Gentefied: Character-Driven With A Lot Of Heart

“the series touches on many delicate subjects such as queerness, impostor syndrome, deportation, homophobia, discrimination and tokenism.”

Netflix’s Gentefied is coming out at a time when Latinx representation in media, both in front and behind the camera, is almost nonexistent.

In fact, according to a USC study conducted in 2019, Latinx actors were represented in only three percent of roles (all roles, not just lead ones) in the top-performing movies from the last 12 years. Latinx directors, writers, and producers are also incredibly hard to find, which is likely a huge part of why our stories are not being told. This is absolutely ridiculous, especially considering Latinx people make up almost twenty percent of the population in the United States alone.

So when Netflix cancelled their One Day at a Time reboot in 2018—a mere year after cancelling the much-beloved The Get Down—many were upset about the apparent disregard for Latinx stories.

But it seems like the streaming giant is looking to redeem itself with Gentefied, a show that puts Latinx narratives front and center—more specifically, the accounts of Mexican-American communities in Boyle Heights, the working-class, predominantly Latinx neighbourhood east of downtown Los Angeles.

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An adaptation of the web series of the same name, the America Ferrera-produced Netflix version consists of 10 half-hour episodes, and is described as a dramatic comedy revolving around the Morales family.

We follow three cousins who each struggle with a different kind of conflict: Chris (Carlos Santos), a chef who is torn between his need to succeed in a predominantly white field and his Mexican-American identity; Erik (Joseph Julian Soria), the hot-headed grandchild who is very proud of his Mexican heritage; and my personal favourite, Ana (Karrie Martin), an artist whose story explores what it means to be a proud, queer Latina from Boyle Heights. But the real heart of the series is the Morales’ immigrant grandfather (Joaquín Cosio), lovingly referred to as ‘Pop’ or ‘Abuelo’.

Within the first episode, it is evident that family comes first for the Morales cousins. This is a recurring theme in the series, as the cousins are always putting their family before everything else, to the point where it starts to affect their careers and relationships.

I found it refreshing that one of the first things the show addresses—literally in the cold open for the very first episode—is the anti-Blackness within the non-black Latinx community, a topic that is often ignored in favour of centering mestizo narratives as the Latinx default. Ana’s Afro-Latina girlfriend Yessika (Julissa Calderón) receives disrespect from her mother Beatriz (Laura Patalano), who refuses to even refer to Yessika by her name.

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While the series touches on many delicate subjects such as queerness, impostor syndrome, deportation, homophobia, discrimination and tokenism, the central theme is, as the title suggests, gentrification.

The Morales family tries to keep their taqueria open in their rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood, but they quickly find that there are many complex layers to this issue. Ana’s story was especially poignant in its exploration of her personal aspirations to be able to make enough money off her art to help her family and the conflict that arises when those aspirations are fulfilled at the expense of her community.

Chris and Erik take up directly opposite perspectives—Chris sees change as useful, while Erik is more stubborn. I found that they both had satisfying character arcs that resulted in growth. Chris’s identity crisis was deeply relatable at times. His experience having attended culinary school at a predominantly white institution in Idaho was often the subject of mockery, much to his chagrin. Even though he works in a prestigious restaurant, most of the kitchen staff is Latinx, so the teasing about him being “whitewashed” doesn’t stop at home.

As a Venezuelan, I must add that I loved the detailed accuracy with which the one Venezuelan character was handled—as, of course, a jerk. Since this is a spoiler-free review, I won’t say much, but there is a great moment where Chris finally realizes how disillusioned he has become with his chef job and reclaims his Mexican roots as loudly as possible.

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The character of Erik could have quickly fallen into stereotypical machista tropes. Still, he proved to possess a lot of heart and a genuine desire to be better than those who came before him. He’s stubborn and makes some questionable decisions at times, but always with his family’s best interests in mind. He definitely grows a lot, and despite his prideful nature, he shows audiences that he is capable of understanding and navigating complex issues without compromising on his identity.

This series is carried by its characters, and Pops is one of the best. He is sweet but firm, gentle but stubborn, understanding but conservative. He is an old widower set in his ways, but he eventually understands that an open mind never hurts anybody. He is the embodiment of everything our immigrant grandparents are, fleshed out with an excellent performance from Cosio that succeeded in delivering some of the most heartfelt moments of the series.

I am a first-generation immigrant, and my experience as a Latina woman is different than those from, say, Boyle Heights. I cannot speak faultlessly to the show’s authenticity in portraying Latinx communities in California. Still, as someone who finds most Latinx-centric media not to be relatable at all, I’m happy to say that Gentefied was an enjoyable experience. Frankly, what helped most to make it enjoyable for me was the organic way Spanglish was integrated and used in the series.

Lastly, the way Gentefied handled intersecting identities was a pleasant surprise, mainly because we, as a community, prefer to ignore those of us who happen to be different. I appreciate the show’s refusal to overlook that for the sake of easy entertainment, and proudly recommend giving it your time.

Edited By Keshav Kant

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