“Vida” is Exactly as Good as You Expected

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When the trailer for Starz’s new series Vida came out, a lot of people recognized it for what it was: an awesome look at the intersection between Latinx culture, sexuality, modernity, and identity. “Vida” doesn’t disappoint. And it’s super duper gay. At ClexaCon this year, one of the recurring themes was the need to tell more diverse stories in Hollywood. With thousands upon thousands of potential stories to tell, why does Hollywood keep focusing on upper middle class white people and their #FirstWorld problems? “Vida” proves that some of the most interesting stories are those that are played out on a small scale; family dramas that, like a play, need only a few characters and build tension by exploring the dysfunction between them.

But before we go further in discussing “Vida,” the standout on this series is undoubtedly the character of Eddy. When we first meet Eddy, she’s immediately visually coded as a butch lesbian (Ser Anzoategui, the actor who plays her, identifies as non-binary and uses the gender pronoun they/them/their). Eddy, it turns out, was the wife of Vidalia (aka Vida), whose death in the first episode is what sets the series in motion and brings together her estranged daughters Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and Emma (Mishel Prada).

Eddy’s friends are the types of lesbians we would recognize in real life, and it’s clear that at least someone in the costuming department knows about lesbian culture. At a time when our community is discussing the need for greater representation of people who are gender non-binary and butch culture, Eddy is the perfect prototype for how to do it. Flirtatious Cruz (Maria-Elena Laas), a tattooed lesbian with a nose ring, isn’t your average Hollywood lesbian character, either, nor are the slew of other lesbians, gays and gender non-conforming characters who appear throughout the season.

The show is shot through an interesting lens: “Vida” ultimately centers around the tension between white (hipster) and Latinx culture in Los Angeles. This is shown over and over again, including through flashes of gentrification into Hispanic spaces: the hipster art store owner, the panaderia that now has wifi and trendy wood tables, and even the artisanal coffee chain. The message of “Vida,” as voiced by the social justice warrior character Mari (Chelsea Rendon), argues for a rejection of this new, corrupting, white economic colonialism in favor of maintaining traditional Latinx values. Being poor doesn’t mean the denizens of this neighborhood should be displaced for some new developments and a hipster café.

From the start, the show lays the seeds for the argument that Lyn, the shallow vegan who runs in yoga pants and takes obnoxious selfies, and cold and soulless Emma can perhaps only be saved from their deep character flaws by embracing their Latinx roots. This is because assimilation into white society during their time away from the neighborhood of their youth has given them the worst traits of hipster culture: for Lyn, a self-centeredness that leads to immoral choices and a sense of entitlement, and for Emma, an obsession with money that leads to lack of empathy.

One gets the sense from “Vida” that hipster culture is a corrosive, malignant cancer that infects everything it touches (white colonialism has even reached to the Latinx body, in the form of Lyn’s plastic surgery). Manbuns, scarves and hats on men really do look bourgeois, while names like Jackson, yoga, and accessories like kale smoothies smack of socioeconomic privilege. And “Vida” won’t let you forget that.

But “Vida” has a problem: Lyn and Emma are unlikeable characters. Although anti-hero protagonists have been the rage for some time now, it’s hard to want to continue watching when neither character shows any strongly redeeming characteristics. “Vida”’s exploration of the culture clash between Latinx hipster culture in LA is interesting, but ultimately it can be hard to root for anyone but Eddy. If Emma and Lyn were dropped from season 2 entirely, I’d happily watch the Eddy and Cruz show. It’s also worth a discussion among viewers as to whether “Vida”’s intense focus on hipster culture verges into sanctimony that sometimes overshadows other plot points. Hipster culture is built upon a scaffold of oblivious (or not) privilege, but there are two sides to every story. Hipster culture is not the antithesis of traditional community values, nor are should all “traditional values” be held onto, come what may.

Finally, “Vida” does something pretty amazing: it organically incorporates a TON of non-heterosexual, gender non-conforming characters into a larger storyline, making their sexual orientation or gender expression/identity incidental. Vida’s relationship with Eddy plays little role in the show because it’s simply accepted by all the characters. Emma’s non-heterosexual orientation estranged her mother from her when she was growing up, but they could also have just as easily reached the same outcome over something else. There are no big, emotional coming out scenes so to speak. Half the characters in this show aren’t straight and no one blinks. Woah. Times really have changed.

“Vida” premiers on Starz on May 6th.

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