Netflix Struck Reality TV Gold — & The Heart Of Colorism With Made In Mexico

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
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On a beautiful autumn day, the queen bee of a reality TV show holds the baptism of her son on her husband’s family’s lavish estate. Everything is going well until her brother-in-law, a fellow cast member and the baptism boy’s godfather, starts hitting the tequila too hard. By the end of the sprawling, carnival-themed bash, the godfather is drunkenly hopping into a bull ring to fight a live bull — and he does. For a very long time, much to everyone’s concern.
The Real Housewives could never.
Netflix’s brand-new docuseries Made In Mexico, however, very much does. The moment the series, premiering Friday, September 28, was announced, it proved to be as polarizing as star Roby Checa’s soused-up baptism antics. On one hand, Mexico, about Mexico City’s wealthiest, most glamorous pack of friends, stood as the streaming service’s first-ever Mexican reality show — making it an instant trailblazer. As the series’ first two episodes, which were made available to critics, prove, it’s just as fun — if not more so — than anything on Bravo.
On the other hand, the series, which leads with its Latinx cred, was immediately accused of whitewashing. After looking at the cast, which is peppered with blondes and American expats, it’s easy to see why. Thanks to Netflix’s dominance in 190 countries, these many lighter-skinned, lighter-haired individuals are poised to become the global face for success in Mexico, a Latinx country with a 43% poverty rate where lighter skin color already has a proven, staggeringly high, correlation with higher education rates and wealth. As a Vanderbilt University study shows, there’s a 45% gap in Mexico when it comes to the schooling years of the nation’s darker-skinned citizens and its lightest; when it comes to monthly income, darker-skinned individuals are making 41.5% less on average.
The racial politics of the series is a knotty issue that speaks to which kinds of Latinx people are usually given a spotlight and opportunities. But, when you talk to the people involved in Made In Mexico, you realize the series was so excited to show an alternate view of Mexico, a country accused of sending “bad hombres,” “rapists,” and “drugs” to America by the president of the United States, it tripped right over the root of colorism on the way to Netflix.
While chatting over the phone with cast members Hanna Jaff, Columba Díaz, and Chantal Trujillo, all three women noted the opportunity to show “another side” of Mexico — one divorced from the drugs, violence, and poverty that usually dominates the country’s pop cultural discourse — is what drew them to the series.
Jaff, a Mexican-Kurdish philanthropist who has lived in America, Europe, and the Middle East, admits she is oftentimes hit with “negativity” when she identifies herself has Mexican throughout her travels. Trujillo, who went to high school in San Diego with Jaff, has also experienced “backlash and confusion” when telling people how much she loves living in Mexico. These negative reactions are so extreme that new acquaintances have been surprised to see Jaff’s personal photos of a bustling Mexico City, a place brimming with culture, that the 30-year-old has called home for six years.
And, things have only gotten worse. “Over last two years, we have been very insulted, and we’ve been getting a lot of hate and discrimination because of those negative comments. This [show] is sort of like, ‘Well, that’s not who were are,’” Jaff explained, referencing how Donald Trump’s rhetoric has inflamed the negativity she has long experienced. “It’s not that the whole country is a ‘bad hombre’ or violent or criminal or all of these negative things that have been said about Mexicans. [With the show,] we’re going to be able to prove that wrong.”
Made In Mexico works hard towards that goal, with the first few episodes involving a trip to an art gallery, a massive charity event, and a look at the inner workings of Jaff’s own immigrant and refugee-focused NGO, The Jaff Foundation. Eventually, season 1 will give us an exploration of Mexican holiday Dia De Los Muertos, which Trujillo hopes will change viewers’ perspectives of the well-know but little understood celebration.
The creation of Made In Mexico has already expanded at least one person’s outlook on its titular country: co-executive producer Lauren Volonakis. Volonakis, who formerly produced both The Real Housewives Of New York and The Real Housewives Of New Jersey, is a Long Island native who had never visited Mexico City prior to filming, just beach towns like Cancun.
“Mexico and Mexico City don’t get a fair appearance in the media, from TV shows and also in politics,” Volonakis told Refinery29, pointing out that in reality there’s a “museum on every corner” in her series’ city. “It was really easy to show another really cool, really aspirational side of Mexico City because it actually is amazing. I didn’t expect it to be what it was — and it was awesome.”
Made In Mexico’s eye-opening ability for someone like Volonakis speaks to why Trujillo, one of the blonde, blue-eyed, American members of the cast, claims talking about “skin color” in regards to her Netflix show is the most “shallow” conversation around the series.
“We should be talking about a show actually talking about anything that’s not Narcos or involved with drugs about Mexico,” the blogger and former House Of DVF contestant, who has a Mexican father and Spanish mother, said. “It’s crazy to me that people are so closed-minded and so judgemental about skin color or attributes … It’s really an eye-opener more than anything to have a cast of nine people who are maybe a little bit more light-skinned than what you would imagine for ‘A Mexican,’ and I want people to look at the show and be like, ‘Wow, all of these people live in Mexico City?’”
While Trujillo’s side steps why so many are hurt by how Eurocentric the Made In Mexico cast appears — for a show about Latinx representation set in the self-described “diverse” country of Mexico, it’s sorely lacking people of color — the reason for her frustration is obvious: she is tired of people not believing she’s Latinx. “I’m blonde and blue-eyed and I definitely identity towards Mexican and Spanish more than I do American because neither one of my parents [are from there]. Having that question [around my identity] my whole life was kind of insulting,” Trujillo said, adding the rhetorical question, “Do I question your background because you have brown eyes and brown hair?”
Trujillo’s Mexico co-star Columba Díaz, a model and It-girl sure to be season 1’s breakout star, does have brown hair (and green eyes) and still feels the need to asset her Latinx bona fides. “People are saying everybody is white, but I’m sorry — I’m more Latina than anything, and I cannot be anything else. It’s in my blood,” the 24-year-old fashionista stressed. “I am Mexican. I was born in here, my parents are Mexican, and that’s it.”
Yes, Díaz and Trujillo are Mexican, and we can only hope their genuinely fun Housewives-ish romp will net another season. Not only will that mean another delightful television trip to Mexico City, but it will give Made In Mexico the chance to add cast members from the other side of the Latinx spectrum — it’s not like they’re not there.
When asked if Mexico City’s high society simply isn’t letting darker skinned individuals into its ranks, Hanna Jaff was aghast. After all, if these people aren’t allowed to exist, you can’t add them to your reality show, right? “No, of course [we do]. It’s not like that at all,” Jaff replied, pointing out she is half-Kurdish, and a part of aforementioned baptism bad boy Roby Checa’s family hails from Lebanon. Checa’s brother, Pedro Checa, is also married to Mexico’s leading lady Kitzia Mitre.
“We’re a very diverse country,” Jaff added. “Of course we have darker skinned friends, family, relatives. It’s not one or the other. We’re all combined.”
Tackling topics like colorism and representation might not be what the Mexico cast expected at this point in their series’ infancy. They seem to simply be happy to be starting conversations about the city they love and the Latinx identity they all claim. As the series’ coolest member, Colu Díaz, said, “At the end of the day when you’re talking about the show, and if you’re talking about the show, it’s good.”
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