By Alyssa Barbieri and Lissete Lanuza Saenz
You know that America’s Next Top Model gif, the one where Tyra Banks is screaming WE WERE ROOTING FOR YOU, WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU? That was us, Supergirl. That was us.
We really wanted you to do this Maggie Sawyer storyline right. And, when it comes to her facing against her father, to her emotional journey, you did. Because Maggie Sawyer grew right in front of our eyes, asserted herself and finally, finally, realized that who she was was more than enough, despite her father’s words, despite her mother’s erasure. Maggie Sawyer was, and will forever be a positive role model for the LGBT community, whether she continues on Supergirl as a regular or not.
She just won’t be one for the Latinx community. And that’s what stings.
Like Adele said, we could have had it all.
Back before Season 2 started, when Maggie Sawyer was cast and promoted as a Latinx woman, there was controversy about the hiring of a non-Latinx actor to play the part. This is not a matter of interpretation, it’s a matter of fact. Floriana Lima is not a Latinx actress, and she herself hid from the questions for a long time, probably because she, and the Supergirl writers, were afraid of the backlash they so rightfully received when her origins were revealed.
However, back then, her background hadn’t been confirmed on the show. So, after all that backlash, we, naively perhaps, thought Supergirl had learned their lesson. They could and should have changed Maggie’s origins – either that or the actress, and once they started filming Season 2, that second option became impossible.
Up till this episode, we thought …we hoped they had. Especially when they cast a non-Latinx actor to play Maggie’s father. And then …then this episode happened. Then Maggie Sawyer became Margarita, and she gained a background as the daughter of a Mexican immigrant.
Oh, Supergirl. We were rooting for you. We really, really were.
So let’s examine why casting an Italian actress to play a Latinx character is a bad, bad idea, what that reunion between J’Onn and his father made us feel and what the future has in store for Sanvers:
Talk About Tone Deaf
In the age of Scarlett Johansson getting rightfully criticized for accepting the role of a character of Japanese origin and Ed Skrein turning down the job of Captain Ben Daimio after learning that the character was supposed to be Japanese-American, among others, we kinda thought the Supergirl writers would have been smarter than this.
Not smarter than to cast the actress – that ship had sailed long ago – but smarter than to stick to their guns and give her this background, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, the conversations in Spanglish, the strict father that’s so much a play on the worst stereotypes of Latinx culture that it’s hard to decide if it was more offensive or just plain stupid. But they weren’t, and here we are, trying to make sense of it all.
Because yes, they deserve to be called out for it – not just the writers, but the casting department, the producers, and YES, the actress. If Ed Skrein proved anything is that the problem of representation in Hollywood is something we can only fix if we all take responsibility for our part, and Floriana Lima knowingly played a Latinx character, and even worse, gave interviews talking about a culture she is not part of and does not understand in a way that was insensitive, at best.
They also deserve kudos for the way they’ve handled the LGBT storyline, yes, even if it looks like we’re in for the most cliched breakup in the history of cliched breakups. But, and here’s the important part, one thing does not take away from the other. We can praise them for the representation they gave the LGBT community while pointing out that in the fight for representation, all kinds of representation matter.
And Supergirl did the Latinx community wrong, not once, but twice.
I know this might be confusing for some – but Carlos Bernard, even though he speaks Spanish and can be considered Hispanic, is NOT Latinx. He wasn’t born in Latin America and he was no business playing a Mexican on TV. That is not representation, that’s just another instance of a character of a different ethnicity taking away a job that should have rightfully gone to a Latinx actor.
Just like Floriana Lima, an Italian woman, playing a Mexican character.
Supergirl could have, and frankly should have done better. Better than to write a story that relied so heavily on outdated stereotypes that paint a community no one in the room gets to talk FOR, since no one belongs to it, in the worst way possible. Better than to rely on stereotypes of what Latinx people are supposed to look like and think that we, the viewers, would be fooled by their poor attempt at representation.
Better than to throw a mediocre attempt at a Mexican accent and pat themselves on the back because hey, they threw a reference to Trump and the wall, so that should appease them, right?
Yes, Supergirl, you did Sanvers mostly right before this episode, and for that you earned the benefit of the doubt, not a blank slate to do whatever you wanted. Today, you failed, and you didn’t fail by a little, no, you failed, as Trump would say, bigly.
To think we were rooting for you.
Reunited And It Feels So Emotional
While Kara might’ve taken a backseat in “Far From The Tree,” the emotional aspects of Supergirl that make it breathe certainly did not. As are most Supergirl episodes, the feels were on full blast as the show took half of its talents to Mars in an unexpected emotional story arc for our favorite Martian.
I always look forward to episodes where we get to focus on J’Onn J’Onzz, especially the emotional aspects. If there’s a character that has really suffered on this show, it’s J’Onn. We’ve seen how his past has shaped him; how his past could have been enough to break him, but instead he’s used it to fuel his present as he has fought to prevent anything like what happened to his people happen to anyone ever again. J’Onn is a noble man. He’s a kind man. He’s a dedicated man. He’s a loving man. As is the theme on Supergirl, sometimes it’s the aliens that possess more humanity than the humans.
“Far From the Tree” was set up as this reunion between J’Onn and M’Gann, but it was the unexpected reunion between father and son that set our feels into overdrive. If it wasn’t the initial reaction to learning that he wasn’t the last Green Martian or the fact that the other Green Martian was his father, it was the entire emotional journey that J’Onn — and his father — were put through that really drove home the emotional arc of this storyline.
Of course there was a reason that M’Gann reached out to J’Onn, which certainly included his father being the other Green Martian. But the White Martian Resistance was in need of a magical staff that, if put in the wrong hands of the White Martians, could be used to destroy them and any hope at preventing continual mass destruction at the hands of the White Martians. So all J’Onn had to do was convince his father to give up its whereabouts. Easy peasy, right?
Well, they didn’t take into account the fact that J’Onn’s father had been tortured for 200 years following the destruction of his people, including his family; including his son. So naturally he assumed that this was a White Martian taking on the form of his fallen son. No matter how hard J’Onn tried, his father remained convinced this was all a game. Sure, it was about getting the staff for the resistance. But after awhile, it became about more than just that. This was J’Onn’s father. A part of his family that he thought was gone forever. Standing right in front of him. Looking at him as if he were the enemy. The emotional toll of that alone was quite the test for J’Onn in this hour.
Perhaps the best thing that could’ve happened was that they were forced to return to J’Onn’s home, where the most emotional part of the hour took place. When all seemed lost, Kara breathed wisdom into J’Onn’s father prompting him to do what was best for his planet. Even if he didn’t believe that J’Onn was who he said he was; this was someone that wanted to protect Mars. Shouldn’t he give him the benefit of the doubt?
When J’Onn’s father finally opened himself up, he allowed J’Onn to show him a memory. It was their old home. It was the happiest memory of J’Onn’s life. We saw J’Onn’s two beautiful daughters running around excitedly as they and their grandfather — J’Onn’s father — prepared to surprise their father for his birthday. There was so much joy in that memory as J’Onn walked into the scene and embraced his father. There was so much emotion in the eyes of J’Onn and his father as they watched the scene play out. And the floodgates broke when father and son were reunited in an embrace back in the present as they clung to the last of their kind; the last of their family. A moment that they could’ve never imagined. A moment that they could’ve never believed would actually happen.
When all hope seemed lost, J’Onn and his father found each other again. Where the destruction of the Green Martians marked the end of a lifetime, it almost feels as if J’Onn’s time on Earth — and now reunion with his father — is the start to a beautiful new chapter. Yes, bad things happen. Especially to good people. But good things also happen, too. We’ve seen that as J’Onn found a new family in Kara and Alex. We’ve seen that as J’Onn found a way to rid his heart of hate with White Martian, M’Gann. We’ve seen that as J’Onn has continued to be the personification of what’s right with the world in a time of darkness and hatred.
Sometimes, just sometimes, the good guys win. Even if it’s not pretty. J’Onn’s past hasn’t been perfect. But his present and his future are certainly shaping up. And thank God, because J’Onn deserves it.
What Does The Future Hold For Sanvers?
Not to be Debbie Downer here, but things continue to look anything but good for Alex and Maggie moving forward. Despite the pre-wedding bliss, Alex and Maggie still are struggling with what they really want out of life. Basically, they still haven’t had a discussion about the things that couples should talk about before they decide to spend the rest of their lives together.
Alex wants kids, Maggie does not. Alex things Maggie miraculously changed her mind about wanting kids, Maggie did not. This issue, maybe among more, might spell their downfall. With Floriana Lima leaving Supergirl — after being bumped up to series regular after last season — it feels as if the writing’s on the wall here.
The question becomes: How close do we get to the wedding before Supergirl pulls the emotional trigger that will gut our hearts?
5 Things About “Far From The Tree”
- For once, Supergirl managed to infuriate us with its lack of awareness when it comes to representation. Whether it was the mess that comes with casting a non-Latina as a Latina woman (Maggie) or a non-Latin as her Latin father, or the fact that all of the Martians we’ve encountered are African Americans. The thing is, representation matters. That’s something Supergirl can learn moving forward.
- That scene between J’Onn, his father, and his two daughters and the embrace that followed broke me open on a night where I thought I could get away with not crying. It was so beautifully acted and so honest in its emotions. One of the shining moments of this show this season.
- Kudos to Supergirl for so beautifully incorporating “Baby One More Time” into this episode with Kara playing a dumb Valley Girl. It was sensational. I’m all about those ‘90s jams. Hit me baby, one more time.
- While the whole Maggie isn’t a Latina issue was a sour note on the episode, the moment she opened up about what her father and mother did to her when she was 14 was an emotional moment. It’s the most honest and vulnerable we’ve seen Maggie on this show.
- As was when Maggie found the courage to finally stand up to her father and tell him she’s not that scared little girl anymore. There are people that love, cherish, and respect her for who she is. She’s good enough. And she doesn’t need toxic people in her life — like him — to try and tear her down. Family isn’t blood. Family are people that love, support, and cherish you.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7c on The CW.