The Personal is Political, said the famous slogan of the second wave of feminism during the 1960s. Also interpreted as The Private is Political, the argument established the inextricable relationship between what we live as individuals and government policies.
In February 1969, Carol Hanisch borrowed the title for her famous essay, a fundamental pillar in gender studies and the feminist struggle, where she stated: “Women are messed over, not messed up! We need to change the objective conditions, not adjust to them.”
And one of the first steps in changing those conditions is to talk about them.
This is what has made One Day at a Time the popular Netflix series that reinterpreted Norman Lear’s original sitcom first aired on CBS in 1975.
After Lear’s company, Act III Productions, presented Sony with the idea of re-contextualizing the original series, this time with a Hispanic family, writer Gloria Calderón Kellett and producer Mike Royce got down to business.
Justina Machado, Todd Grinnell, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz, Stephen Tobolowsky, and the fantastic Rita Moreno form an atypical — and at the same time, quite typical — Cuban-American family nucleus in Los Angeles, where the condition of immigrants, mental illness, sexism, homophobia, and racism show the true reality that Latinos face in the United States today.
Despite the warm reception the series received from viewers after its premiere in January 2017, Netflix cancelled it in March 2019. The social media revolt and pleas from team members failed to bring about a renewal, but three months later Pop TV announced that they would renew the acclaimed series.
The need for this type of narrative on TV — whether cable or streaming — has more to do with politics than simple entertainment.
Calderón Kellett, along with actress Isabella Gomez — who plays the role of Elena, an LGBTQ Latina teenager — spoke with Politico‘s Anna Palmer at the Women Rule Summit in Washington, DC, about precisely this urgency.
“Honestly, we don’t think this show is political,” Calderón said. “It really is what is a Latinx family dealing with right now. It’s very disheartening for me to hear from my brother that he’s at the beach with his children, and somebody tells him to go back to Mexico. And he’s like, ‘First of all, I’m not Mexican, but don’t say that to anybody.’ We really just talk about things that are happening.”
For the writer, the series has more to do with the culture of representation than with politics; with putting on the screens those socio-cultural realities that go unnoticed in the Hollywood giant, and that are therefore invisible in the real world.
But can culture be dissociated from politics?
“What we do, Isabella and I, we make culture. And culture is entertainment, of course. But it’s also really hitting at the hearts and minds of our country. And taking a snapshot in this moment of the Latinx community, it’s at an all-time low of on-screen representation,” Calderon added, “About 5 percent of what you see on television are people that look and represent us. And of those 5 percent, they are largely still very stereotyped characters — gangbangers, drug dealers, and whatnot.”
It is precisely this stereotype that has given rise to political campaigns that stigmatize our community and reduce it to a handful of outdated labels. But when culture dares to change the perspective and puts other roles on the stage, much can be achieved.
For her part, Isabella Gomez said it is not difficult for her to put herself in Elena’s shoes.
“When people are actually writing real stories based on the truth they see around themselves, it’s easy to tap into that,” she said of the honest representation of reality that the community lives. “There’s not a ton of work, per se, that we actors have to do, because we know what it’s like for our parents to say, “Maybe don’t speak Spanish out in the world.” And we know what it’s like to be affected by shootings. We know what it’s like to be around all of that. So it’s very easy to tap into those emotions and make it really realistic.”
One Day at a Time is, then, that kind of fiction that not only surpasses reality but is determined to change it.