Words by Nneka Samuel
Cristela, the new ABC sitcom created by Cristela Alonzo, has already made history. It is the first primetime comedy created, produced, written by and starring a Latina woman. A triumphant, yet alarming fact considering there are 54 million Latinos living in the United States, they are the fastest growing population and represent 17% of the population. Not since the sitcom The George Lopez Show, also on the ABC network and executive produced by the aforementioned comedian, has American television seen such a show.
On Cristela, Alonzo plays a Mexican American and sixth year law student who got a dream internship – albeit, unpaid – at a prestigious law firm. So she lives with her mother, her sister and her sister’s family in order to make ends meet. USA Today reported that Cristela is “a story of growing importance and prominence in this country, and it’s one TV has mostly ignored for far too long.”
With growing diversity and multicultural presence on network television, Alonzo joins Puerto Rican-American actress Gina Rodriguez, star of the new CW show, Jane the Virgin, and Sofia Vergara, perhaps the most recognizable Latina actress on English language television, who stars in Modern Family. Notable Caribbean actors on TV are far and few between, but include Laz Alonso, the Cuban American co-star of new show The Mysteries of Laura, twin actresses Tia and Tamera who have Bahamian roots and Jamaican American actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, who plays on Bounce TV’s One Love. And, of course, Kerry Washington, who plays Olivia Pope on the hit show, Scandal.
Ugly Betty, Greetings From Tucson, Cane, Freddie, American Family: Journey of Dreams– these are but a few shows with Latino leads that have come and gone since the early 2000s. What does it take for these shows to succeed? Does it lie in the hands of television executives or viewers at home like you and me? When The George Lopez Show was cancelled in 2007 at a time when ABC greenlit a comedy series about cavemen based on a popular commercial, Lopez was quoted as saying, “So, a Chicano can’t be on tv, but a caveman can?” Clearly the answer lies in the conscious effort by networks, studios, executives and writers alike to actively seek more diversity. Hopefully Cristela will beat the odds of its predecessors and help to usher in a wave of more diverse stories and cultures being represented on American television.