You spin me right ‘round. And I’m not liking it.
1. By now, you’ve probably seen some of the chatter surrounding Sofia Vergara’s sketch at the Emmys.
It involved Vergara posing on a giant spinning platform, the joke being that her Latina-brand hotness would provide a welcome distraction from a boring speech (which mentioned diversity) by Television Academy CEO and chairman Bruce Rosenblum. But for many on Twitter, the stunt was more cringe-worthy than funny.
2. Vergara has responded to the backlash, telling her critics to “lighten up.”
“I think its absolutely the opposite,” she said. “It means that somebody can be hot and also be funny and make fun of herself. I think it’s ridiculous that somebody started this — I know who she was — who has no sense of humor [and should] lighten up a little bit.”
And some agree. At Mediaite, Cathy Reisenwitz wrote, “Vergara stepped up on that pedestal because she had something to say about her industry. If you can’t hear it over the sound of her beautiful body, that is your malfunction.”
3. No word on who Vergara thinks “started this.”
Who invites you to tea and then won’t serve it? Come on, Sofia.
4. But pop culture events that play out in front of a large audience aren’t just about one person at one moment.
Vergara’s participation in that sketch — and the fact that it was pitched, written, and approved — makes this moment bigger than Sofia Vergara. This moment is about Latina representation in general.
5. So. Let’s put the sketch in context.
We live at a point in history where women in general and Latinas in particular are both underrepresented in popular media, as well as portrayed in a sexualized and stereotypical manner more often than not.
6. If Vergara’s partcipation in the sketch was an attempt to satirize that reality, it fell flat…
..and there’s a reason for that.
7. Here are just a few examples of her participation in maintaining a stereotypical portrayal of Latinas:
11. See what I mean?
It’s not successful satire if you’re complicit in the problem you’re satirizing.
12. And the truth is that Sofia Vergara is better than these roles.
She has great comedic timing. She’s business-savvy, extending her brand to include clothing, accessories, and jewelry. She’s marketable, landing endorsement deals for giant brands like Head & Shoulders and Pepsi. She’s won a SAG Award, a Glamour Award for her comedic skills, and even an NAACP Image Award. She’s been the highest-paid actress on television “by a long shot” for two years running. She’s at a point in her career where she could make a point of demanding better, more nuanced (and still funny) material.
13. But she doesn’t.
Besides defending the Emmys sketch, she has also defended Modern Family against critics’ claims that the show’s creative team has a problem when it comes to race and ethnicity, and that her character can veer into stereotypical territory.
And so things remain the same…
14. …which has a very real impact on the women, especially Latina women, who are Vergara’s peers.
Taking the easier path will, more often that not, leave the path a little less smooth and a lot more cluttered with obstacles and garbage for those who journey behind you. A great example of how that domino effect has played out for black actresses and characters is The Grio’s post on “the changing image of the African-American ‘leading lady.’”
15. Of course Sofia Vergara has agency. Of course she gets to decide what to do with her body and with her image.
And that’s just the problem. The choices she is making don’t exist in a vacuum. No one actress can or should represent an entire diverse ethnicity, but the fact remains that 1) there are very few visible, powerful Latinas in Hollywood, and 2) she is one of them.
And so the choices she makes have a very real impact on the way Latinas are represented in popular culture, the roles that are seen as being in demand, and the stories deemed worth the time and money it takes to make them.