literature and theater at Bennington College in Vermont and then moved to New York. Later she attended graduate school at Julliard. After graduation she worked as a nanny to support herself and finding it hard to make a living she decided to buy a one way ticket to Los Angeles.

She used her experience as a nanny to pitch a series and although the project was sold to ABC Studios and USA Network, it eventually fell apart but she came out of it with connections in the industry.

She got to work on the TV series Sirens in 2013 and Man Seeking Woman from 2014-15 and she then made the decision to pursue screenwriting. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was the first of her screenplays to be produced.

“I have always been a big reader and so literary adaptations were something I knew I wanted to be part of my career. To All the Boys was my first novel adaptation and it confirmed for me that this was something I wanted to do more of. Adaptations can be fun puzzles—as the screenwriter you have to find a way to simplify the story without losing it’s depth,” she says. 

Depth is an aspect of the film that was praised by critics and fans alike from  mourning a profound loss to Lara Jean’s (Condor) growth and views on love and relationships.

Alvarez credits Netflix with the comeback of the romantic comedy and she anticipates there are more in her future. However one of her next projects includes the adaptation of Rebecca Scherm’s novel “Unbecoming”, a psychological thriller about an art heist.

Alvarez, who lives in Brooklyn, plans to one day write about her experience as an au pair for her nine-year-old cousin in Spain when she was 19 but until then she’s back to her first love.

She and Nicola Korzenko are starting a Theater Company dedicated to producing new plays funded by Crypto Currencies. Their pilot project will be her play NYLON starring Sheila Vand playing at TheaterLab in New York City in March of next year.

She’s already achieved great success as a playwright with her first professional play Between Us Chickens in 2011 followed by  Friend Art in 2016 and Amos and Boris this year among others.

Throughout her journey in both theatre and film, where there’s also a need for more Latinx voices, she’s looked to those who’ve succeeded and that’s her number once piece of advice for those looking to break into the field.

“When I was first starting out I used to read the bios of writers whose careers I respected. Not the super famous ones—but ones just a few steps ahead of me. I think applying to everything you can that makes sense with your voice is important. Even if it seems like you are getting rejected or nothing is happening, you never know where those seeds you are planting will end up.”

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