Two years ago, I wrote about the erasure of Afro-Latine and Afro-Caribbeans as an identity when it comes to the strict racial categorization we face growing up in an American society. I think it sparked good conversation between me and my peers no matter how they identified about how Afro Latinos can be brought into the conversation more and just generally recognizing the intersection with Afro-Latinidad. Now being out of college and adjusting to a new phase of adulthood, the conversation seemed to lead to another question.
The question came to me as I was scrolling through Netflix and looking for telenovelas and just shows in general about the Latine experience. While I was searching I realized just how little Afro Latine representation there was on any of the show’s title cards. There was a very apparent and frankly quite narrow scope of what these leading characters were supposed to look like in these shows. That of which I felt only captured a small percentage of what Latino “looked like”. The Latine look is much more expansive than lighter skin and looser curls.
I fear this isn’t just a reality held for television but through most Latine media. Despite a good portion of Latinidad stemming from Afro-Latinos and African culture in general. For example, reggaeton has a very Black history. The beats that we enjoy today stem from Afro-diasporic music such as dancehall, hip-hop, etc. A music genre that has been largely associated with black people. According to a Remezcla article by Eduardo Cepeda, reggaeton used to be considered low-class and dangerous because of it’s association with the Black Latino community. As seen with other forms of art that originally had Black roots–similarly to blues and rock– the more the genre became commercialized, the faces of it changed as well. If you were to look at the top artists of reggaeton today you would find many of them to be light skinned and white. A look that’s more palatable and marketable globally under the lens of whiteness. What was originally a form of expression for artists to bring to light the systematic racism and classism that they faced has lost its representation.
When returning our focus on telenovelas it’s apparent that very rarely are there Afro-Latine actors playing a lead role in these shows. Typically if there is a Black actor they are usually playing either a maid or a villain. Typically these characters usually lack a certain amount of depth. Afro-Latine actors and actresses have had multiple interviews expressing their frustration when trying to find a role that has more character depth. Additionally, they have to deal with the biases of showrunners that feel the need to box them within one identity. Either telling them that they are “too Latino for Black roles” and “too Black for Latino roles”. There are very few shows that reflect that Latinidad can come in any shape, color and size.
There are newer shows now that are trying to showcase that. For example, the show On My Block features a main character by the name of Monse and she has been shown to be Afro-Latina and is an integral part of the storyline. There’s also a show called Gentefiedthat features a Afro-Latina named Yessika and there is the added intersection of her being in a LGBTQ+ relationship with another character named Ana. According to an article from Remezcla by Manuel Betancourt, one of the co-creators of Gentefied, Marvin Lemus, mentioned how the character was created with an Afro-Latina actress in mind. The show as a whole explores how anti-blackness can present itself within the Latine community.
Additionally on the show Insecure, Afro Latino actor Sarunas J. Jackson helped the showrunners with giving his character a Panamanian background so that he could better connect with his character.
This article was originally published on February 2, 2023.
Raniah Jeanlys is a proud Haitian-American woman that was born in Pétion-Ville, Haiti and then grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. She recently graduated from North Carolina State University majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance and a minor in Law and Justice. She enjoys being an active student and participating in activities outside of school like dancing and volunteering at animal shelters.