A Love Letter To One Day At A Time

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You’d be hard pressed to find a streaming service as all-consuming as Netflix: day after day and week after week we binge watch every season of a TV show, then watch that new Netflix original movie. There’s almost no shortage of media content to consume, and that’s a huge jump from the commercial-filled world of cable television we left in the dust. There are times when streaming services like Netflix are positive contributors to the entertainment industry, giving creators the space to create diverse, thought-provoking content that only a few years ago might not have had a place. One Day at a Time was one of these shows. A reboot of the Norman Lear sitcom of the same name, One Day at a Time focused on depicting the everyday lives of the Alvarez family. The show follows Penelope Alvarez, a Cuban American Nurse, Afghanistan veteran and single mother raising her two teenage children Elena and Alex, with the help and support of their grandmother Lydia. Each character goes through their own journey of growth and self-discovery. The show was critically acclaimed for exploring social issues through the lens of the Alvarez family, and for being a rich, multi-layered and intricate source of Latinx representation in an industry that is woefully lacking in meaningful representation of minority groups.

Mid-March, a few weeks after the third season of the show was released on Netflix, Netflix social media announced that One Day at a Time would not be getting a fourth season due to low viewership. When I heard this news I was angry and heartbroken, but I wasn’t the only one. Many fans took to social media to lament Netflix's decision to cancel a show that has been awarded consistent critical acclaim. What makes this decision even more frustrating is that since Netflix very rarely releases its viewership numbers for content, there’s no way of comparing statistics to other shows currently on the streaming platform.

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There’s one big reason why this is a problem: Netflix is a platform that markets itself as being a pioneer of diverse and progressive content, and pushes this sentiment through social media and marketing campaigns. Streaming services like Netflix cannot simultaneously brand themselves as pioneers of diverse and inclusive media and then cancel one of the most diverse and inclusive pieces of media on the platform. After all, Netflix spent 100 million dollars to keep Friends on its platform, so why is there not enough room for the Alvarez family’s stories to be told? With streaming services like Netflix, that are designed to produce and distribute a large amount of content, it can be easy to forget that the quality of the media content that we watch is just as, if not more important, than the number of shows available to watch. Many of these streaming companies are more concerned with acquiring content that will lead to higher viewership, at the cost of diverse and inclusive media content like One Day at a Time that boasted a highly devoted group of fans. Image Courtesy of tvseriesfinale.com

One Day at a Time was a show that created magic: the dynamics of the family were so authentic that when watching the show, you feel as if the Alvarezes are a real-life family.  Even though I am not Latinx, I could relate to the Alvarez family: an immigrant family who are people of color, working class, dealing with mental illness, addiction, sexuality, racism, sexism, and more. As an Indian-American woman, watching the show reminded me of my own parents who immigrated to the United States from India, and the unapologetic pride that immigrant families have in their history and heritage. I could relate to the storyline of Lydia becoming a naturalized American citizen because I can still remember attending my own father’s naturalization ceremony. I could relate to Elena’s struggles with not knowing Spanish because I have also had to deal with the consequences of not being able to speak the language the rest of my family speaks. I saw myself in the way that Elena was loud, opinionated and used speaking out as a way of raising others up. Having come from a family where my mother was the caretaker, the coach, the cheerleader, and the breadwinner the same way that Penelope was for her children was really touching to see. I could relate to Penelope’s struggles with PTSD, depression, and anxiety, and seeing her struggles onscreen made me feel more represented and less alone in coping with my own mental illnesses. The show provided a foundation to talk about the harmful stigmas in the way families of color perceive mental illness. One Day at a Time was more than just the stories of the Alvarez family: it represented and affirmed the immense pride, courage, and existence of the millions of immigrant families in the United States, and I am incredibly thankful for that. Image Courtesy of tvline

There is a lack of representation of Latinx characters. According to the 2016 Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, out of 11,000 speaking roles in film and television, only 5.8 percent of those characters were Hispanic or Latinx.  Many Latinx characters – specifically women – are written as caricatures, boxed into one-dimensional characters who are not fully realized human beings. One Day At A Time was an example of a show that sought to portray human lives and told incredibly realistic, emotional stories that are so crucial to our depiction and understanding of Latinx people. Representation in media is so, so important, but it’s deeply connected with privilege. Many times people don’t realize how important representation is unless they don’t see themselves on screen. If you see yourself on screen, you feel affirmed and empowered. Many minority groups don’t get to feel this kind of representation. Either seeing yourself negatively portrayed, as a one-dimensional character, or not seeing yourself at all, can make you feel alone. Media shouldn’t make us feel more alone: it should make you feel like you’re not alone. Everyone should be able to turn on your TV and feel comforted, affirmed, and empowered. Even if your circumstances are different from those of the Alverez family, you can still step into the shoes of the characters, and experience life from a different point of view. In this incredibly divisive time, media like One Day at a Time can help viewers gain more empathy for those with life experiences that are different from their own, and then carry that empathy and understanding into the world. Losing One Day at a Time is a huge blow to diverse and inclusive representation in media, and I hope that anyone paying for streaming services will advocate for, and support more diverse and inclusive content.