Netflix Versus Latinos: Yes, We Are Still Talking About ODAAT What Gives?

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Netflix recently announced that its Cuban-American family sitcom, One Day at a Time, has been cancelled after three seasons. The show’s cancellation was announced this past March, and while it’s a shame for anyone who appreciated quality television, it’s a true loss for the Latino community.

Considering just how underrepresented Latinx are in modern media and particularly on television, it makes sense that when they are featured on a popular TV show, it is celebrated. Even more so, when Latin American culture is accurately represented in a positive, relatable and very real way, it is even more passionately celebrated. And then, when that rare presence in popular culture and that TV series we grew to love gets cancelled it hurts on a deep, personal level.

This 2017 reboot of Norman Lear’s 1975 sitcom of the same name came at a time when Latin Americans rarely saw themselves on screen, and when they did, it was in a way that was not truly representative of the Latinx community, or the issues that face Latinx people on a daily basis. The show featured incredible Latino talent, including the beloved and gifted Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno, of West Side Story fame. And in addition to supreme talent, the character development, plot, timely topics and joyous vibe of the show all received rave reviews from critics, fans and advocacy groups alike. The show even received a nearly perfect rating (98 percent!) on Rotten Tomatoes, a feat most television shows and films never even come close to.

It felt like we had a real hit on our hands. And then, somewhat abruptly this past March, Netflix announced that it would be saying goodbye to our beloved One Day at a Time after this season. It would not be returning for a fourth season. Cue gasps from passionate fans and critics, and cue outrage from Latinx viewers who are starting to wonder if Netflix isn’t really the friend we thought it was. So, what gives?

On March 14, 2019, not long after season three debuted in February, Netflix shared the disappointing news via Twitter.

“We’ve made the very difficult decision not to renew One Day At A Time for a fourth season. The choice did not come easily — we spent several weeks trying to find a way to make another season work but in the end simply not enough people watched to justify another season,” they told the New York Times.

That tweet was followed by several other tweets expressing thanks and appreciation for the show’s creator, showrunners and the cast, saying “thank you Norman Lear for bringing this series back to television. Thank you Gloria Calderon Kellett & Mike Royce for always making us laugh and never shying away from bravely and beautifully tackling tough subject matter in a meaningful way. To Justina Machado, Todd Grinnell, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Rita Moreno: thank you for inviting us into your family. You filled this show with so much heart and warmth and love, it truly felt like home.”

The decision was a difficult one, according to the Netflix execs who made the call, but it’s an even more difficult pill to swallow for the loyal Latinx fans who are once again, being erased from the media dialogue.

Latinx Are Significantly Underrepresented In Media

It’s no secret that the Latinx presence in media is offensively and disproportionately small. Latinx are the largest ethnic minority in the United States, making up 18.1 percent of the nation’s population, which equals to approximately 58.9 million people, according to recent United States Census Bureau data. That number is expected to rise and reach nearly 75 million people by 2030, according to projections, with the Hispanic population making up over 21 percent of the entire US population in the next 10 years or so.

Those numbers don’t lie, and they offer a glimpse at the ethnic landscape of our country today, and for the future. But here’s the really disappointing statistics: according to the 2018 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report reported by Remezcla, Latinos made up only 6 percent of all roles on broadcast scripted roles in the 2015-2016 TV season, and 5.6 percent of all roles on cable scripted shows and 5 percent of all digital scripted shows during the same timeframe. This study looked at 1,251 broadcast, cable and digital platform television shows from the 2015-2016 season, and the findings are pretty clear — Latinos are underrepresented in virtually every type of media, but especially on TV series.

And it’s crucial to note that there is a difference between the Latin population in America, and the population of United States-born Latinx people. Most diversity reports and data on ethnic representations in media don’t discern between these two distinct populations: Latin Americans and US-born Latinx. And yes, there is a significant difference, starting with the racial, gender and socioeconomic issues those people and those families face.

According to the 2014 report The Latina Media Gap published by The Center For The Study Of Ethnicity And Race out of Columbia University, “not only does Latin American talent receive most of the top mainstream film opportunities accorded to Latinos in Hollywood today, the press often sees their achievements as emblematic of increased Latino media inclusion.” And this assumption is misleading, because in reality most Latin American (read: not Latinos born in the US) professionals in Hollywood tend to be white, male and from privileged socio-economic backgrounds, which does not accurately represent the presence of Latinos in media.

In reality, Latinx people are simple absent in Hollywood, and especially on TV. And when they are present in a TV series, they are cast in a stereotypically negative role — drug dealers, criminals, villains… the accurate and positive representation just isn’t there.

What One Day At A Time Got Right About Being Latinx In America

One day at a time Netflix
Photo Credit Netflix

The lack of realistic, relatable roles and TV series showcasing Latinx talent and real Latinx life is baffling. And it’s why it is so important that One Day At A Time got it right. The series tackles serious issues, from homophobia to racism, from PTSD to bullying, from veterans issues to sexuality and immigration. And it approaches all of these issues with humor, lightness and worthy attention. It offers insight into what life is really like for Latino families living in America. It is a story about family that just so happens to be told through a Latino lens. And perhaps most important, it provides Latinx viewers with a rare opportunity to see themselves on screen.

Through this show they are able to see their own striving, struggling and thriving families, and they know that they are not alone, that they are seen, and that their stories are worth sharing. It’s a rare example of what a TV show should be during these culturally and racially unstable times.

In the past, if and when Latinos are portrayed in the media, they are shown as one-dimensional characters such as immigrants, criminals, drug dealers etc. This show finally showed Latinos as multi-dimensional people. And the Latinx talent was both in front of and behind the camera, making this show even more unique and necessary. According to Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), the show’s legacy is “one of excellence, of what can be accomplished by Latino artists. It sets a standard for quality programming.” This is in large part due to the immense Latino talent on all sides of the camera.

“What you had is: a great showrunner (Gloria Calderón-Kellett, who is Cuban-American), quality writing by Latinos, quality acting by Latinos… Who’s going to argue that Justina Machado [the star of the show] is not an excellent actress?” he said in an article for NBC News.

And if you ask Nogales (and many other Latino leaders, fans and diversity advocates), the Latinx community will notice the racial sentiment and will not forget this abandonment, especially considering how universally loved and respected this quality programming is. “Nobody will forget that they turned us down, again, even with a good vehicle,” said Nogales.

Netflix Vs. Latinos

So if you break down the real issue here, is Netflix declaring a lack of respect or a lack of desire to appeal to and represent the Latino community? Not necessarily, though it certainly seems so.

According to Netflix, the cancellation is nothing personal, but is really just a matter of numbers. The show failed to bring in the viewership that they had hoped, and there just weren’t enough viewers to justify a fourth season and continued production. This is where it gets complicated, because Netflix doesn’t reveal its viewership numbers, so we don’t truly know how big of an audience is “big enough.” And truth be told, even if we did know how many people watched One Day at a Time we still might not know if it was enough people to deem another season profitable. Because Netflix works on a subscription basis, and does not operate based on advertising revenue, they have a series of algorithms and calculations that go into all the decisions they make about what shows to stream and what shows to produce. We will never know what those numbers work out to being, but know that a certain number of viewers and a specific type of show appeal is what translates to subscribers.

And then other factors such as how much it costs to make the show, ownership of the content etc. all plays a role in the network’s decision. This show was owned by Sony Pictures Television, meaning the streamer had to pay a licensing fee to run the series.

Bottom line: Netflix decided that it was no longer worth their while it to make One Day at a Time.

While Netflix may blame the numbers game, advocates, critics and fans aren’t buying it. “This is a quality show, with Latinos in front of and behind the camera,” said Nogales. “If you read the reviews from major papers, the reviews have been lavish; people love this show. It makes you wonder what is going on with Netflix, is this some kind of anti-Latino situation? What kind of criterion are they using to deny it a third season?”

And advocacy groups and fans are not taking this loss lightly. They aren’t accepting the show’s cancellation without a fight. After all, if you can count on Latino communities for one thing, it’s a passionate fight for what is right. Generations of Latinx people have had to stand up for what they deserve and to advocate for what they know to be fair. And they aren’t going to just sit back and watch One Day at a Time disappear into the dust without taking action to defend a show that has changed the media landscape and has pushed Latinx representation in the right direction.

The hashtag #RenewODAAT started trending on Twitter almost immediately after the cancellation announcement. The show’s executive producers are working to find a new home for their little show that could. In their Twitter post announcing the show’s cancellation they said: “Along with our studio, Sony, we will be exploring other places One Day at a Time can live, and with any luck we’ll find one. Either way our three seasons will always exist and be there for you and for us. In the meantime, we want to thank everybody who watched. We love you. Familia Para Siempre.”

This isn’t the first time that advocates have had to defend One Day at a Time to powers that be at Netflix. Just last year the National Hispanic Media Coalition penned an open letter to Netflix, calling the critically acclaimed show a “guiding light” for diversity and authentic representation of Latinos in the media industry. The organization pleaded for continued support and commented on how through this show Netflix is “not only pro-actively shifting the public narrative of Latino Americans, but simultaneously setting the standard for positive and equitable representation of Latinos in television.” Sadly, while Netflix’s continued support brought us a season three of the series, it will be the show’s last. At least, for now.

And while the streaming giant did end the cancellation tweets with an encouraging note, it’s not sitting well with everyone. “And to anyone who felt seen or represented — possibly for the first time — by ODAAT, please don’t take this as an indication your story is not important. The outpouring of love for this show is a firm reminder to us that we must continue finding ways to tell these stories,” Netflix said in their tweet.

But if you ask journalist Vanessa Erazo for the NY Times, network decision makers should re-watch the “One Day at a Time” episode “The Funeral,” from Season 3. “Take notice of how Rita Moreno’s character, Lydia, remains estranged from her sister for 20 years,” she suggests. “Latinos can hold grudges for a long, long time.”