There’s a moment in Pantaya’s new show Ana when the titular character breaks into a full-blown musical number after taking a hit in a public park. The weed-infused La La Land-esque number captures a moment of glee that makes us truly understand how uninhibited Ana feels at that moment. Despite portraying the ups and downs of an actress trying to break through in Los Angeles, Ana constantly toys with the musical as a genre. As Mexican actress Ana de la Reguera tells Remezcla, “I wanted to portray whatever I was — whatever the character was going through.”
The slip of the tongue is unavoidable. The former telenovela star (perhaps best known for headlining Luciana y Nicolás alongside Christian Meier), who has been steadily working in the U.S. in shows like Narcos, Goliath and Power, created and wrote Ana as a way to exorcise the many frustrating moments that have characterized her life in Hollywood this past decade. In doing so, de la Reguera finally wrote for herself the kind of part she’s always dreamed of. As “Ana” she gets to sing and dance in the middle of a park; she gets to have steamy sex scenes with men and women alike; she gets to speak both English and Spanish without worrying about her accent. In sum, she gets to be as unencumbered by anyone else’s ideas about who de la Reguera can play.
Putting a Latina spin on shows like The Comeback and Episodes, Ana features a fictionalized version of de la Reguera that, despite its musical flights of fancy, feels all too grounded in real-life experiences. It’s hard to draw a fine line between where IRL Ana ends and fictional “Ana” begins — and that’s by design. For the actress, it was important to find inspiration from her own journey as a bilingual performer trying to find success in the U.S.
“It was very cathartic,” de la Reguera adds. “I started writing this show because I thought I was going to get this role that was going to change my life.” Except, after several auditions and callbacks, she found out the fascinating role of a Latina artist she had been pursuing was going to be given to an Indian actress (“they thought they looked more Latina than I did”).
The implicit bias at work was hard to shake off. “I was very mad,” she says. “But at the same time I was like, I can’t depend on someone else to give me a role that I want to do and to express myself. So that’s why I started to write about a woman who lives between two cultures.”
— Pantaya (@StreamPantaya) April 16, 2020
The result is Ana, a bilingual comedy (available with English subtitles) that finds its titular actress long after her telenovela heyday trying to still break through into the U.S. market. Moreover, in a bit of cheeky recreation the pilot episode’s storyline hinges on a similar story: Ana, who shuttles back and forth between Mexico City and Los Angeles, is thrilled about auditioning for the role of a lifetime (maybe she’ll finally be able to find the economic stability she desperately needs). This time, though, her competition isn’t another actress with darker skin but a young YouTuber who’s amassed a huge following with her playful videos that feature her adorable little dog. To add insult to injury, the young vlogger tells Ana she’s been a fan ever since she was a little kid.
Ana is content not just with skewering its central character (and her poor taste in men) but in poking fun at the very specific ways in which Mexican actresses coming from the telenovela world struggle to make it in the U.S. We not only see her suffering through supermarket signings and earning the scorn of tabloid magazines, but experiencing what may be the most urgent fear in today’s social media world.
Ana’s discomfort at being recognized while in line for a visa appointment at the U.S. embassy because she’s “la de los videítos,” for example, will no doubt have you thinking of Itatí Cantoral’s newfound fame as the “[cries in Spanish]” meme. “I just felt like it was funny because there are so many actresses that have huge careers and then Millennials just know you because of these GIFS and these little videos or memes that become popular. So your whole career gets reduced to one little GIF.” It’s the kind of throwaway gag that makes Ana feel like it’s speaking to a new kind of bicultural audience.
Straddling the line between the comedic rhythms of cringe-worthy American sitcoms and the broad humor of Mexican comedies, Ana is, as its creator and star puts it, “a kind of bipolar, bicoastal, bisexual, bilingual, bi-everything show!”