Groundbreaking in its nuanced and informed portrayal of immigration, Freeform’s timely new series Party of Five follows a mixed-status, Mexican-American family harmed by the U.S. government’s dehumanizing policies that separate families.
The show focuses on the Acosta family, which is made up of undocumented parents, played by Latin American actors Bruno Bichir and Fernanda Urrejola, an eldest son who’s a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and four other U.S.-born siblings, including an infant. When mom and dad are deported, the kids must fend for themselves and run a restaurant, all while dealing with growing pains typical of any family.
“We are portraying this family as survivors, not as victims,” Emily Tosta, who is a Dominican immigrant herself and plays oldest daughter Lucia, tells Remezcla about the embattled clan.
Avoiding “trauma porn,” a term that refers to the depiction of gruesome imagery related to hardship and abuse, was essential for the production. For the actors, this separates the show from others that dwell on the injustice.
“Nothing is done for shock factor, it is just to tell stories that are happening on an everyday basis, and that’s all it is,” explains Brandon Larracuente who plays aspiring singer-songwriter Emilio. “I understand there are some shows out there who want to draw in viewers by creating shock factor or propaganda, but this is not one of those shows.”
For the youngest cast member, Elle Paris Legaspi, who plays plucky Valentina, being true to life was important. “I wanted to make sure that I was doing it right for the families that are actually going through this. I want them to see something accurate,” she says.
Mirroring the experience of U.S. Latinos across the country, the show’s cast all have different levels of Spanish. Niko Guardado, like his character Beto, for example, doesn’t speak Spanish, while for Tosta it’s her native language.
Pronunciation came into play particularly for Larracuente, who’s of Puerto Rican descent. He recalled conversations with Colombian director Rodrigo Garcia, who helmed the pilot, about pronunciation and slang.
“When we were in the recording studio filming the song that Emilio sings at the end of the pilot, there was a discussion about the terminology and how to say a particular verse in the song,” Larracuente explains. For the actor, having a Latin American director behind that episode made a significant difference in capturing phonetic accuracy, especially when negotiating the differences between say, how Puerto Ricans and Mexicans (and Colombians) pronounce their R’s.
In that regard, Party of Five is a rarity within the entertainment industry as it features a diverse writers’ room that includes former Remezcla contributor Mary Angelica Molina, and directors such as Patricia Cardoso, Alonso Alvarez, Edward Ornelas and Jenée LaMarque. As Tosta puts it, “It’s so important to be able to have a crew that is also as diverse as us. At the end of the day they are the ones guiding the narratives on the show.”
With such a delicate and polarizing subject as immigration, opinions are divided even within the Latino community something the show goes to great lengths to portray. But the cast hopes that Party of Five can present an opportunity for audiences across the political spectrum to “educate themselves on things that they are maybe not aware of,” as Larracuente explains.
“It’s not like we are trying to persuade anybody into believing something,” Tosta adds. She feels the series simply delivers different perspectives on a reality taking place around the country. For the entire cast the most important element of the show is presenting their characters on screen with the compassion they deserve.
As Guardado puts it, “The only message we are trying to push is family.”
Party of Five airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Freeform.
Interview conducted by Vanessa Erazo.