“There’s no sex for sexy. There’s sex to tell the story.” With that one line Vida actress Melissa Barrero summed up one of the many ways the Starz show is breaking ground on television. Ahead of its season two premiere later this month, Barrero, creator Tanya Saracho, and much of the show’s cast, including Mishel Prada, Ser Anzoategui, Chelsea Rendon, Roberta Colindrez, Raul Castillo and Carlos Miranda presented the first three episodes to a packed crowd at the Tribeca Film Festival. They gave the audience a first look at what the half-hour series has in store for sisters Emma and Lyn (Prada and Barrero) in its second season. And while there was plenty of fangirling over Barrero’s upcoming project (a little movie called In The Heights), she and her co-stars talked at length about how Vida‘s approach to sex and nudity, in particular, feels radical in a television landscape that still struggles to put female-centered and female-driven stories front and center.
In fact, the first we see of Barrero’s Lyn in the show’s season opener, she’s surrounded by a slew of naked bodies in what was (perhaps a few hours before we catch up with her) an all-out drunken and drug-addled orgy. “Oh, that’s how you want to start it?” Barrero quipped at the panel following the Tribeca screening. And while it was an adjustment, she knew she was in good hands. Saracho, after all, has nurtured a welcoming set for her many Latina actresses, privileging a female gaze for the many R-rated moments that punctuated the show’s first season. It’s why she stacked the writers room with Latinas, why she hired female directors and female cinematographers: it’s not just about giving fellow female filmmakers a leg up but about shifting the way Hollywood sets look when unapologetically telling stories about women. “The men are a little bit, you know, marginalized by design. And I think they’re OK with it,” Saracho joked.
But it’s these things that made Barrero feel all the freer when tackling what would otherwise be a daunting scene. “There were so many naked people around that I was like, ‘Oh. Nice.’ I was so comfortable. Because it’s like we’re all in it together. You’re not the only naked person in the room. There’s 20 of you! I get nudists colonies now,” she quipped.
Trying not to spoil too much about his upcoming arc on the show as newcomer Baco, Raúl Castillo shared a bit about one experience he had while working on the show. Once during a scene that required, uh, some, ahem, “choreography” (we think he meant we’re gonna see him having sex, but don’t quote us on that), he realized that there was something different about the set: “I look up and it was all women. I was the only man in the room! And that’s never happened to me before. It’s so emblematic of what the show is doing,” he added. Without giving us more details, Saracho did confirm we’re seeing some full frontal male nudity this season, “because female gaze, you know?”
That level of authenticity and commitment to depicting real-life Latinas in all of their complexity has been at the core of Vida from the beginning. And as the entire cast could attest, they’ve already been seeing the effect an unapologetically queer and brown show like theirs can achieve. It’s even been nurturing to the cast itself, who have seen in Vida a show that really embraces the diversity within the Latinx community. Prada shared how she’d spent a lot of time with people who didn’t really understand “what kind of Latina” she was: “Because I wasn’t Sofia Vergara or I wasn’t Rosario Dawson. Like, I wasn’t all these things that they had seen. And they wanted me to always be you know, with the accent or this or that. And I was really struggling to find that. And I found myself on the show.” That feeling has extended to fans, who keep telling everyone involved how much it means to them to see such a varied example of what this community can look like, to see themselves represented in stories that give them the respect and dignity they deserve.
Such anecdotes are common among the cast. “It’s a beautiful thing when people say ‘Watching Vida is the first time that I’ve ever seen myself on the screen,’” shared Barrero. “I think that’s the best thing that you can receive as an actor. The best thing that you can get from a viewer.” But she immediately made it clear that issues of representation in this industry don’t begin or end with such feel-good moments. Vida is created by and for the Latinx community but it deserves a wider audience, an audience that enjoys and supports it despite it not speaking to their particular identities. She turned the moment around as a call to arms to the mainstream audience that Vida deserves: “I grew up watching white people on TV, and I could identify with them. Like, why can’t they identify with us?”
Vida season 2 drops May 23 on the Starz app and On Demand. Its broadcast premiere is May 26 at 8 p.m.