From our very first encounter with Izzy Morales (Otmara Marrero) in the pilot episode of Crackle’s upcoming series StartUp, it’s clear she’s a Latina leading character unlike any we’ve seen on TV to date. Lying still in bed, Izzy looks distracted as a guy thrusts on top of her. She is clearly neither bothered nor aroused – she has other things on her mind. When he finishes and hilariously asks “You good?” she barely responds, waving him away instead. All that occupies Izzy’s thoughts is her upcoming pitch for GenCoin, a new kind of digital currency she’s created and hoping to get investors for. It literally consumes her every waking moment.
Incredibly smart and indifferent to pleasuring the man she’s living with, Izzy is an independent, ambitious young woman that breaks ground in terms of the complex roles that Latina characters can have in prestige dramas. From Ugly Betty and Cristela to Jane the Virgin and Elena of Avalor, Latina leads on television have often had to carry the burden of representation: in order to appease a mostly Anglo audience, they’ve been pushed to be exemplary, presenting the very best that Latinas can offer. They’re family-oriented, they’re career-driven, they’re go-getters perhaps all too happy to be liked by those around them. These characters have complexity in themselves — no one would deny the three-dimensionality of Betty Suarez or Jane Villanueva. But they remain role models in very positive if limited ways.
Orange is the New Black, with its sprawling Latina cast, and Jennifer Lopez’s Shades of Blue, with its morally compromised lead, have helped broaden the types of Latina roles that get central focus in contemporary TV dramas. Indeed, the fact that the prison drama speaks to and tries to give voice to characters that may strike some as “stereotypes” or tired negative tropes goes to show how protective the Latino community is of its own representation. Not that that’s surprising. When there’s so little visibility, every new scrap gets scrutinized, perhaps even more than it deserves.
“She’s not your regular Latina. She’s not warm and fun and ready to salsa. She’s got a plan. She’s fearless and won’t take no for an answer.”
It is within this cultural climate that we get Izzy. Here is a brilliant engineer and coder intent on changing the world with her latest financial venture. Here is a woman who’s willing to enter into morally murky waters to succeed and get what she wants. Here is a woman who has a thorny relationship with her parents. Here is a woman unafraid to use her sexuality as a weapon. It’s precisely what drew Marrero to the part. After auditioning for endless “sexy girl at party” parts, seeing a role like Izzy was energizing. “She’s not your regular Latina,” she told Remezcla. “She’s not warm and fun and ready to salsa. She’s got a plan. She’s fearless and won’t take no for an answer. She’s not afraid to get dirty for the vision.”
This is all best summed up by what may be one of Marrero’s best line readings in the show’s first episode: “Hey, guess what? I let that molly-popping key-rack come inside me for over a year so that I could build the algorithm for GenCoin. Don’t lecture me on sacrifice,” Izzy tells her mother when they get into what looks like a rather familiar argument.
Izzy is abrasive and unafraid to be disliked. She understands that she’s not like those other Latina girls she grew up with. Early on in the show we learn that she can shoot a gun because her father (played by Tony Plana) taught her to: “Izzy’s gonna have to take care of herself,” he told Izzy’s sister, who was always jealous she never got to go shooting with them. The assumption was clear: Izzy would never nab a man to keep her safe. Even looking at the differences between the two Morales sisters you can see why their father would make such an admittedly sexist remark. Where her sister is all made up and wears colorful outfits, Izzy is often is seen in a white tank top, her hair in a ponytail, her lack of vanity in full display. When she walks into a bank for a meeting about GenCoin she’s wearing a tad more makeup, but she still chooses to go with baggy jeans and a dark denim jacket.
It doesn’t come as a surprise to her that she can’t find enough investors to launch her innovative new currency, what she calls the future of commerce. “When they see me they see a crazy chonga, that’s what they see,” she tells Nick (Adam Brody), the only guy who’s yet to offer her an investment. It’s a shocking statement in itself. And, as Marrero told us, it speaks to what women in the tech industry struggle with, their appearance, their race, where they come from. But Izzy doesn’t let that keep her down. She hopes that seeing a woman, and a Latina in particular, taking the reigns in such a male-dominated world will inspire girls all over.
Izzy may not be perfect but that is precisely why we should celebrate her. What we should aspire to is more representation so that the limited issue of “better” representation stops being the sole way we discuss Latinas on screen. In Marrero’s words, “We need more characters like this that aren’t the sexy Sofias.”
StartUp premieres September 6, 2016 on Crackle. Watch the first episode here.