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Vida, Which Changed TV With Queer Latinx Representation, Says Farewell

Vida, Which Changed TV With Queer Latinx Representation, Says Farewell

Ser Anzoategui (right) with Vida creator Tanya Saracho (center) and costar Mishel Prada (left)

The cast and creator of the groundbreaking Starz drama reflect on the third and final season.

On a soundstage in California's San Fernando Valley, drag kings clad as hypermasculine characters including Danny Trejo's Machete and Antonio Banderas's El Mariachi sing and dance to a song about machismo expressly written for the scene they're shooting for the history-making Starz series Vida.

Creator and showrunner Tanya Saracho, who's directing the episode, buoyantly runs back and forth between the set and the monitor. Mishel Prada, who plays Emma, one of the sisters at the center of Vida's queer Latinx story that takes on notions of chosen family and gentrification in Los Angeles's Boyle Heights neighborhood, watches the drag king scene unfold on the monitor. Beside her are two of the show's executive producers -- Stephanie Langhoff and Robin Schwartz.

Melissa Barrera, who's about to break out as one of the stars of the big-screen version of Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, stops by the set to watch the scene, although she's not on the call sheet for that day. She plays Lyn, the free-spirited sister who contrasts with and complements her type-A sibling. It's the day before they finish shooting season 3, and is the penultimate day before the series wraps altogether, with the recent announcement that Vida is ending its run.

Even before its 2018 premiere, Vida was game-changing. Saracho, a queer Latinx playwright who had written for Looking and How to Get Away With Murder, staffed Vida's writer's room overwhelmingly with Latinx people, queer people, and women.

"When I started this, the landscape was a bleak one for Latinx representation. In the television landscape, the narratives about us were few and far between and were stuck on stereotypical," Saracho writes in a letter announcing that the third season, premiering in April, would be Vida's swan song. "

"We were gifted three beautifully compelling, trailblazing seasons of television," Saracho continues. "Your support has meant everything. It has meant two renewals and validation that our brown narrative is worth telling."

Throughout its run, Vida seamlessly wove together intersections of Latinx and queer identities. Much of the tension in the series revolved around Emma's immediate rejection of Eddy (played nonbinary actor Ser Anzoategui), the butch lesbian their mother married without their knowledge after having exiled Emma from the home for being queer many years earlier.

Vida was written as if there was no separation between them and the characters. They incorporated stories about gentrification, colorism, and identity policing among queer people into the narrative.

On the second-to-last day of shooting, Roberta Colindrez (Fun Home, I Love Dick), who plays Emma's love interest Nico, introduces the drag kings to the patrons of Vida bar. Off-set, Anzoategui rehearses for a scene in which Eddy is mesmerized by the binder one of the drag kings removes -- a scene that contains the promise of exploration of evolving queer identities.

"Hopefully it will just be normal to talk about gender or including gender-neutral language in their lives," Anzoategui says of how they hope Eddy's exploration of gender expression impacts viewers.

Vida's final season kicks off with sisters Emma and Lyn in closer synchronicity than they've ever been. Through it all, Latinx and queer culture intersect, not only with drag kings singing about machismo but with Eddy's coming into a discovery of gender identity and a "queerceanera" Lyn throws for her friend Marcos (Tonatiuh).

Saracho's vision for Vida has rippled out in the world. The woman who stepped into Erik Estrada's CHiPs character in the drag king scenes has removed her costume and makeup. A writer on Vida since day one, Jenniffer Gomez joins her wife (who's there watching) at the monitor while Anzoategui shoots the scene in which Eddy becomes fascinated with binders. Gomez says she wound up in the drag king scene because she once mentioned to Saracho that it was something she always wanted to try.

It was "a dream of mine to do drag," Gomez says, adding that the thing about Saracho is that "she will launch you forward and make your dreams come true."

Season 3 of Vida premieres April 26, 9 p.m. on Starz. Watch the first season of Vida for free on STARZ.

Watch the trailer below.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist