Netflix’s “Wednesday” isn’t the typical Latina portrayal we’re used to seeing. Assistant professor of media studies in the department of communication at the University of South Florida, Dr. Diana Leon-Boys says we’ve gotten used to the “can-do Latina” girl. From shows like “The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia” to Marvel’s “Runaways,” this Latina can do whatever she wants thanks to her can-do attitude. She’s a spunky, go-getter, and if she faces systemic barriers, they’re not described and certainly not attributed to sexism or racism.
“She can do anything and she can lift herself by her bootstraps, which can become harmful and problematic,” said Dr. Leon-Boys, who wrote “Elena, Princesa of the Periphery: Disney’s Flexible Latina Girl,” about from the bobbin. -do Latina Archetype. She’s grateful to see this new type emerge over the past decade, crediting a more empowered approach to portraying Latina girls. But she’s still not satisfied, telling POPSUGAR, “It’s still very repetitive, it’s still very similar, it’s still part of this economic risk aversion strategy that media conglomerates use because they know it’s safe.”
Dr. Leon-Boys recounts an exercise she does with her students in which she asks them to name Latinx shows that don’t mention a quinceañera. “I’ve never asked anyone to mention more than two,” she says. And usually they forgot a detail like the quince flashback in “Jane the Virgin.” There’s no quinceañera in Tim Burton’s ‘Wednesday’. And our protagonist, played by Mexican and Puerto Rican actress Jenna Ortega, would hate it anyway. She’s not one to wear puffy dresses or celebrate birthdays in general. Wednesday is much more interested in death. Dr. Leon-Boys sees this as a positive thing.
“I don’t want to say I’m a dark person, but I would align myself more with, I don’t mean ‘pessimistic’, but more realistic views and mindsets, thoughts, ideas and conversations about death. That I don’t think you really see much through the figure of a girl on TV, especially through a Latina girl,” she said.
No one is going to call Wednesday “brave,” and that’s a good thing. Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, associate professor of English at LaGuardia Community College-CUNY, agrees. They say whichever character pleases or is able to set up the story, so the “moral lesson is you have to respect your parents. You have to respect the government there… And so, the characters that people like are always the ones that concern the status quo.”
“There’s still a lot of hypersexualization of young Latinas and Latina women in 2022 in the media. It’s still one of the stereotypes of Latinas.”
Dressed in black and “color allergic”, Wednesday breaks those molds in more ways than one. “There’s still a lot of hypersexualization of young Latinas and Latina women in 2022 in the media. It’s still one of the stereotypes of Latinas,” says Dr. Rodriguez. But luckily, Wednesday escapes that fate and doesn’t end up on the virgin/asexual side either. Instead, she finds herself at the cusp of a love triangle, by no means a sex object, and literally buttoned up to the neck.
It’s refreshing to see a Latina with a different look. Wednesday is never seen in anything close to a tight dress or a short skirt. Instead, she’s the original goth, mostly in black and still with a goth vibe. “I feel like we never see goth rocker Latinas on TV,” actress Michelle Ortiz recently told POPSUGAR of her punk persona in the newly-renewed “This Fool.” And it’s true, in real life, Latinas rock the gamut of styles and identities, but are still vastly underrepresented when it comes to our numbers in the population. And the roles we get expanding beyond sexpot and maid still aren’t expanded enough – making Wednesday’s goth babe a pleasant outlier.
Dr. Rodriguez hopes we’ll see a more varied portrayal of Latinas on screen, thanks to the advancements she sees in young adult literature. “[In YA] representations of Latinas are so vast, thinking about all these different experiences that young Latinos [have] in the USA. What I appreciate about the current representation is that there is no shame,” they say. “You want to be shy and quiet and a family person? That’s great, do it – we’ve got your back. Want to be a little more rebellious? Do you want to be outside the traditional family dynamic? It’s great too.”
“Wednesday” doesn’t shy away from exploring family dynamics even as it goes against other tropes of Latinx representation. “The mother-daughter relationship is a very big trope. How do you identify, how do you find your individuality and your personality? It’s always contrasted with the parents. For Latinas, it’s always contrasted with the mom “, Dr. Rodriguez Shares. And that’s what you see in “Wednesday,” as our heroine begins the series defining herself against her mother before understanding herself better.
Indeed, Wednesday exists within his famous family. It may be her story, where she goes on her own adventure, but she’s firmly rooted in her Addams-ness, thanks to Thing’s company and cameos from the rest of her family. Dr. Rodriguez sees this dynamic a lot in Latinx literature. “How do you stay within your community and family while learning about yourself by expanding and coming out? It’s this really big tension [and] there is definitely no line on how to do it right. But [it] also looks like a very general experience for young adults. “For Latinx communities, the tension is heightened, as we are also forced to acculturate to the mainstream American ideology that places individuals above families. Fortunately, as Dr. Rodriguez points out, “Latinx writers are like say no, we have to tap into our culture, we have to tap into our traditions, we have to tap into our family, as a form of success.”
“We want to be portrayed as vets, bakers, artists, painters, activists, firefighters – everything. But when we only have six, seven or eight, as opposed to 90 plus [shows]they can’t do everything we want them to do.”
That collectivism is certainly part of Wednesday’s story on the new show. She may be away from her parents’ house, but she’s at their alma mater and, instead, learning more about her family and their history. It’s a nice way to nod to Wednesday’s Latinidad without delving into the overplayed elements that the media too often relies on. “We want to be portrayed as vets, bakers, artists, painters, activists, firefighters – everything,” says Dr. Leon-Boys. “But when we only have, like, six, seven or eight, as opposed to over 90 [shows], they can’t do everything we want them to do. So what I find is like a thirst for historically excluded populations [for] more layers, more shades, more depth.”
Hopefully Netflix’s “Wednesday” with its anti-“can-do” protagonist helps quench some of that thirst. It’s a glass of water in this metaphor, not a deep spring, but it’s something.