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CULTURE

Groundbreaking New TV Series ‘Vida’ Features First Latina Showrunner & More

Writer Tanya Saracho is breaking new ground as the first Latina showrunner for a premium cable series. Her show “Vida” debuts on Starz this Sunday, May 6, and is taking pains to respect the authenticity of her culture on and off set.

Born in Mexico and raised in Texas, Saracho began as a playwright in Chicago after graduating from college. For the last five years she was based in Los Angeles, working on shows as diverse as HBO’s “Looking” and ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.”

However, being in a field where leading roles for people of color are still rare ultimately influenced her views and her art. This resulted in her play, “Fade,” staged in Chicago of last year. In the play, she revealed how isolating it could be as the sole Latina writer, the so-called “diversity hire,” while working on a TV show.

Now, just half a decade later, she has found herself at the helm of her own series, “Vida,” where she has hired an entirely Latino writing staff, mostly female and queer.

The show centers on a pair of sisters, Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera), returning home to L.A. to settle the estate of their recently deceased mother, with the estate mostly comprising of the family-run bar.

“[The main characters] are not the children of immigrants,” Saracho said. “They’re the grandchildren of immigrants, and that’s important too, because that’s American. That’s being American.”

In the show, the Mexican-American neighborhood is undergoing gentrification, and the sisters are torn between selling the bar or maintaining it to keep a remnant of their childhood upbringing.

Gentrification was also a theme that Saracho was sensitive to in real life when filming the show in traditionally Latino-populated neighborhoods of L.A., such as Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles.

Knowing that the presence of film production sets in a neighborhood could translate to eventual unwanted gentrification, the show would film exterior shots there for authenticity, but shoot more extensive interior scenes in other, already gentrified locations.

Authenticity is another reason Saracho chose an all-Latino writing staff.

“For such an intimate show about the details of [Latino] culture? You can’t fake that. The room needs to reflect the makeup of the show,” she explained.

The fact that the show focuses on LGBTQ people of color, a historically underrepresented segment of the population on TV, also sets a precedent. One of the protagonists has a romance with a “genderqueer person,” and it’s revealed that their deceased mother was secretly married to a woman.

“My hope is [this] says we’re ready for these sorts of stories and these sorts of narratives,” Saracho said. “I hope it’s not just a trend.”

“To that little kid who was 13 and trying to figure out her accent, I’d [say], ‘Keep speaking out because eventually they will hear you.'”

“Vida” premieres this Sunday on Starz, for a six-episode run in its premiere season.

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