Most authors would die to see their book made into a movie or TV show. But not Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez — not anymore. The author of The Dirty Girls Social Club got ahold of a script based on her book and was shocked to see that: 1) all the black characters were removed and changed to be of other races, and 2) all the Latina characters are sexually promiscuous, even described as “sizzling.” Seeing The Dirty Girls Social Club adapted on TV, she said, now “holds zero appeal for me.”
“The Dirty Girls Social Club,” in development with NBC, will be written by Luisa Leschin for Ann Lopez’s Encanto Productions (also known as Ann Serrano, as she is splitting from comedian George Lopez). Over a year ago, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez optioned the rights for her book to Lopez, who, with Alisa’s help, got a development deal with NBC. But the script adaptation she covertly saw when a “no one” within the company leaked it to her was so racist, sexist and overall offensive that Alisa wrote on her blog today, “I’d rather no show get made than to have my name attached to Luisa’s bastardizations.” Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez has written about what happened in at least two posts so far: “Afro-dectimies And Other Hollywood Secrets” and “Every Latina A Slut And Other Hollywood Secrets Revealed.”
She describes how she wanted to write the script herself, but claims Ann Lopez insisted on a screenwriter — Leschin, who is a friend of hers. Writes Alisa:
“[Ann Lopez] assured me that as a Latina, Luisa “gets it.” I believed her. Stupid me. I trusted Ann that she would make good on her promise to run all major changes past me. I trusted her that she would give me final approval of each and every script. I trusted her implicitly and like a sister – in fact, everyone tells me Ann and I are identical in appearance! – until… Ann failed to do any of the things she’d promised, and began to treat me like a pesky intern she wished would go away.”
Alisa wanted to see a copy of the script. After all, her name would be on it as a co-creator and her name is forever associated with The Dirty Girls Social Club “brand,” if you will. So Alisa worked her connections and got someone to show her a copy:
“I got it from a lowly ‘no one’ in the company who is, like so many ‘no ones’ across this world, loyal to the book’s message of dignity for all walks of life and all people. … I was horrified by what Luisa had done to my book – and even more horrified to discover NBC had requested I be brought in as the writer, only to be told no by Ann.”
She soon saw how the show’s narrative changed (without her permission) from a tale about “six empowered Latinas of varying races, religions and political beliefs” to “a tale of four uniformly ‘brown’ Latina sluts and their white non-slut friend and black-n-sassy fat negress diva stereotype friend.” Luisa’s script — or at least the version that Alisa read — “offended and disgusted” Alisa with “stereotypes, racism, sexism and general idiocy.” Alisa writes emphatically on her blog, “I want any DIRTY GIRLS show that ever gets made to SUCCEED and NOT PERPETUATE HARMFUL STEREOTYPES. … I know that you will be sickened by what has been done in our name to my material.” Most shockingly, the screenwriter changed the nationalities/backgrounds of all the black characters in the book.
“Luisa managed to weed out every non-U.S. African diaspora character. Put simply, she killed off all the black folks in my story. In her hands my black Colombian character Elizabeth becomes “a sizzling Colombian” (because we might as well employ cliched language in addition to de-Africanizing her); my mulatta Puerto Rican/Dominican character Usnavys becomes African-American, non Latino, and ends up adhering to every stereotype of the fat-n-sassy oversexed negress ‘diva’ that Hollywood has ever flung at the viewing public; and my Nigerian-British millionaire heartthrob, Andre Cartier, becomes Andre Carter, an East Indian by way of London. … There is no discernible reason for these changes, other than anti-black racism.”
Alisa then adds that Luisa Leschin is the daughter of the former president of El Salvador and seems to have approached the book with “a white upper-class Latin American point of view,” also adding, albeit somewhat dramatically, it is “a point of view I now see has more in common with David Duke [Ku Klux Klan activist] than Jose Marti [a Cuban revolutionary philospher].” There are huge numbers of “black” people all over Latin America and Alisa goes on to explain in great detail how many of their ancestors were brought there from Africa as part of the slave trade.
Alisa’s second blog post (which inexplicably says it was posted on December 24, 2010, even though that’s tomorrow’s date) addresses racism against Latina characters in her book’s TV adaptation for NBC, particularly making them all sluts. The scriptwriter’s depiction of “teen Latina college girls is laughable, stereotypical, and clearly gleaned not from any direct understanding of that experience but, rather, from TV show she’s seen before,” Alisa alleges. First of all, the use of term “dirty girls” in the title, she explained, refers to the Spanish word “sucia,” which means a girl who is dirty in the sense she’s wild or promiscuous. Alisa’s six characters in the book all meet while in college and one called Usnavys, who comes from a strict, traditional Puerto Rican family, is considered to be a “sucia” by her fam. In solidarity, her girlfriends all decide they’re “sucias,” too. “This groundbreaking portrayal of Latinas as defying stereotypes is what made the book a success,” Alisa wrote, “and is what prompted TIME magazine to name me among the 24 Most Influential Hispanics in the United States.”
But in Luisa Leschin’s script, these dirty girls are literally sluts — sexed up beyond recognition and playing up to the “Latinas are all hot tamales” stereotype. The show’s opening sequence, as described in the script, erases the sisterhood of the dirty girls and instead turns them into sexy college co-eds. As “Lady Marmalade” plays, “The camera follows a young GIRL’S tight ass down the hallway to a closed door. The hand-written sign on the door reads: ‘The Dirty Girl’s Social Club – Don’t enter unless you want to get dirty!’” The main character, Lauren, is described as wearing “hotpants and a camisole” and first depicting onscreen doing a Jello shot. Lauren is described as carrying “the freshman 20″ (extra weight), despite the fact that in the book she is bulimic.
The character Rebecca is first seen onscreen “in a bra and bikini panties, dances freely on top of a coffee table, her long brown hair whipped wildly by the rotating floor fan. Her back to camera, she unhooks her bra and begins to tease the two wasted but appreciative jocks in front of her. Tossing her bra at them, she coyly looks over her shoulder.” Instead of being a deeply Catholic New Mexican Latina whose family has been in the country since the 1500s, in the script she becomes Central American and … well … dancing on top of a table in her bra and panties.
And it gets worse. The character Liz is “a sizzling Colombian” first seen smoking pot. In Alisa’s book, Liz is not “a sizzling Colombian” but black, a lesbian and a born-again Christian. I guess that’s not quite as sexy though. A white Cuban Jew named Sara just becomes a “cute Caucasian girl” and Usnavys, a light-skinned Dominican/Puerto Rican black girl, is generically describes as “African-American” in the script. Alisa seems most offended at how Usnavys, who is overweight in the book, is described in the script as wearing a muumuu. Really, a teenaged girl wearing a muumuu? “What Luisa has done with this is predictable and very Hollywood – make the sexual fat woman A JOKE, laugh at her for her very ridiculousness,” she wrote.
It sounds like “Gossip Girl” doused in hot sauce. It sounds … awful.
Granted, this sordid tale is one of money/art/creativity/creative differences and it’s one that Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez freely admits she is in over her head with. She trusted Ann Lopez and Luisa Leschin with the responsibility of depicting her book accurately on film too quickly. But regardless of the fact that human beings are known to believe other human beings in good faith, I really want to emphasize that Alisa is right that what happened to her book is racism. Granted, no one will ever be 100 percent happy with how any gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. is depicted in art. It’s complicated. However, the answer — the responsible thing to do — is not to fall back on stereotypes instead of letting people be complicated. Alisa makes an analogy I really want to repeat:
“When ‘Big Love’ was created, did anyone say ‘fewer Mormons, please, not mainstream enough’? No, they didn’t. The writers and producers realized that good, universal stories are enough to draw a loyal audience of viewers who recognize the people on the screen as HUMAN. There are 5.7 million Mormons in the United States, and 47 million Latinos. Why does Luisa feel that with such an enormous population we still have to ‘tone ourselves down’ to be palatable?”
Best of luck to you, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, and here’s hoping someone at NBC intervenes and The Dirty Girls Social Club is not bastardized for TV beyond all recognition.