Love, Jane the Virgin
My grandmother, mother, sister and I huddled together around the television set in our living room as a gorgeous heroine and dashing male hero passionately spoke Spanish to each other on-screen. The television could just as easily have shown a kidnapping, someone burning alive or another equally dramatic scene. However tonight, the writers of the novela decided to turn up the romance. A change of pace that my grandmother and mother very much welcomed, as they had never been fans of the twists and turns novelas could often take.
When the commercial break ran, my sister and I spoke excitedly about what we thought was going to happen. Our chatter was hushed the minute the show started up again, the threat of being sent to bed early looming over our heads. Like many other Latinx children, telenovelas were a central part of my weeknights growing up. These hour-long shows determined my bedtime, gave me unnecessary nightmares, and were the cause of plenty of awkward unintentional viewings of non-PG screen moments. Above all, though, they allowed me, and many others like me, to bond with my family and gain a better grasp of a language we probably only ever spoke at home.
Many are all too familiar with the genre I've just described, and not necessarily because they had it shoved down their throats as a child. Five years ago, the CW show Jane the Virgin brought the magic of telenovelas to the American cultural mainstream. The premise for Jane the Virgin was loosely adapted from a popular Venezuelan telenovela of the same name. Throughout its run, the show's main draw was how it was supposed to be a satire of the exaggerated nature of telenovelas while simultaneously celebrating them. The borrowed telenovela tropes of my childhood were given new life by producer Jennie Snyder Urman and the writers of the show.
Like every good telenovela, Jane the Virgin features a love triangle. Jane continually has to choose between Michael Cordero Jr., a detective, and her love interest at the beginning of the show, or Rafael Solano, a hotelier and the father to her baby. Though a constant element of the storyline, the show is careful to highlight that Jane's romantic relationships are not what the show's primary focus is supposed to be. The real heart of the show lies in Jane's relationship with her family, specifically her mother and grandmother, and that is what really sets it apart from other telenovelas.
Having a Latinx family who was confronting issues I saw reflected in so many families around me at the forefront of a major television show was groundbreaking. The depth, relatability, and accuracy with which the show portrayed the Villanuevas is something we were in dire need of when it was initially released. The Villanueva women were all extremely different from one another. Jane was bookish, smart, and annoyingly nosy. Alba was religious and strict, but extremely caring when she needed to be. Xiomara was a talented and ambitious performer. In true telenovela fashion, the show demonstrated that Latina women could be more than just what they've been traditionally represented to be in American media.
The similarities to telenovelas don't stop there: the plot twists that were so hated by my mother and grandmother made frequent appearances as the show progressed. Long lost family members, evil twin sisters, fake deaths, and even amnesia were all implemented to the storyline at some point. The show's narrator would always punctuate these moments with his infamous, "Straight out of a telenovela, right?" line, reminding viewers that these moments, though overdramatic, were very deliberate, and an homage to something greater.
I watched Jane the Virgin because it is rare for me to watch a show and feel like the characters could very much be my family. The multifaceted exploration of minority communities is something that will forever stand out to me about the show. As I say goodbye to Jane the Virgin, I also say thank you. Thank you for bringing aspects of Latinx culture, like telenovelas and magical realism, to more people, thank you for attempting to normalize the depiction of LGBT+ characters and relationships and finally, thank you for finally allowing me to see myself completely in a fictional character.
Lead Image Credit: Giphy