Fellow white people, we really need to talk about One Day at a Time. Honestly, we need to talk about a lot of things; but I think I’m going to start here because Netflix just fucked up. Big time. And, given what I know about some of our/y’all’s viewing habits with other great television series that weren’t about or “for” us — wtfever that even means — so did we.
Here’s the one part of Netflix’s nonsensical, self-aggrandizing statement on ODAAT’s cancellation that I’m still stuck on:
And to anyone who felt seen or represented — possibly for the first time — by ODAAT, please don’t take this as an indication your story is not important.
What part of “we were fine with spending 100 million on more Friends, a show that’s in syndication on several networks and that you’ve already seen 100 million times over, but we just couldn’t find a way to keep this show about a latinx family on our streaming service” doesn’t scream to those viewers, who finally felt seen, that they’re not important? What about some of the gender-nonconforming folks who saw something of themselves in Elena’s Syd-nificant other? “Hey, this show with the same old trope of the closeted boy bullying the out gay is important, but telling your story just isn’t worth the money” is a thing, I guess? We’re just allowing that now? Or is it “well, there are other gays on television, so chill.” The same could go for anyone with a mental health issue — particularly anxiety or addiction — or a family where the grandmother is the actual heart and soul of everything, or…
…and here’s where my fellow white people need to start seeing where we’ve fucked up — not just on ODAAT but in so many other ways: It does not matter if the people on screen do not look like you. Just because it’s a “latinx” sitcom or a “black” sitcom (Living Single, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin, and so many other series that white folks stare at me like I have three heads because I watched and loved them better than their “white” counterparts) does not mean you can’t find value in it. It does not mean you can’t see yourself in these families. All you have to do is open your eyes and look for the common human experiences; and if you don’t see what you have in common? Celebrate these communities’ unique experiences so when you see them out in the world, you know them. You feel connected to them. You — perish the thought, I suppose — might even love them.
With that being said, though, I’m also saying this as a white person who has seen people who look like her all over, everywhere. So, I’m not saying latinx folks don’t or didn’t deserve ODAAT for themselves. I’m saying the Netflix algorithms that didn’t bother to recommend the series to people of a certain demographic, the facebook advertising bots that can know your location and suggest a local pizza joint to you but can’t seem to show you a promo for a series that’s about — much less stories from news outlets driven by — people of another race, and the countless other systemic failures here are just that: failures. Big, fat fucking failures.
Netflix can target me with “because you watched Buffy” all damned day long with every supernatural tween drama known to man, but I had to go searching for ODAAT when everyone told me how good it was. Why?
“Because you watched a Netflix Original with no relation to this, please watch Insatiable, even though you’d rather claw out your eyeballs. It’s white! Like you!”
And the greatest irony in all of this? I absolutely, one hundred percent, saw myself in a show that was supposedly not about or for me. The number of times I remarked, tongue-in-cheek, that the Alvarezes were all secretly Jewish because they, like me, occasionally fit a certain stereotype ought to be illegal. Lydia was amazing with the “Jewish” guilt (yes, I realize Catholic guilt is also a real thing); and when Penelope suddenly considered the vaginal steaming that she’d just wtfed over (same) because she saw it was 50% off, I texted a friend that the scene was “more proof of secret Jews.” Most supportive of my claim was cousin not-Rosa’s (I literally can’t remember her name because I called her this so much) actual secret Judaism; a close runner-up was my exuberant “THEY KNEW I WOULD WATCH” feeling when a character dropped this line:
Cubans got nothing on the Jews when it comes to force feeding their children.”
Comedy aside, I also saw some of my more painful experiences mirrored on One Day at a Time. I know what it’s like to have your grandmother be the heart and soul of your family, only to come horribly close to losing her; I must have sobbed for the entirety of Lydia’s health scare and at least 20 minutes after everything was back to normal. Because I know what it is to crawl into one of those next to someone you love beyond all imagining, not knowing whether she’ll be there for you anymore. Sadly, I also know what it’s like to finally lose her. You never get over it.
Or what about longtime family grudges — years of folks not speaking to one another? I’m in the middle of one of those right now. These are not experiences that require me to look like someone else to empathize with them; these are my life and my experiences, painted for me, maybe just a little bit differently, by people coming into them with different histories.
Then, there’s Schneider’s alcoholism. Much like the Alvarezes, I know what it is to have a family member — because let’s not kid ourselves into thinking Schneider is anything but family — who struggles with that disease, moment by moment. So, when everyone’s favorite rich dude fell off the wagon, even after being the picture of “perfect” sobriety for years and years, I knew how realistic that was. I’m proud to say my loved one hasn’t had that setback; but I’m also wise enough, and have known enough people through that person’s home groups who did go through it, to know that no one is ever truly safe. And the fact that Schneider’s meetings were pretty damned realistic and not the butt of some awful, “hi, Schneider” joke meant more to me, as someone who has sat in those rooms to support my family many times, is something that I can not begin to express my gratitude for.
But, just like Schneider learned when he tried to “upgrade” his business and it nearly destroyed his adopted familia, I know that no matter how much I feel connected to the Alvarezes and no matter how much I see my life in theirs, they also have their own stories. My latinx friends felt seen in ways that I couldn’t understand, and you know what’s great about that from my own, selfish standpoint? I was able to learn something, which society desperately needs. Although I think I know Spanish, I didn’t understand why “abuelita” was a name for Lydia. Little grandmother? Huh? Spanish-speaking friends explained that to me. When Penelope acted like Alex’s marijuana use was the end of the world, I was…set off-guard by how seriously she took such a “minor” infraction, especially considering the stuff is now legal in some areas. But the friend that I shared my frustration with happened to be a latina, and she promised me that this rang true with latinx parents. I believed her. I learned something; and, I hope, it helped her to be seen and heard by me, too.
As Schneider is constantly growing and learning on ODAAT, I know that I can think I understand; but I’ll always make mistakes. I know I already have, countless times that I’ve realized — and probably even more than I haven’t. All I can do is try to do better.
Just like I have plenty of friends and family who have lived Elena’s coming out experience, and as much as I’d love to say I “get” what that’s like for them because I’ve seen it and heard it, I know I’ll never be them. So, when there are on-screen couples that reflect their world back to them, that has value. That’s more than dollars and cents; it’s more than Netflix’s “viewing numbers.”
And I’m certainly more concerned about the human sacrifice involved in losing representation like this than Netflix’s hand-wringing over how supposedly “difficult” their decision was. Because, at the end of the day, we all know that’s bullshit. Netflix made a decision that matches that of every other mostly white, mostly cishet male-dominated boardroom: They valued the supposed majority’s experiences over the ones that they claimed truly mattered; they looked at raw numbers, rather than considering the queer and/or latinx portion of society versus the total and going with what the viewing numbers were in that demographic. And they paid more attention to my fellow white people’s relative silence than the very loud, very validated and often-overlooked voices that they claimed to care about. “Someone cares about my experiences” they shouted all over social media, all while Netflix and others said “too bad. Not enough of our own are standing by you.”
I’m tired of this. Next time there’s a One Day at a Time, we need to do better. And yeah, it may seem like I’m putting the blame on viewers the way Netflix is — but I’m not. I’m putting the blame on non-viewers and/or viewers who didn’t use their more privileged voices to get the less-often-heard ones finally amplified. I know a lot of us have been out there, supporting our brothers and sisters…But it’s not enough. I know we’re exhausted of having to explain, over and over again, that representation matters or that one need not hide that they watch the “gay show” when they’re not gay or the “Cuban” show when they’re not Cuban.
But we have to keep going. Because you know what? Nobody else is going to do it for us. Certainly not Netflix and their supposed pledge to “continue finding ways to tell these stories.” Where there’s a will, there’s a way; that’s what I’ve always been told. And Netflix made it pretty clear that they simply weren’t to do the right thing.
If you love One Day at a Time, keep telling people about it, and let’s make damned sure this nonsense doesn’t happen again.