When America Ferrera first read the script for what would become the new Netflix series Gentefied, she was hooked. It was, she told Remezcla when we caught up with the creative team back at Sundance, the first time she’d felt seen. “It was an articulation of my experience as a first generation American, feeling deeply rooted in my family’s culture, but also 100% American.” That was enough to get her to sign on as an executive producer to Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez’s bilingual and bicultural show about “gentefication” in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles.
The Netflix series follows three Mexican American cousins trying to navigate a changing neighborhood where rising rents and newer (though not necessarily whiter) residents are squeezing out local taquerias and their families in turn. Like Vida before it, Gentefied is characterized by its commitment to showing as wide-ranging a vision of the Latinx community as you’re likely to find on contemporary U.S. television. There are radical queer artists, straight-laced would-be chefs as well as well-read homies. Every single character nods to and challenges stereotypes that have plagued Latinx representation on screen. Not shying away from issues within the community as well as celebrating the many-faceted ways Latinos can and should band together to reclaim their own dignity, Gentefied is a love letter to those who, like Ferrera, have been waiting decades for representation like this.
For Lemus and Chavez, the entire process — turning their pitch from a web-series to a show soon to be seen by Netflix’s global audiences — is a dream come true. Not least because they got to shed a light on their own stamping grounds. Chavez remembers, for example, what it meant to shoot in El Mercadito in East L.A.: “I grew up going there with my family and going to see the Mariachis, going to the restaurant, going shopping and seeing La Virgencita that’s right there.”
Nothing could’ve prepared her for how emotional it would be to see the fictional Morales family step into a world that the Chavez family had long made their own. “That morning I just sat there and I just watched them shooting scenes and I was just like, I used to come here as a little brown girl and walk through these spaces with my parents and here I am with a show with our people — like there’s a grandfather who is based on my own father. Like, there’s just so much in that moment for me that felt like, unbelievable.” Similarly, Lemus couldn’t help but beam with pride while seeing his actors bringing life to characters he’d long dreamed to see on the small screen.
“The gift as an artist is not having to carry the burden of being a voice for everyone”
That moment was a reminder of how rare a show like Gentefied truly is, one that was as interested in giving young Afro-Latinas a space to shine as letting its older characters speak fluently in Spanish. Indeed, that latter choice may seem glib but for Lemus, Chavez and Ferrera it was crucial to what they wanted the show to be. “When we watch our older generation Latinos in film or TV,” Ferrera explains, “they’re always speaking broken English, right? So they sound not intelligent. Or they sound timid. Or they seem afraid. And we’re always just the outsiders. We never get to see our parents, that generation older than us, like owning themselves, their intelligence, their humor, and so we’re giving them that gift.”
Ferrera stresses that Gentefied not only joins but hopes to inspire many other projects like it. Like the tight-knit Boyle Heights community it depicts, the show is eager to become part of a bigger movement. “We are building a community of artists who are being inspired by one another,” she says. “The gift as an artist is not having to carry the burden of being a voice for everyone. You know, the fact that there can be a Vida and a One Day at a Time and an Orange is the New Black — seeing more of us in more places gives us all freedom to be as unique to our own voices and experiences and not having to speak to every single person’s experience.”
Gentefied begins streaming February 21, 2020 on Netflix.
Reporting done by Vanessa Erazo for Remezcla.