“No vamos quedar con este machismo, verdad?,” Alycia Pascual-Peña shouts towards the end of Netflix's Moxie as her character, Lucy, calls for the end of machismo culture (and the misogyny it brings) at her Bay Area high school. Then Lucy — a canonically Afro-Latinx girl with long braids — switches right back into English. It’s a scene that feels stunningly honest and spontaneous in the moment, and that’s because it was.
“That was just Alycia being Alycia. Coming from an immigrant household, Spanglish is, I would say, my third language,” Pascual-Peña, a Bronx native whose family hails from the Dominican Republic, told Refinery29 over the phone ahead of Moxie’s premiere. “Even to my friends who don’t speak Spanish, I’m constantly speaking Spanish to them.”
Moxie’s director, Golden Globes host/Saturday Night Live alum Amy Poehler, is one of those friends getting served Pascual-Peña’s unadulterated self. Poehler noticed Pascual-Peña speaking Spanish on Moxie’s set and urged her to share that part of herself on camera. “She saw how much pride I have in being an Afro-Latina woman, and she let me have fun and play,” Pascual-Peña, who broke out in last year’s Saved by the Bell reboot, continued. So, between all the Spanish and Spanglish, you’ll catch Lucy dancing bachata over Moxie’s hour-and-45-minute runtime. It’s a revelation.
In the decades since Pretty in Pink and Heathers consecrated the sleepover movie — creating a genre worshipped by girls the world over, as they hungrily much on popcorn in the wee hours of a Friday evening — viewers have probably never seen someone like Lucy. With Moxie, and beyond, Pascual-Peña is dedicated to ensuring we never have that problem again.
“We got to talk about the complexity of me being an Afro-Latina and the importance of young women who look like me and come from my community being able to see themselves,” Pascual-Peña said, looking back on her experience making the movie. Moxie is based on Jennifer Mathieu’S 2015 YA novel of the same name. Growing up, Pascual-Peña asserts she never had the luxury of feeling represented when she sat down to watch a movie about a group of high school girls coming of age, like Moxie,. To this day, Pascual-Peña believes she has only seen two audition breakdowns specifically casting an Afro-Latinx woman character (“That’s a degrading and dehumanizing experience. In a way it’s inherently telling us that we don’t exist.”).
Pascual-Peña, who turns 22 later this month, has been working in entertainment since she was 3 years old.
“Unfortunately, I think we experienced a lot of tokenism. Our bodies were a commodity in films and used as a force to perpetuate stereotypes or be the butt of the joke,” Pascual-Peña said. “The small times we did see ourselves, I would see a Black or a Latina woman in a negative light, and I would never see anyone with the intersectionality of who I am. I’m very proud to be Latina. I’m very proud to be Black.”
Lucy is unabashedly both. Pascual-Peña explained that she came to the role after initially auditioning for the lead character of Vivian, like many of her costars (Josie Totah, by the way, is her real-life roommate). One day, Pascual-Peña auditioned for Lucy — the next she was in a director’s session with Poehler. “Lucy was someone that I resonated with more,” Pascual-Peña admitted. “She’s this rebel, activist, outspoken young woman protesting. My mom literally said, ‘Did they meet you? This was made for you.’”
I’m very proud to be Latina. I’m very proud to be Black.
In most “mainstream” girly teen friendship movies, someone like Lucy would be completely left out of the narrative. Other films would only show Lucy in fragmented pieces. While viewers don’t get to glimpse the inner workings of Lucy’s life outside of her friendship with Moxie protagonist Vivian (Hadley Robinson), Pascual-Peña is proud of what we do see. “This is really a film about unity and finding what your voice looks like, even if it looks different than the other people around you,” she said. “We see different parts of Lucy through her vulnerability when she’s having to deal with microaggressions. We see her powerfulness, and just her being a badass when it comes to protesting and ‘rallying the troops.’”
Pascual-Peña is particularly excited for viewers to see Lucy’s kiss with soccer player Amaya (Anjelika Washington). It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of youthful exuberance and Black love, as Pascual-Peña called it — and the actor’s first on-screen smooch. “I’m proud of [the kiss] being between two Black girls and it not being demonized in any way or us being oversexualized,” she pointed out. “I’ve never seen anything like that personally — where just two women were freely able to [share that]. It didn’t have to be this grandiose thing. They were just being truthful in who they were.”
If you’re ready to see more of Lucy and Amaya’s romance, Pascual-Peña is in the same boat. “Hopefully, we’ll have a Moxie 2 if people want to learn more about all the characters’ lives,” she said. “I would love to see that.”