Much of the book world is descending on NYC this week for Book Expo and Book Con. I’ll be in NYC, too, but not for the fun (and the incredible line up) this time. I’m traveling north to help run focus groups with the producers who are developing YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS into a HULU series
It’s easy to get excited when a film deal is announced as an option…but it doesn’t take long to find out that there is a vast journey between an option and a show you’ll find in your “Favorites.” That said, things are looking promising for YAQUI. The show is being developed with mega-stars Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) and Eugenio Derbez (How to Be a Latin Lover) as executives. But for me, an equally exciting thing is that, for the most part, this show is being conceived, written and led by a group of Latina women. And, as the cherry on top, Writer Dailyn Rodriguez (Queen of the South; Ugly Betty) is a former kid from the boroughs, too (Dailyn on Twitter).
Here’s the truth: When I was approached about my interest in having YAQUI DELGADO developed as a series, I felt cautious. First, there was the idea of letting go the characters and storylines in the exact way that I had conceived them. Surprisingly, I felt okay with that fairly quickly. In my view, I wrote the book that I wanted to write. Now, the film makers ought to be able to make the series they felt worked in their medium.
But my guard stayed on high for another, more important reason. There are precious few, accurate and nuanced representations of Latinos in the media, especially reps of young Latinas. I didn’t want my novel to be used to add to the stereotypes that hurt us. You know them: the overly sexy, gang-related girl, the one who knows how to use a knife, the air head with curves, the one who’s trouble.
“What are you most afraid that we’ll do to your novel?” the executives at 3Pas studios asked in one of our early telephone calls. “Also, what do you most want us to think about?”
That’s the question that spoke to me more urgently.
“I don’t want you to make these girls into reductive stereotypes,” I told the team. “I want you to tell the story of all of us, in all our variations and with respect.”
And then, I thought of my readers and the question they always ask about the novel.
“I think my readers really want to know why Yaqui is so angry. They want to know what makes her tick and what makes that explosive rage in some of the kids they know in their own lives. Maybe the series is where we do that.”
And so, this week, as the pilot is being written (I saw the outline; prepare to be amazed), the writers, producers and I are meeting in NYC to visit with Latino teens in both middle and high school. We’ll be at the Cornelia Connelly Center and at the Brooklyn Public Library, Sunset Park Branch, on June 1, where we’ll ask the teens for input and insights that might help us get this pilot to look and sound as authentic as possible.
I’m so proud that their voices will be folded into this project.
Being asked matters. Being included in your own representation matters. Being taken seriously as a young person matters.
And I hope, too, that the teens will take this time with with authors, screenwriters, and producers to ask about careers that they may never have considered for themselves. The truth is that we need each other to get the story right, but we also need to build the next generation of creatives who’ll represent all people in this country.
In case you didn’t see it a couple of years ago, here’s Gina Rodriguez honoring Rita Moreno at the Kennedy Center honors. You can hear in her words how representation mattered to Gina at age 15.
Finally, here’s a huge shout out to everyone who stepped up at a moment’s notice to make this happen. Jessica Ng, librarian at Brooklyn Public Library’s Sunset Park Branch; Shanie Ballentine at the Cornelia Connelly Center; Erika Denn, my publicist at Candlewick Press, who donated books for the teens; Kristin Travino at the Irving Public Library in Texas who designed and sent me some nail art swag for the participants; my whole twitter family for spreading the word like wild fire. And, of course, Dailyn Rodriguez, Jessica Pavao, and Emily Gipson (I Can and I Will Productions) who are making the cross-country trek to make this project happen.
I’ll keep you posted! Pa’lante –
There are still a couple of slots open for the Brooklyn focus-group. Contact Jessica Ng if you’d like to register.