Work It’s Amaury Nolasco Becomes The Face Of His Show’s Problems

By Arturo R. García

It’s not hard to imagine that, on some level, actor Amaury Nolasco knew his new show, Work It, would catch flack after his character, Angel, told his friend and fellow job-seeker Lee , “But I’m Puerto Rican. I’ll be great at selling drugs.”

If that was the case – and in the wake of the show’s disastrous premiere, Nolasco isn’t saying – then those instincts were right, and then some. Nolasco’s “drug dealers” joke is only the latest problem series creators Ted Cohen and Andrew Reich have brought upon themselves, and now their actors.

As Latino Rebels’ Jose Martí reported, the show, which follows Angel and Lee (Ben Koldyke) as they seek employment by dressing as women, has inspired a protest in Chicago by the Puerto Rican Alliance for Awareness, founded in part by actress Darlene Vazquetelles, who posted:

Right now I am in Chicago filming a movie. The director of the movie is also Puerto Rican and after discussing what happened [this week on ABC] we decided to do something about it.

This weekend we have off from filming so we have decided to do a mini-documentary in protest of what happened. The way we are doing it is by putting every Puerto Rican we know and come across here in Chicago in front of the camera stating their names, occupation and stating that they do not sell drugs.

This will be airing on You Tube. We already have the support of the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago. We are also receiving videos from all over the USA and Puerto Rico through email which will be included in the video.

Vazquetelles also reached out directly to Nolasco on Twitter:

In her tweet, Vazquetelles asks Nolasco to contact her – if he can – to take part in the PRAA’s project, calling it “sweet and positive.” And the truth is, such a move would be the first positive thing associated with Work It. Before the show even aired, its’ premise – an updated take on Bosom Buddies, with Nolasco’s character, Angel, and another man dressing as women – had set off warning flags for both the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Coalition, who collaborated on a full-page ad in Variety asking ABC to not air the show:

At the very least, “Work It” is offensive and insulting. At worst, the show is downright dangerous and sends a message that transgender people are to be laughed at, or are somehow less-than. This show would be a setback for transgender Americans, and for everyone who believes that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

The ad ended up gaining traction with media outlets, creating the kind of backlash that could only be counteracted with a premiere that wowed critics.

That, to put it mildly, did not happen; the show was vilified for being “poorly written, broadly acted and apparently produced without any shame,” and “an early front-runner for the worst show of 2012.” And one of the stars of Work It’s obvious inspiration, Bosom Buddies‘ Peter Scolari, while calling Nolasco’s performance  “wholesome and funny” in Entertainment Weekly, observed that “nuance and subtlety are locked in the trunk of the head writer’s car, some of the bits predate the written word.”

Even sportswriters are getting into the fray: Latino Sports’ Cesar Díaz posted a column Sunday saying point-blank he “could care less if ABC issues an apology or not”:

I just want to inform the Creators of ABC’s Show “Work It” that I wouldn’t be good at selling drugs. And neither would the people I associate myself with and the communities we’ve volunteered our time serving over the years. And when I say people, I mean the diverse pool of friends and family who are Latinos and non-Latinos.

Hey, I cover soccer and it’s definitely the one of the most diverse sports in the world today. Of course, I’m realistic enough to know that negative portrayals of our culture will continue to happen but I don’t have to stay silent about it.

One thing we can agree on is that we’re sick of tired of seeing how our culture is time after time distorted by these shows. From the over-exaggerated accents to the menial roles created because our characters appear unintelligent is simply absurd.

Martí also noted that, after tweeting steadily going into the show’s premiere, has kept quiet while the anger surrounding Angel’s problematic remark has grown, a strategy Martí suggests he discard:

A social media blitz is as devastating as any bad reviews, and “Work It” has gotten its sizeable share of such negativity. It is perplexing to us that Amaury won’t even respond to all this. It is a mistake, and we hope he reconsiders, because if there is anything that is true about social media, no one person or profile or brand is better than any other person, profile or brand. Celebrity is no longer elevated. Amaury is now one of us and we want to know.

At this point, Work It‘s days appear to be numbered, and rightly so. The least ABC can do is take note of the anger the show has brought on and cancel it – if nothing else, it would allow Nolasco the chance to take on projects that won’t infuriate multiple communities, and get himself out of the social media morass Cohen and Reich have instigated.

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  • Pingback: Work It Keeps Getting Its’ Heel In Its’ Mouth | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture()

  • No Te Deje Agarrar

    I honestly don’t think an apology for this comment would be enough. The entire premise of the show is based on bigotry, on misogyny and transphobia, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the creators would think racism is OK as well. One apology isn’t going to change the hate-filled foundation (disguised as humor) that the show is built upon.

  • jen*

    The only thing I ever saw about Work It was that it was a show with two guys dressed as women.  On that alone, I thought ABC was stupid for trying it.  We’re already past that sort of humor.

    But a line implying that being Puerto Rican is in anyway related to selling drugs?  That’s just dumb. (Besides being racist.  I would say stereotypical as well, but was unaware that that was a stereotype of Puerto Ricans.)
    Does this show even have any fans?  How terrible.

  • Xeginy

    I haven’t seen an episode of this show yet (on purpose) but I’m actually really glad that there is this controversy. I’m really glad that a show like this is not able to just silently go by every week; it’s offensiveness is being recognized by the kind of people who are willing and able to speak out about it. Hopefully this show won’t be on the air for too much longer.

  • BellaVida

    Hi, a petition has been started to create change
    in how Latinos are presented in the media.  Could you please sign and share:

    Ask ABC executives along with Work It show
    creators to: apologize to the Puerto Rican community for the racist and
    degrading remarks broadcast on the pilot episode of Work It airing January 3,
    2012 and as one of the biggest television networks in the US to stop attacking
    the Puerto Rican community with negative stereotypes.

  • Latino Rebels

    Many many thanks for the reference to our article. This is also an excellent piece you have written that really gets at the big picture issue here. We are really rooting for Amaury to come out and just say he screwed up, apologize and move on. The bigger issue here is ABC not Amaury but when the Resident Commissioner of PR, a member of the US Congress, specifically criticize Amaury, he should just tweet it out and be honest and human. Believe us, people will forgive him. But every day when he stays quiet (and his is a very active Twitter profile), it only raises questions.

  • Raul Colon

    Great to see the efforts of the @latinorebels mentioned here. Since Nolasco & ABC has chosen to ignore the issue like nothing happened I clearly think Work It should have its days counted.