As The CW aired the final episode of its hit show Jane the Virgin, it proved to be a good time to look back on the legacy of the series for the Latinx community and how it captivated viewers from the very first scene.
Jane the Virgin premiered in 2014, a loose adaptation of the Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen, it became an instant hit with critics and audiences alike; the show even won a Golden Globe for Gina Rodriguez’s starring role as Jane Villanueva in 2015. The story about the 20 something-year-old virgin, romance writing, fierce lover who gets artificially inseminated was a wild pitch, to say the least, but over the years the show grew in its comedy and its ability to talk about issues that affect so many of us in one of the most creatively unique ways I’ve ever seen on a television show. The warm welcome the show received was one part writing, another part acting and every part what it represented to the Latinx community from day one.
Latinx representation has been an arid terrain. There have been been very few, and often far between, roles that have captured our varied and complex experiences with nuance and honesty. So often, what little we see of ourselves onscreen are stereotypes, one-dimensional versions of people who look like us but not anyone we actually recognize. The early 2000s were a great time for comedies based on Latin-American families with shows like George Lopez, The Brothers García and the incomparable Ugly Betty. Despite the success of shows like Ugly Betty, however, it took a couple of years before another Latina-led and centered show graced our television screens. The success of Jane the Virgin has been a triumph for the Latinx community, a show that very proudly exists and has burst open the door for opportunities to tell more stories by and about our community. Gina Rodriguez’s I Can and I Will Productions — which she created after getting her role on Jane the Virgin and which already has made deals for new content — is an example of that opportunity and the company has made it a priority to create art and give a voice to those who are not often given the platform to share their stories.
While we can all agree that Jane the Virgin is not a perfect show, having moved past some problematic storylines, annoying love triangles, and those who are unhappy with how the story ended, the impact of this little show cannot be denied. The use of telenovela tropes and the over-the-top moments are where some of its best comedic and dramatic moments are rooted. Jane literally has a telenovela star father. Rogelio (played by the incredibly talented Jaime Camil) has always been an absurd character, but one with a heart of gold and it’s hard not to love him. The show’s use of magical realism, a popular technique employed by some of the greats of Latin American literature and art, gives it a touch of familiarity that evokes a feeling of warmth and of home. This homage to telenovelas and magical realism has simultaneously given the show a voice unlike anything else on television right now, a literal voice in the narrator of the story (one of the best characters on Jane the Virgin if you ask me).
One of the most impactful moments from the beginning of the series was hearing Jane’s grandmother Alba (Ivonne Coll) speak in Spanish, hearing her have full length conversations in Spanish with other characters. Seeing that reflection of our community on an American television network is so meaningful and it’s a shining example that representation truly does matter. The show also did so well in discussing so many different issues from immigration, to abortion, to faith, to love and loss of it, and with a cast of characters as varied as the community they are a part of, Jane the Virgin was able to show us every side of the coin, every point of view with kindness and without judgment.
The most exciting legacy of Jane the Virgin has to be the evolution of the three Villanueva women. These are three strikingly different women spanning three generations, each with their own story and their own very different ideas on life. Getting to watch them on this show over the past five seasons has given us the opportunity to watch them grow and change. They have fallen in and out of love, changed the trajectory of their careers completely, and fought for the dreams they’ve always had.
They have become comfortable with their bodies and with the people they have become. Each version of themselves that we’ve seen them explore has become a possibility of what we are capable of as Latinx people. The greatest love story on the show, the love between these three women, has humanized our community in a time when we so desperately need to be seen for who we truly are. As a brown girl from a Spanish speaking home, as a writer, it has been so wonderful to watch Jane grow for the past five years. Thank you for helping me see a part of myself in you. It has meant so much.