Hey guys! I’m expanding the content that I’m sharing reviews on, and I want to talk about a show I just finished. As a person who loves seeing black film and television progress and blossom, I have to say I get just as excited by seeing other minorities experience their own cultural renaissance. I’m so hype for all the good Latinx content that’s being released and that is showing Latinos as a more dynamic group than we’ve seen in the past. I’m a fan of Julissa Calderon and Carlos Santos, so I knew from jump that I was gonna watch Gentefied. I was pleasantly surprised, and I think you will be too.
This show tackles so many different themes about being a member of the Latinx community in today’s times. At its core, a family is trying to save their restaurant, Mama Fina’s, from being closed down. Rent has just gone up and the store needs to do something big to bring in more customers and stay afloat. The family dynamic is complex, and there are conflicting opinions on how to revive the store. There are also many other stories about love, identity, homophobia, and pride that are perfectly weaved into this tale.
Directors: Marvin Lemus, America Ferrera, Marta Cunningham, Aurora Guerrero, and Andrew Ahn
Writers: Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez
Stars: Joaquin Cosio, J.J. Soria, Carlos Santos, Karrie Martin, Laura Patalano, Julissa Calderon, Annie Gonzalez, and Bianca Melgar
Release date: February 21, 2020 on Netflix – 10 episodes
The Good Stuff
Here are the themes that I think they addressed the best throughout the series:
There are so many relationships in this show, and each one explores different complications involved with being in love. With Erik (J.J. Soria) and Lidia (Annie Gonzalez), the burden of decision is on Lidia. Erik has messed up several times before – not with cheating, but with being unprepared and not growing up fast enough. Lidia is pregnant, and she wants to believe that Erik will rise to the occasion, but she really can’t be sure. He’s made promises that he couldn’t keep in the past, so she has to decide if she wants to step out on faith, or go with logic.
The couple that’s been together the longest is Ana (Karrie Martin) and Yessika (Julissa Calderon). They’re childhood sweethearts and they’re so cute. Their relationship issues stem from Yessika’s criticism of Ana working with Tim (T.J. Thyne), a white real estate tycoon who wants to use Ana’s art on the buildings he bought in Boyle Heights. Their passive aggressive jabs come to a head right before Ana’s art show, where Yessika also asserts that no one in Ana’s family is really down for her dating a girl, much less a black girl. I think their relationship shows the complications of being queer in the Latinx community in a way that many of us probably haven’t considered before. It’s not something they’re encouraged to be proud of, and it seems like being a queer minority, regardless of which race, comes with added complications and fear of not being accepted.
My favorite couple in the story is Pop (Joaquín CosÍo) and Lupe (Alma Martinez) – side note, did you know Lupita is a Spanish name?? I sure didn’t. Anyways, this relationship is touchy for Pop because he hasn’t dated anyone since his wife Delfina (hence the name Mama Fina’s for the restaurant) died. Lupe is super sweet and patient with Pop, and it’s so cute to see him ease into a relationship with her. Elderly love is a beautiful thing, and it was great to see Pop fall in love again. Older people don’t really get to tell their love stories on the big screen, ESPECIALLY non-white older people, so I’m glad they worked that into the story.
This theme is explored from two different angles. On one hand, Mama Fina’s is in danger of being taken away from Pop if he doesn’t start paying the rent that’s been hiked up. As he, Erik, and Chris (Carlos Santos) try to come up with a way to bring in more customers, they’re caught between two paths. They can stay authentic to their true culture and food (which hasn’t been helping their business grow), or they can pander to the white gentrifiers who want chicken tikka masala tacos and a new spot for Taco Tuesdays. Erik doesn’t want to change anything, and Chris wants to change everything.
Pop seems caught in the middle. He doesn’t like the idea of raising the price of food or firing employees, but he’s impressed by the money Chris is able to bring in with his new ideas. Ultimately, it seems like he just wants to save the shop. I live in the DC area, and seeing so much of DC become a trendy, up-and-coming, hipster city is disheartening. I can’t imagine how many shop owners have either had to learn to assimilate or get out.
The idea of pandering is also explored in an episode where a mariachi band is unable to make money performing traditional music at restaurants that are frequented by young white Americans. They want to perform at Mexican restaurants that have Mexican patrons, but they fear that the patrons won’t have the extra money (or won’t want to use their extra money) to tip. One night, they decide to switch it up and do covers of American music – if TexMex or MexiCali or any of those other mashup words was a musical genre, it would be this. They make a ton of tips. It’s exciting because they’re finally making more money, but they had to compromise their culture to get there.
For Ana, gentrification hits closer to home as she becomes part of the problem. Tim (who is a gay man) asks Ana to paint a mural on one of the buildings he owns, and he loves the sketch she presents him. Ana paints a mural of two luchadores kissing each other (here’s a picture – scroll down after you click). Tim loves it, but the tenant in the building he owns is furious. Ofelia is a liquor store owner, and after the mural is painted her customers tell her that they will not shop at her store if she doesn’t remove the mural. Ana is at a crossroads – the patrons of Ofelia’s store are obviously homophobic – which is a huge problem on its own – but either way Ana’s mural is costing another Latina her business. She made something she’s incredibly proud of, but at the expense of someone else. Within a week, her mural is vandalized. It’s unclear whether Ana did this herself to make peace with Ofelia, or if members of the community did it. I can’t imagine how grueling this must feel. How do you manage being a rising star when it means your community will have to suffer?
Ana’s loyalty is further tested when Tim tells her that he wants to feature her in her own showcase. This is a huge deal for any artist, but this is also causing her to compromise her beliefs to get what she wants. Tim has no concern about preserving Latin culture; he likes the white-washed, easy-to-digest version of the culture. Ana loses friendships over this showcase, and ultimately uses it to make a statement against gentrifiers. I thought it was hilarious when Ana tries to protest the white art dealers and they try to bid on her protest. Race is looked at as a commodity, not a community or an identity for those people. I thought it was the perfect little bit of commentary about how white people would even buy the rebellion if they could.
All throughout this series, Chris is referred to as güerro, which basically means white man. Chris speaks a little Spanglish in the beginning of the series, but for the most part he only speaks English, even though he can understand Spanish fluently. They didn’t go too deep into why Chris grew up in Idaho or what his childhood was like, but clearly he wasn’t immersed in Mexican culture as a child in the same way that his cousins were. Because of this, Chris is repeatedly teased and called güerro and coconut (brown on the outside, white on the inside) as a joke.
In a way, it was comforting to see that other groups of people have to deal with this. I’ve been bugged throughout my childhood (and some of my adulthood) for not fitting other people’s idea of how I should act or speak. Even people who aren’t black have tried to tell me I’m not black enough. For me it’s been more of an annoyance than something that made me question who I am – I have two black parents, I’ve never felt like I’m anything other than black. But I related to Chris’s struggle. At the same time that they were teasing Chris, his ideas were also the ones that were saving the shop. And I would argue that Chris was the most unmistakably Mexican-looking person on the cast (even though he’s Puerto Rican in real life, but you get what I’m saying)!
Other Things I Loved
I wasn’t sure where these would fit in, but these are a few other things I enjoyed about the series:
- Even the white people in the show are Latinx!! The bank teller and the news reporter are both Latinx, even though they look like regular white people. I thought that was hilarious – white people only get to be in the background, no speaking roles. The only speaking roles white people got were as gentrifiers.
- I like that they didn’t translate all of the slang in the subtitles. You don’t have to know what cabrón means to understand the sentiment behind it. I like that they didn’t over-explain parts of their culture.
- None of the women were over-sexualized or fetishized. Lidia, Ana, and Yessika were all normal girls. There were no seductive or stereotypical tropes they used for them.
- Read a book, get free tacos! Clearly I love to read (check my latest book review here), so I thought that idea was adorable. I hope someone is actually doing that somewhere.
- Nayeli (Bianca Melgar) is a queen who must be protected at all costs. I love that girl.
If this show doesn’t get a second season, I’ll be heartbroken. I have so many questions!! The finale was so good, and it left a bunch of cliffhangers. Is Pop getting deported? Is Erik moving to San Francisco with Lidia? Is Chris leaving to go to culinary school? If they both leave, who’s going to run the shop? IS there a shop, or are they getting kicked out by the gentrifiers?? WHY HAVEN’T WE TALKED ABOUT CHRIS’S CHILDHOOD? Hopefully we’ll get the answers to these next season. I’m invested.
What I Would’ve Changed
Honestly, nothing. I love this show. I think it celebrated and criticized Latinx culture in a sophisticated and fun way. I’m not a part of Latin culture at all and I still found it funny and relatable. Shows by minority people are not only for those groups. Gentefied is for everyone, and I definitely recommend that you check it out.
Overall Rating: 10/10
I’ll also be posting film and TV reviews when I really feel strongly about a particular piece of work that I’ve seen. I probably won’t write a review for everything I watch, but I wanted to share my thoughts on this. Coming up soon I’ll have reviews for The Invisible Man and Love Is Blind. Thank you guys for reading this review, I’ve got more great stuff for you coming soon!