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There’s a Major Issue With Latina Representation In Wednesday

Wednesday Addams wasn’t always Latina. The first person in The Addams Family to become canonically Latino was her dad, Gomez Addams. After first being played by non-Latine white actor John Astin, Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia took on the role when he was cast in the 1991 The Addams Family film and its 1993 sequel, Addams Family Values. Since Julia’s memorable performances, Gomez has been consistently played by Latino entertainers. But his identity had, strangely, never extended to his children: Wednesday and Pugsley never mentioned their cultural identity, nor have they been historically played by Latine actors.
Breaking with the franchise’s tradition, Netflix’s Wednesday promised to deliver a canonically Latina Wednesday Addams, played by the talented Jenna Ortega. Latine fans welcomed the news, excited for a new Addams tale that ties in our culture's relationship with terror and the dead. While beloved by the community, Gomez’s heritage has been historically portrayed as a quirk rather than an identity. His culture has always been contained by his children’s whiteness, but invoked when the narrative wanted to assert his seductiveness and intenseness toward his wife Morticia. Netflix’s adaptation of the family that satirises the American dream with unpleasantness and a fascination for horror was slated to be a big Latine representation win — but it felt like more of the same.
Ortega delivers an incredible performance, honouring the space given to Wednesday’s heritage after decades of containment. But as Ortega’s Wednesday starts school in Nevermore Academy, diving into an investigation of the mysterious murders taking place in Jericho, Vermont, it is difficult to really tell how and where her culture factors into her character. Unfortunately, despite the marketing campaign that led many Latine fans to believe otherwise, Netflix’s Wednesday still suffers — like the character of Gomez did over the years — from presenting Latine identity as a quirk rather than an integrated part of its main character. 

"Netflix’s Wednesday still suffers — like the character of Gomez did over the years — from presenting Latine identity as a quirk rather than an integrated part of its main character." 

nicole froio
While Ortega’s performance is iconic — the dance sequence she choreographed herself, for example, is undeniably legendary and pays homage to previous depictions of Wednesday — her Latine identity is hardly discussed or shown. Wednesday’s heritage is signalled to the audience through weak cultural markers and nothing more: Día de Muertos is mentioned in Episode 6, but that’s all it is, an offhand comment to signal cultural difference. Gomez, played by the wonderful Luiz Gúzman, utters the word “gracias” in Episode 5, again employing Spanish as a cultural differentiator and giving the Latine audience a little meaningless treat. 
Throughout the show, Wednesday’s heritage does not affect the plot, it doesn’t come up as part of her daily life, and it’s not a tangible part of the series. While it is refreshing to see a non-stereotypical Latina role, I would have loved the series to take advantage of the rich cultural landscape of brujeria, delve into Mexican mythology and beliefs in the paranormal, and truly integrate Mexican traditions and creeds around death into the already eerie Addams Family narrative. Instead, Wednesday relies on simply telling its audience that the main character is Latina and moving on.
Wednesday’s non-engagement with her Mexicanness and its origins becomes even more frustrating as the underlying plot of the show unfolds. Operating within a fictional and under-explained magical caste system, Wednesday, her family, and her classmates at Nevermore belong to a class of “outcasts” who are at risk of being killed by those who find themselves to be superior to them. Wednesday is responsible for cracking the mystery of who is terrorising the outcasts and murdering people in Jericho, through the visions she gets of her white, blue-eyed ancestor Goody Addams, who was accused of being a witch and burned at the stake for it in the 1600s. 

"Wednesday relies on simply telling its audience that the main character is Latina and moving on."

nicole froio
Because of the ill-conceived caste system that stands for a weak metaphor for racism in the U.S., white people are re-cast as the victims of society. Wednesday's ancestor Goody seems to be a white settler. But fear not, Goody was actually a “good” settler. In one of her visions, Wednesday sees Goody being chased and punished by pilgrims for being a witch, and she declares: “I am innocent. It is you, Joseph Crackstone, that should be tried. We were here before you, living in harmony with nature and the native folk. But you have stolen our land. You have slaughtered the innocent. You have robbed us of our peaceful spirit. You are the true monster. All of you!” 
This would be an impactful line if Native Americans or Indigenous people from Mesoamerica — aka the people who were actually massacred in the process of colonisation — were depicted in the show. Instead, the viewer is presented with a white-washed, nonspecific category of “outcasts” that doesn’t discuss or engage with Indigeneity at all and, most egregiously, includes white people in the role of victims of settler colonialism. By generalising a faceless “native people” while simultaneously inserting white characters as victims of genocide, Wednesday erases the very people the film is making reference to. 
At this point, this kind of patchy racial politics is common in popular film and TV. While trying to posit productions as “diverse” and engaging in “colourblind” casting, Netflix productions often signal at racial difference but still largely centre whiteness in their narratives. There is no other explanation for the feeble mentions of Latine identity and the co-optation of Indigenous genocide in the narrative of Wednesday

"At the end of the show, the tally is clear: white characters are the victims of colonization, Black people are bullies, and settlers and Indigenous people simply do not exist beyond rhetorical tools for white victimhood."

nicole froio
These confusing racial politics also result in blatant anti-Black casting and writing of the characters. The few Black characters on Wednesday play the role of bullies and — shockingly — settlers. An example of this is the character of Lucas, played by Iman Marson, who appears dressed as a pilgrim in Episode 1. When challenged by Wednesday about his costume, which she describes as “[being] dressed like religious fanatics,” Lucas reveals that he works at the Pilgrim World theme park. “It takes a special kind of stupid to devote an entire theme park to zealots responsible for mass genocide,” Wednesday responds, but Lucas isn’t dissuaded. He reveals that his father owns Pilgrim World, effectively positioning a Black character as someone who profits off celebrating colonisation. Similarly, the stunning siren Bianca, played by Joy Sunday, is part of a group of elite Nevermore students who bully Wednesday for unclear reasons. 
At the end of the show, the tally is clear: white characters are the victims of colonisation, Black people are bullies, and settlers and Indigenous people simply do not exist beyond rhetorical tools for white victimhood.
Yes, Wednesday is a delightful character and Ortega is a supremely talented actress who deserved a better script, but this doesn’t change the infuriating lack of racial awareness in this show. We deserve Latine representation that is careful and incisive about the harms and horrors of colonisation, and that squarely and honestly portrays the villains: white settlers. Wednesday simply wasn’t it, but I enjoyed the dancing. 

Gender & Sexuality: C 

The main character is a Latina girl, which I really appreciate. However, there are no queer or trans characters, which has made it extra weird to see people shipping Wednesday with her roommate Enid — Ortega included. Feels a little bit like queerbaiting.

Regional Diversity: F

Wednesday seems to be of Mexican descent, but there is no regional specificity or diversity.

Language: F 

I counted one “Gracias” in the eight episodes that were released by Netflix. No other mention of Spanish (or other languages predominately spoken in Latin America) was made throughout.

Race: F 

There are no Afro-Latine characters, and all of the Black characters were made into villains and bullies. 

Stereotypes & Tropes: D

Wednesday wasn't portrayed as hypersexual or as a domestic worker in the show, which are two common gender stereotypes for Latina women on TV and film. However, the cultural aspects of being Latina were so feebly represented that I'm struggling to really consider this a representation win. Can the stereotypes of Latina women be subverted or overcome if their ethnicity is seldom mentioned?

Was it Actually Good? C 

Sure, the story was fun, but I was expecting more. Wednesday has always been a badass, and while she continues to be one in this show, I was expecting a better thought-out world with actual Latine representation. It was an entertaining eight hours of TV, but it wasn't groundbreaking.

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