By Arturo R. García
Since we noted it in the links last month, the controversy surrounding a TV adaptation of Alisa Valdes-Rodríguez’s book The Dirty Girls Social Club book series went from escalation to cease-and-desist orders to, now, an apparent cease-fire.
The novel, the first of two books dealing with a sextet of Latinas (the “Dirty Girls” nickname stems from one of the girls being referred to as “Sucia” by her family; a third book will be released this fall) who become friends while attending Boston University and stay in touch as their lives take them in different directions. In a series of blog posts, Rodríguez accused the parties to whom she optioned the television rights – producer Ann Serrano López and screenwriter Luisa Lechin – of distorting her characters’ ethnicities and transforming them from sex-positive characters into sexually-irresponsible caricatures.
Neither López (reportedly getting a divorce from comedian George López) nor Lechin have publicly responded to Rodríguez’s series of posts and tweets over Christmas weekend, which have since been taken down. In one, Rodríguez said López and Lechin told her nine months ago that their prospective script included a lesbian character, Elizabeth, being re-written to be bisexual. Rodríguez said producer Lynette Ramírez told her at the time, “No one trusts a bisexual.” From the post:
I took that moment to tell the ladies at the table that I was, in fact, bisexual, and very trustworthy. Bisexuality, I informed them, did not mean a person had a compelling need to screw everything in sight. It means only that we are attracted to SOME men and SOME women and, just like straight or homosexual people, monogamous and normal when we commit to a person we love.
The women around the table seemed very uncomfortable with me after that. I’m not sure if it was because I’d objected to the change in my character, or because I was bisexual, a condition they clearly saw as pathological and depraved.
Rodríguez later posted what she called a portion of the script for a Dirty Girls pilot. Emphasis below is hers:
INT. COLLEGE DORM HALLWAY – NIGHT
The camera follows a young GIRL’S tight ass down the hallway to a closed door. The hand-written sign on the door reads: The Dirty Girl’s Social Club – Don’t enter unless you want to get dirty! Grooving to the music, she opens the door and enters…
INT. DORM ROOM – CONTINUOUS
The smoky, four-bed dorm room is jammed with a dozen of so co-eds, partying hard.
Let me take a break from the script here for a moment to point out that none of my characters are “partiers.” They don’t smoke. Further, the idea that the very first we would see of them is a “girl’s tight ass” is so overwhelmingly stupid and offensive it gives me heart palpitations and keeps me up at night. Anyway, let’s see the rest of the opening sequence, shall we?
On one of the beds, a pretty Cuban girl, carrying the ‘freshman twenty’ in hotpants and a camisole, slurps a jello shot off her supine boyfriend’s six-pack abs. As she reaches for another jello shot, FREEZE-FRAME: the name LAUREN (19), is written in cursive.
Let me intercede again for a moment. Lauren is the main character in my novel. She is half-Cuban and “half white trash,” from Louisiana. She is white. (Hispanics can be of any “race,” according to the census bureau, and ARE of all races, according to REALITY.) To simply call her a “pretty Cuban girl” leaves this wide open for her to be played by a stereotypical actress. But that is the least of my concerns.
Lauren would not wear hotpants, nor would anyone I have ever known. She wouldn’t got to a “party” in a camisole, either, or slurp jello shots off anyone’s belly. Lauren’s appeal, as I wrote her, is that she is an insecure everywoman, prettier than she realizes, and bulimic. That Luisa describes her in this way is ridiculous, and panders to the outdated “Animal House” view of college life that has nothing whatsoever to do with the studious, insightful, conflicted and almost Holden Caulfield-like person I created.
Following that post, Rodríguez wrote on Dec. 24 that the network sent her a cease-and-desist letter.
As noted in a Dec. 26 thread at Julio Varela’s blog, this is not the first time Dirty Girls has faced issues in being developed for the screen: option deals with Columbia Pictures and the Lifetime network fell through (the latter, Rodríguez said, because an executive told her her script “wasn’t Latin enough”), and a deal with Cienfuegos Films did not pan out due to a lack of financing. Rodríguez added this comment:
It was then that Ann Lopez called, promising to let me look at every script before submitting it, swearing she and her team were the right ones for the job, that they would stay true to the book. That obviously didn’t happen. My mistake in signing a deal with them. It is sad to say, but you really can’t trust ANYONE. I trusted Ann. She sold me out.
On Jan. 1, however, she added another post asking supporters to refrain from criticizing NBC, saying “people are listening”:
It is important to note that I have received respectful emails of support for my creative vision and voice from within the network in recent days. The tone the executives have taken with me is one of understanding, not enmity. I have no doubt the network shares my desire to see this project made well, and I know from correspondence with NBC that people there loved the book and my voice and vision, which is why they chose to develop the project in the first place.
“People are listening” might turn out to be the key phrase in this instance. If this newfound attention by NBC produces something satisfactory for Rodríguez, might other POC creators find encouragement in social media as a means to leverage fan support against Hollywood encroachment?