'Vida' Writers Weigh In On What It’s Like To Be Part Of the Groundbreaking Show
September 11, 2019
In Hollywood, among writers’ rooms that have looked the same for generations, is a first-of-its-kind room full of purpose and identity. The Starz drama Vida about two Mexican-American siblings from East Los Angeles is in production on its third season, and features a writers’ room of whom all ten identify as Latinx.
“No one else is doing it,” says Felicia Hilario, a writer on Vida. “This is the only show that’s doing it.”
The show’s makeup is no accident. Showrunner Tanya Saracho hand-picked her writers’ room to represent the show’s characters. While most of the writers have been part of other rooms in the past, they say this is the first time their diversity has worked in their favor.
“This show is groundbreaking,” Hilario says. “I may never be a part of something so special again.”
Although Hollywood is making an effort to emphasize inclusivity and diversity, a recent study still found a lack of equity and advancement for television writers. According to Deadline and the study Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, diverse writers are getting into rooms—but they aren’t being heard. They also aren’t being given the opportunity to advance. The study found that “64% of diverse writers reported having experienced bias, discrimination and/or harassment by members of the writing staff.” The report further states that 42% of the people interviewed say they got their job as a “diversity slot,” with an understanding that they were given a chance because they “came at a discount.”
Much of this could also be due to the lack of representation in the kind of shows being created. Vida works to break that barrier for the Latinx community by providing a show to identify with, while simultaneously employing writers with similar backgrounds.
“For us it was amazing, because it's like, ‘Oh, you are putting us first,’” says Jennifer Gómez, another writer on Vida.
The writers spend their days brainstorming, writing and... salsa dancing. They find a unique sense of satisfaction and effortlessness being in a room full of people with similar experiences.
“We can have more nuanced conversations because we’re not busy explaining things,” says Vida writer Lindsey Villarreal. “It's kind of rudimentary and part of our existence. This is different because I’ve been on shows that are not representative of the world and I have to constantly defend women and every person of color.”
Vida’s writers also all speak Spanglish, a hybrid language combining words and idioms from both Spanish and English, which they say creates a more authentic room and a more authentic script.
“We get so detailed sometimes. We don't even need that detail, but we’re past that plotty, structure thing of rooms and deep into our characters,” Villarreal says. “We get really colorful. I don’t think you get that on a lot of other shows or in other rooms.”
Vida is known for its dynamic storylines that are seemingly ripped right from the headlines.
“Something the show does really well is push all of the spectrum to the degree it can, and doesn’t just focus on lowriders and teen pregnancy. We talk about a lot more than just NARCOS,” Hilario says. The show addresses issues facing Latinx Americans including gentrification, the economy, immigration, race, class and sexuality. It’s the first time many Latinx American viewers are seeing their culture on television displayed in a positive, accurate light, while deep systemic issues facing people of color in America are being addressed in a compelling and intricate way.
“We all need to follow in Tanya’s footsteps and do it for Latinx, queer and underserved communities,” Villarreal says.
The half-hour drama can be streamed entirely on the Starz app. Vida’s third season is expected to premiere in 2020.
Written by: Allison Collins-SmithAllison Collins-Smith is a three-time, Emmy-nominated journalist who has worked as a television reporter and anchor in markets around the country. She has covered a variety of stories from the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia to President Trump’s travel ban in the fourth circuit court of appeals. Allison has also won AP awards for her work and a Catalyst For Change award from the Arc of Virginia for her reporting on the disabled community. Allison just moved to Los Angeles with her screen writer husband and two cats and is excited for all LA has to offer!