“Capadocia” Brings Lesbians in Prison to Latin America

When billboards for the HBO Latin America television series Capadocia began springing up all over Lima, Peru,
last winter, I didn’t know what to expect. Quality dramas that are made and
produced in Latin America are few and far
between, especially in a market dominated by telenovelas. From what I could gather it was a women’s prison drama
— which immediately suggests lesbian story lines — but I couldn’t work out how they were going to
get a poor farm girl falling in love with the ruggedly handsome son of a feudal
landlord into the story.

The TV spots for Capadocia
were bleak and mysterious, with some of the characters making grim declarations
like "Welcome to hell." One character stuck out more than the others
— a Latina
butch with corn rows. A lesbian on Latin American TV? The only lesbian/bisexual
characters or story lines I had seen were on imported American shows on cable
TV. I didn’t expect more than a couple of lipstick lesbians and a brooding
Mexican butch, but what I got — the series’ first season ended in May — was both
better and worse.

In Latin America, gays and
lesbians are pretty much invisible on TV, and when they are on the small screen
they’re usually portrayed as a problem or a joke. It’s the gay man in emotional
turmoil over his sexuality, the predatory lesbian chasing the straight girl, or
the gay guy camping it up for laughs.

Some Latin American countries, obviously, are more liberal
than others, Brazil
being the notable exception. Over the years there have been a few gay and
lesbian characters on the popular Brazilian soaps, and the furore over a gay
male kiss on prime-time TV even made international news a few years ago.

In Peru,
it’s a lot more conservative, and the evening news is the best place to see
anything remotely gay or lesbian. Whether it’s a popular gay club being shut
down for "noise pollution" or the Gay Pride parade, you can be sure
the presenter will treat it with smirking condescension.

But Capadocia was
coming from HBO, so at best I was hoping for a female Oz — but with fewer white supremacists and more lesbians — and at
worst, a Mexican riff on the campier Bad
Girls
. And the first episode of Capadocia
had everything you’d expect from a women’s prison drama: a gratuitous
shower scene, dykealicious prison guards, a riot and, of course, lesbian
prisoners.

Warning: Spoilers
for the first season

It was clear from the show’s beginning that the female
characters would be at the heart of the series. Teresa Lagos (Dolores Heredia),
the prison’s human rights advocate, is trying to juggle her career and family
and later becomes director of the Capadocia prison. Ana Morena, aka La Negra
(Aida López), is the head prison guard with a finger in every pie.

Aida López as La Negra

Among the inmates, Lorena Guerra (Ana de la Reguera) killed
her best friend after walking in on her husband having sex with her. Marta
(Mariannela Cataño) and Selma
(Miriam Balderas) are star-crossed lesbians who meet in prison after being
convicted for minor drug offenses. Consuelo Ospino, aka La Colombiana (Cristina
Umaña), will sleep with anyone she thinks has power and influence. Aurelia
Sosa, aka La Bambi (Cecilia Suárez), is the new queen bee whose obsession with
La Colombiana leads to her downfall.

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