Fresh off of the series’ Golden Globe win for Best Comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s season finale closed its first season with a bang. The series initially made relatively quieter buzz than it’s past mockumentary siblings Parks and Rec and The Office, both of which Michael Schur and Dan Goor, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s creators, were apart of. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s comedic genius and ethnic diversity bring fresh new aspects to the Workplace Sitcom, and is sure to garner more attention as the show progresses. Though still in its infancy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine makes a bold statement by breaking down ethnic stereotypes and gender norms by simply not focusing on them at all. Though this resistance to stereotypes applies to many of the characters on the show, for the purposes of this blog, I am going to focus specifically on the two lead Latina females, Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero).
With one of the most ethnically diverse casts on television, Brooklyn Nine-Nine had a very large potential to fall flat and focus jokes specifically on a characters’ background or who their sexual partners are. It’s easy to use tried and true representations, but from the start, the producers and casting director Allison Jones, had a very clear, open-minded idea of where they wanted the show to go – and using gender norms and ethnic stereotype was not one of them. After finding the lead, Andy Samberg, for the role as man-child cop Jake Peralta, the rest of the actors were cast, including “his two bosses that are black men – one of whom is gay – and two of his detective peers” who are Latina (Fernandez). Said Goor, in an interview for NBC,
Our feeling was not calling attention to their ethnicities…we just feel like in real life you’re in a workplace and the Latina lady is not referencing the barrio. She’s a person, just like you’re a person. To a certain extent, it’s just writing toward reality (Fernandez).
And to many critics, what they ended up with was one of the best, realistic ensembles to date.
Whether casting two Latina women was a conscious decision or not, including Stephanie Beatriz and Melissa Fumero opened a door in television criticism, and created new space to discuss resistance to ethnic stereotypes and even transforming these preconceived notions for a higher standard of television. Even though Latinos are the largest representation of ethnic minorities, approximately 12.5% in the United States, Latino characters are largely underrepresented on television, where in the 1990s they only compromised of 1.1-3% of the television population (Mastro & Behm-Morawitz 2005, 110- 111). And when it comes to taking count of Hispanic women in lead television roles, that number diminishes even further. It’s 2014, and television show creators have taken note of this gaping hole in representation. And this is where Brooklyn Nine-Nine steps in. The two Latina actors take charge from the Pilot, representing two out of the seven main characters, and what’s better – they both are strong female leads.
Traditionally, Latino populations have been stereotyped into three narrow sets of depictions, which are most often negative in nature (Tamborini et al. 2000, 642). The first depiction is of Latinos as violent and unintelligent. Think El Bandito, The Mexican Bandit, circa 1956 (Tamborini et al. 2000, 642) or in a more modern role as a Latin drug-lord. A second reoccurring character is the Buffoon, or the Latino that often finds him or herself in the middle of an ethnic joke because of lack of intelligence, thick accent, and/or inability to speak English (Tamborini et al. 2000, 642). And lastly, the role of Latina women most often appears in the form of secondary characters that are objectified for being “sassy spitfires” or the hypersexual dark haired beauty (Tamborini et al. 2000, 642). For the last two representations, Sofia Vegara’s character, Gloria Pritchett, on Modern Family, comes to mind, where her “ethnicity is the essence of her character” (Fernandez). She is often seen as the butt of the joke, such as when her accent causes Jay’s secretary to misinterpret instructions to order “baby cheeses,” and instead receives a box of baby Jesus figurines (Modern Family, S2E6). Unlike these common stereotypes, both leading ladies in Brooklyn Nine-Nine do not portray any particular stereotype at all. Instead, Diaz is a “tough cookie who doesn’t speak with an accent or acts particularly sassy” (Fernandez), and Santiago is a driven, by-the-books over-achiever who is always trying to outshine Peralta.
The second aspect to the uniqueness of Brooklyn Nine-Nine lies in the portrayals, or lack there of, of ascribed gender norms. Traditionally, cop shows are characteristically masculine, and “arguably contain the most unconcealed demonstration of hegemonic masculinity on television” (Garcia). Yet with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, this doesn’t seem to be the case. In reality, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a new variety of cop show, where instead of the traditional tropes such as the “police precinct as male space” (Garcia), and reinforcement of a power hierarchy that belittles women (Ridgeway 1993, 176), this show instead supports their female characters to independently take on a traditionally masculine job, and not as someone’s sidekick, such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where the men are the senior detectives. Diaz and Santiago are both self-sufficient women, who live independently and are partners with men detectives but are considered equal, not the subordinate.
One of the main struggles is between Peralta and Santiago, who have an on-going competition to surpass the other in arrests. This shows that Santiago is an equal counterpart and considered a threat in the workplace, whereas in a traditionally hegemonic masculine setting, women would have held a lower status in power and prestige (Ridgeway). Additionally, Diaz is known as the mystery detective, where nobody in the office is entirely sure of her back-story and she is perfectly content keeping it that way. Unlike traditional gender norms, where female characters are naïve, constantly fill space with small talk, and insist on being well liked by all, Diaz instead embraces her true self wholeheartedly. She is always responsible for her actions, is brutally honest, and unapologetic of her brash personality, often times overriding the male characters on the show. These traits are highlighted in Episode 9, “Sal’s Pizza,” (Nov. 19th, 2013) when she smashes the printer in a fit of rage, pausing briefly, and casually walking away, saying, “I’ll pay for that” (S1E9).
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is making huge amount of headway in primetime television by breaking down ethnic stereotypes and gender norms by simply not commentating on them at all. Instead the show focuses on making the characters as realistic as possible, and finding humor in their humanity, especially with the two lead Latina women, Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago. The dynamic nature of both ethnic stereotypes and gender norms within Brooklyn Nine-Nine can be summed up perfectly by Joe Lo Truglio, who plays Detective Boyle, stating in an interview, “I love that these are traits that don’t define the characters. They shouldn’t. The reality of a police precinct in Brooklyn today is what you see here.” Keep on doing you, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and I’ll see you for Season Two.
Fernandez, Maria E. "'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' Finds Humor in Humanity, Not Stereotypes." NBC News. NBC News, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.
Garcia, Feliks. "“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and the Case of the Gendered Cop Show." Hothouse Magazine. Newfound, 20 Sept. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.
Goor, Dan, and Michael Schur, prods. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Fox Network. N.d. Television.
Mastro, Dana E., and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz. "Latino Representation on Primetime Television." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 82.1 (2005): 110-30. Print.
Ridgeway, Cecilia L. "Gender, Status, and the Social Psychology of Expectations." Theory on Gender / Feminism on Theory. New York: A. De Gruyter, 1993. 175-97. Print.
Tamborini, Ron, Dana E. Mastro, Rebecca M. Chory-Assad, and Ren H. Huang. "The Color of Crime and the Court: A Content Analysis of Minority Respresentation on Television." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 77.3 (2000): 639-53. Print.