We’ve already seen in the U.S. mainstream media how Netflix has single-handedly taken over the way that we consume our favorite shows and movies. Instead of waiting from week to week to see our favorite shows roll out, we have the option of binge-watching entire 8-14 episode seasons to our heart’s content.
Arguably the most significant progress that Netflix has been able to provide for producers and directors is something as simple as it is rare — artistic freedom. Many notable showrunners such as Kenya Barris and Shonda Rhimes have ended their contracts with household name ABC in order to pursue other opportunities with the streaming platform. Now, it seems like many Latinx writers are headed on the same route.
While the shows are racier, they do appeal to a younger audience, tackling topics such as homosexuality, transphobia, Islamophobia and more.
Within the past two months, Netflix has debuted two of their first Spanish television shows, titled “The House of Flowers” (“La Casa de las Flores”) and “Elite.” The two shows, while slightly reminiscent of the popular yet overtly dramatic telenovela genre, are much more risqué, TV-MA takes on Spanish-language TV. While the shows are racier, they do appeal to a younger audience, tackling topics such as homosexuality, transphobia, Islamophobia and more.
“The House of Flowers” is a dramedy about a dysfunctional upper-class Mexican family whose world gets turned upside-down when their father’s mistress hangs herself in their prestigious flower shop. Throughout the development of the series, the family’s picture-perfect image unravels revealing a gay love affair between son Julian and the family’s financial advisor, the failed marriage of daughter Paulina and her husband who comes out as a trans woman, and the controversy of youngest daughter Elena bringing home a Black American fiancé — all while they attempt to run the secret family business, a drag club.
“Elite” follows the students of Las Encinas, the most exclusive school in Spain. When one of the wealthier students is brutally murdered on the school grounds, an investigation delves into the culture clash that occurs between the working-class scholarship students and the prestigious members of the student body. Once again, we witness topics that aren’t typically discussed in Latin American entertainment such as two closeted teens exploring their sexuality, a teen with HIV opening up about her diagnosis, and the rampant Islamophobia that exists in the student body.
Instead of treating these topics as dry tropes written for one-dimensional characters showrunners of this show fleshes out each of the plotlines, treating each identity with a fresh breath of realism and humanity, something that isn’t often afforded to Spanish-language TV shows broadcasted in the United States.
This can be attributed to the fact that historically, the two mainstream Spanish-language television channels that many Latinx folks look to are Univision and Telemundo. While Univision is self-owned by parent company Univision Communications, Telemundo is owned by Comcast through the NBCUniversal division of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises. Each of these networks outsources their programming from Latin American television production companies such as Televisa (Mexico), Caracol (Colombia), and others.
Throughout the years, the two media companies have struggled for viewership, but Univision in particular as critics have stated it has lost it’s young Latinx viewers to its competition, Telemundo. A piece from The Wall Street Journal earlier this year says the ratings gap between the networks has narrowed considerably over the past five years, largely because Univision lost more than half its prime-time audience in the key 18-19 demographic, while Telemundo has retained most of its viewers. The article explains the reason for this may be that since Latinx immigration has slowed throughout the past decade, much of the target audience no longer wants the cookie-cutter romantic plotlines that Televisa exclusively provides for Univision. Telemundo has made its shows look more like English-language Television with shorter, recurring series that are largely produced in the United States.
Both of the networks still struggle with combatting the complex intersections of issues that Latinx millennials face, such as race, nationality, sexuality, and religion; Netflix provides the answer with their latest two shows. Shows like “Elite” and “The House of Flowers” can serve as a lesson and a warning to these networks that have arguably held a monopoly on Spanish-language entertainment — innovation is necessary for survival. Will these two networks catch the tide or stay on their traditional path?