Throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, there were reruns on U.S. television of a series that starred a Peruvian character–perhaps the most internationally known English-speaking Peruvian character of all time. He was brown, wore a blue coat, and really really loved marmalade. He was from the “deepest, darkest” Peru, and made his way to England to seek a better life, since his retired aunt could no longer care for him. His name was Paddington–and Paddington was a bear.
As a Peruvian-American kid in the ‘90s, I thought a playful, curious Andean bear on TV was pretty cool. After all, how many countries can claim anthropomorphic bears as their own? Plus, the thought of relating to a character on an English-speaking TV series never crossed my mind. Representation in real life was already non-existent. In the Los Angeles area, I rarely came across other Peruvians that weren’t my own family.
Peruvians in the U.S. are the 11th largest group of Hispanic origin–making up a whopping 1.2 percent of Latinos as of 2013, according to the Pew Research Center. And, about one-third of that sliver were born in the U.S. Despite being a small minority of the population images of Peruvians appeared on-screen in the early days of Hollywood. Yet, it wasn’t until Benjamin Bratt starred in the Emmy-nominated role of Detective Reynaldo Curtis in the ‘95-’99 seasons of Law & Order that a Peruvian-American character appeared on television in the United States and wasn’t exoticized due to his ethnicity.
In 2005, Johanna Botta joined the cast of MTV’s The Real World: Austin. I was 17, impressionable and in complete awe to see a California-raised Peruvian girl on a show I actually watched. It was the first time I remember seeing someone be their Peruvian-American English-speaking self on TV.
In 2016, Gilmore Girls found its way back into the headlines nine years after its last episode aired when the show confirmed a four-episode revival on Netflix. But the announcement made its way into my social media streams because of one line: “We’ll meet Berta and Alejandro, a Peruvian couple.” Alas, it wasn’t much. What could’ve been a win for Peruvian representation on U.S. television ended up being “Gyspy [played by Rose Abdoo] in a bad curly wig.”
But all was not lost.
At the end of 2016, Empire creator Lee Daniels released his girl group musical drama series Star featuring Queen Latifah and our favorite Peruvian, Benjamin Bratt. The show is currently in its second season. With Empire and Star, Daniels has put people of color in lead roles and hasn’t been afraid to make casting choices that are true to the characters. Star actress Amiyah Scott is one of the few openly trans actors to play a major trans character (Cotton Brown) in a scripted television drama in the U.S.
As for Bratt’s character: “[Bratt] requested his character to be Peruvian. Lee Daniels believes that the best storytelling comes from art mirroring real life. You get a raw performance when an actor can personally relate to a fictitious character. I think it becomes a bridge, the mirror between raw life and great art,” Moisés Zamora, writer for Star, told Remezcla.
There’s just one thing–Bratt doesn’t exactly play a redeemable character. Jahil Rivera is a charming, but shady, Atlanta-based talent manager who starts off the series by becoming the manager of a hot new girl group, and spoiler alert, loses his position due to unforeseen events. A character loosely based on the show’s creator Lee Daniels. Jahil has no interest in trying to kick his cocaine habit, and continually deals with money problems (the latter being relatable to a certain extent). In a way, it was predictable. According to a 2016 report fom Columbia’s Media and Idea Lab, between the 2008-2009 and the 2014-2015 seasons, the number of Latinos playing stereotypical roles like maids, cops, gang bangers, and drug addicts increased from 34 to 52.5 percent.
Continue onto Remezcla to read the complete article.