As an immigrant writer, I’ve learned and embraced the fundamental belief that Black art is American art. So much of what makes an artist is to acknowledge taste.
Boots Riley’s new show “I’m A Virgo” narrates the story of a 13-foot Black man in contemporary East Oakland, California and it’s truly a breath of fresh air. It’s a show though, that I believe Latino audiences should be marketed to more and that it’s a show for them.
Jharrel Jerome, the star of the show character who’s name is Cootie, is also the first Afro-Latino and Dominican to win an acting Emmy. Back in the fall of 2019, Jerome won the gold trophy for his performance as Korey Wise, one of the Central Park Five in Ava Duvernay’s When They See Us. Before that, he was widely recognized for his performance as Kevin in the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight.
He has been loud about his Latinidad and should be heralded by Latino publications and collectives for “I’m A Virgo“. The character isn’t fully written as a Latino but must all Latino actors have to fight in the binary of needing to be cholos or lawyers for them to be deemed as representation?
The show is also situated in Oakland, a city that holds an approximate 27% Latino population. In the first episode alone, we see that our 13-foot-tall character is hungry for tamales with a neighbor sneaking one over for him. The Latinos in the show are thus full, not the main focus but at least not disrespectful archetypes.
The issues that impact Black communities in cities like Oakland also impact Latino communities in several different ways. Both communities are affected by various intersecting issues in ways that other populations aren’t. Latinos also tend to support policies that support Black people in general. The way “I’m A Virgo” is able to dissect these trends while having Latinos in several pivotal scenes helps normalize what these forms of alliances and coalitions feel like.
The show’s director, Boots Riley, has recently spoken in support of the writer’s strike as both a writer and director. If you enjoy your Hollywood TV shows and films, you should care about the writer’s and actors’ strike. If you care about these strikes, you should care about this show.
Most of his work has historically been a part of the long history of struggle between Black liberation in the Bay Area and nationally, so it’s no surprise to see that this show is also about the important work happening in Oakland.
We’re on the precipice of a larger conversation around what labor protections and labor movements truly mean to our contemporary American society. It is important to look at history too and how there have been past writer’s strikes and past larger labor movements that have shaped policies but also the legacies of leaders.
Ira Glass, the NPR host and writer has become a household name among my friends and colleagues for his talk on “the gap” and how there is a genuine gap between people who make practical work versus people who only send their work out to the void. Maybe that’s harsh, but I’ve taken it as a tool of accountability.
I’m proud of my taste because it is deeply influenced by Black art, in all its forms. From music to films and now TV, having Black art as a compass has not only helped me as an artist but also as an immigrant and as someone that will always believe in the power of struggle.
Much of how I think about art is about what sticks to me and about also what shapes me and the world and community that I build through the work that I do. We should expand the audience of I’m A Virgo, not only to push my own community to expand its own perspective on Black art but also to expand its reach to what art has the capacity to do.
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