Spoilers for the fall finale of Brooklyn Nine-Nine ahead.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is known for sharp writing and the zany antics of its “Island of Misfit Toys” detective squad, and the Season 5 fall finale manages to balance that light tone with a more sensitive topic. In the penultimate episode of the first half of the season, Rosa Diaz — the tough, very secretive detective of the Nine-Nine — admits to Charles Boyle that she’s bisexual and is currently dating a woman. That went smoothly, but when Rosa came out to her parents in the Brooklyn Nine-Nine fall finale, the reaction was quite different.
At first, Rosa’s parents are in denial, and even though Rosa’s father eventually comes around, her mother does not. The episode ends and viewers don’t know if Rosa’s mother will ever accept her daughter for who she is. This experience will feel familiar to many LGBTQIA people, including Stephanie Beatriz, the actor who plays Rosa, who came out as bisexual in 2016.
“Coming out is different for everybody. And sometimes, it happens naturally and kind of organically and sometimes, it’s a f-king battle,” Beatriz tells Bustle. “The images that we’ve been fed, culturally, as a society, about coming out have a tendency to be a lot of extremes, and I think those extremes are real. But I also think that there’s a middle ground that a lot of people I know live in, which is some of their family members were cool with it and didn’t blink an eye, and some of their family don’t even want to discuss it with them again.”
Luckily for Rosa, though, she has the support of her whole squad to help her through this complicated time. Jake (Andy Samberg), who usually makes a mess out of things [“He’s trying,” laughs Beatriz] is there for Rosa from the moment she decides to tell her parents about her sexuality to the moment where she realizes her mother may never come back. Coming out has brought Rosa closer to the Nine-Nine squad — it’s always in the hard times when you learn who your real friends are. It’s also a natural part of Rosa’s evolution.
“We’ve watched [Rosa] open up to her coworkers, get a little bit closer to them, let them in on more stuff that’s happening with her … she’s literally let them into her apartment, you know? So, she’s grown a lot,” Beatriz says. “And I think it was just time for her. There’s all this growth happening around her, and Rosa is seeing that growth happen in her coworkers and internally realizing that she, too, wants toward something that’s really strong and specific in a relationship.”
Before Brooklyn Nine-Nine starts shooting each season, head writer and creator Dan Goor has the actors come to the writers room to discuss what they'd like to happen to their character. Going into that meeting, Beatriz says she knew she wanted Rosa to explore her bisexuality. Luckily, "they met me at that meeting with that idea already in their heads," she says. “[The writers] thought that since I was comfortable enough with myself to come out as bi that I would be interested in exploring that in the character that I play. They were right, because I am, and I was.”
Rosa’s coming out attracted plenty of fanfare on Twitter. Viewers were overjoyed that a character they loved so much — and a woman of color, no less — was a part of the LGBTQIA community. Beatriz, who is “hugely flattered” by all the positive attention, says she's proud of how the show chose to tell Rosa's story, and the boundaries it breaks when it comes to representation.
“It’s incredible to be a part of a show in which I get to play a character who is out and bisexual because growing up, I didn’t have that sort of representation. I certainly didn’t have it in a woman of color, much less a Latina, so I myself am thrilled to be a little blip on the LGBTQ radar for people to have a touchstone on a show that they enjoy,” Beatriz says. “Most of the television — almost all of the television that we’re used to watching — is all one color. There’s nothing wrong necessarily with a show being all one color, but we need more kinds of people on television and film because there are more kinds of people in the world, and when you set a standard of this is what’s normal… someone who doesn’t have these attributes is watching TV going, ‘I don’t really know where I fit in.’”
Every introduction of an LGBTQIA character is huge, simply because it widens the definition of “normal” and shows people at home that they, too, can fit in, regardless of who they love or what color their skin is or what they do for a living. And though LGBTQIA characters are on the rise in Hollywood, there still could be more. According to Beatriz, Rosa’s story is important to tell, but a great deal of responsibility goes along with being a trailblazer.
“My hands are sweating right now talking about it,” she says. “I’m nervous about it! This episode is a much deeper exploration of what coming out is to Rosa and how it affects her in different ways. I was talking to my friend Gabby about this, and she said, ‘There’s not a lot of bisexual characters on TV, and if there were more, and this story had been told many times, you wouldn’t feel as much pressure and responsibility,’ and she really nailed it.”
Beatriz continues, “I didn’t think that I would feel responsibility — I just thought I was acting and telling a story — but somewhere deep inside me, I knew that people were going to… attach themselves to this story because they see themselves in it. I feel nervous about disappointing people.”
And how does Rosa’s coming out story mimic her own? “Out of respect for my own family, I would prefer not to discuss too much about how they feel about it, but I will say, like a lot of people who identify as LGBTQIA, some of my family doesn’t… quite understand where I’m at as a person,” Beatriz admits. “Some of them think it’s a phase. Some of them think that it’s a moot point because I’m engaged to be married to a man. So, it’s been tricky… it’s been a little tricky with my family, and that I think is in Rosa’s story. It’s tricky with her family. At the end of the episode, we’re not sure if her mother is going to come around or not."
Beatriz is also happy that a comedy like Nine-Nine is willing to explore the ambiguity that surrounds Rosa's parents' reception to her coming out. "I’m glad that we touched on the possibility that there can be people in Rosa’s family, particularly her mom, that may not be able to ever wrap their brain about this," she says.
For now, at least, Rosa has her girlfriend (whom viewers haven’t met yet) and the Nine-Nine to keep her company. After Rosa’s father disinvites Rosa to family game night until her mother can recover, Jake and the rest of the squad show up at Rosa’s apartment instead, because that’s just what you do to support a friend. But where does Rosa go from here? Well, she’ll live to see another day — “the bury your gays phenomenon will not be happening on our show,” Beatriz jokes — and she’ll start exploring what it really means to date around and find a relationship you feel comfortable in.
“For the audience, it’s going to be fun to see how [Rosa’s] dating life develops and who else she chooses. I think for fans, it will be interesting to see her date some women,” Beatriz says. “Right now, she is seeing someone enough to the point where she is calling that woman a girlfriend, but if we know anything about Rosa, she gets engaged in minutes and calls off a wedding. I would personally like to see Rosa date around. I think she’s gonna bounce around for a while, and I’m excited about that.”
And as for Beatriz, she’s excited to be a part of a program that wants to break barriers and promote acceptance. “Here’s the thing — all individual statements about sexuality can be seen as a political statement," she says. "In this iteration of this particular character, Rosa Diaz, coming out, I do think that it’s a little statement, at least by our show, that everyone that works on our show is proud and excited for people to celebrate their sexuality and their orientation, whatever that may be.” Thankfully, Nine-Nine fans seem to be excited, too.