Why 'One Day At A Time' Being Cancelled Is So Painful To Latinx Like Myself Who Saw Ourselves In The Netflix Show
If you're a Latina who's into pop culture, disappointment follows you everywhere, thanks to the severe lack of representation on-screen and the stereotyped depictions that do exist. By now, I've gotten used to being let down by Hollywood. But One Day at a Time's cancellation hit me a lot harder than things have in the past. Hearing the news on Thursday, March 14 that Netflix cancelled the show after three seasons felt like someone punched me in the gut. ODAAT was not only one of my favorite TV shows, but one of the only series I've ever watched that made me feel seen and like my story matters. It was also the only show that my mom and I watched together, because we both felt so represented by its stories.
As I've written before, it's actually kind of scary how close One Day At a Time was to telling my life's story. I'm Mexican (not Cuban like the Alvarez family), but like the series depicted, I too have a single, veteran mother who works full-time to raise her kids alongside her own mom. My mother even met my dad in the Army National Guard, similar to how Penelope (Justina Machado) met her ex, Victor (James Martinez). And, like Penelope, my mom just wants to have her kids become good people who can do good things for the world. The similarities are so extreme that when I told ODAAT showrunner Gloria Calerón Kellett when I interviewed her a few months ago about my life, she exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! You're my demo!"
I started watching ODAAT not long after its first season premiered on Netflix, and I became immediately hooked. I spent the next few years trying to get my mom to watch it too, and by the time Season 3 came out in February, she'd finally caved and we started from the top. And by the end of that first episode, my mother was crying on the couch. I've seen her cry only a handful of times in my life; she's usually pretty tough. To see how moved she was by scenes like Penelope's speech about being a single mother almost made me cry, too.
In two weeks, we'd watched all three seasons of the show, and had countless conversations about it. We talked about Elena coming out, Alex's drug usage, and Penelope's old car Mrs. Resnick, who's not unlike our old van. We talked about how Victor mistreats Elena — similar to my relationship with my father — and how they had a way better outcome, unfortunately, than I had with my dad. We talked about Penelope's highs and lows, as well as her her military career. We talked about the scene in which Elena declared she's not having kids, which caused my mom to double over in a huge laugh because I've said the exact same thing (and my mom, too, still doesn't want to acknowledge that fact). Mostly, we talked about how pop culture rarely gets single moms right or touches on the financial struggles, mental health issues, and general hardships of being the only parent in the house, but not ODAAT.
That's why Netflix cancelling the show feels like such a slap in the face. Despite the platform recently putting out an ad focused on diversity in film and TV, it decided to pull one of the most representative shows on television. To so many of us, it now feels like Netflix is not as concerned with amplifying stories about people of color as it believes, and to make the sting burn even more, the service tweeted out this message to announce the cancellation news.
The words, "but in the end simply not enough people watched to justify another season," is incredibly frustrating. With Netflix's very vague numbers and no official stats on viewership, we don't even know if that's the truth. And, as stated by critic Kelly Lawler on Twitter, Netflix putting out that statement, seemingly to quell the upset public, is proof that it knew the following the show had. It knew how much ODAAT meant to us, because we've been talking about it for years. We've been shouting our love for it on social media, and Netflix can see, on the backend, how we've watched. The series may never have been a ratings juggernaut, but there's no question that ODAAT had a passionate, loyal viewership.
The next statement from Netflix made things worse:
Netflix is right, of course, that cancelling one show featuring a Latinx family does not mean that Latinx-centric stories don't matter to the platform at all. However, when "less than 1 percent of 700 Netflix's original series center around the US Latino experience," as reported by Remezcla, and the most prominent of them all is cancelled, it still feels like that's the case.
The fact is, Latinx representation overall, not just on Netflix, is bad. Only 5.8 percent of speaking roles in film and TV went to a Latinx person in 2016, according to USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and Latinas are the most underrepresented group in film and TV when compared to their makeup in the US, according to the 21st annual Boxed In report. Companies have been telling us our stories don't matter enough to them for years; Netflix is far from the first. But that doesn't make it hurt any less.
ODAAT is the best show on Netflix, in my opinion. It has a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, is consistently clever, and effortlessly weaves in serious lessons and tough conversations about the Cuban-American experience. The characters are complex and flawed, and no matter what they come up against, they're always ready to get back up. It's the kind of show we need to see more of, not less.
By cancelling ODAAT, Netflix seemingly made it clear whose stories are worth the investment, and it's not mine. Latinx have to fight all the time to get authentic, realistic stories out there, stories that people like my mom and I can relate to and admire. So when such a strong, well-crafted show like ODAAT is cancelled, we're left heartbroken and angry over the fact that we're now left with even less representation in pop culture than the frustratingly tiny bit we had before.