Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A dirty rotten shame

That's the best way to describe what Hollywood is doing to Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez's best-selling 2003 novel The Dirty Girls Social Club.The novel is a fast fun read, a delightful, funny but also sharp and poignant story of six Latina friends who first meet in college and stay close in the years after as each goes her own way. It takes on a lot of issues, including racism, class questions, homophobia and more, all the while remaining fully entertaining. I read it after my lover Teresa, who is Chicana, recommended it. We've loaned it to a lot of friends over the years too. And we've always wondered when it would be made into a movie, the way Waiting to Exhale, to which it has often been compared, so successfully was. It seemed a natural for Hollywood.

Well. We were right, Hollywood did take notice, but oh damn, to no good end, it appears. In a series of furiously righteous posts on her blog in recent days, Valdes-Rodriguez has blown the whistle on the producers and writers who are putting together an NBC-TV series called Dirty Girls based on her novel, having bought the rights from her a while back. Anyone who's interested in being enlightened about not only the horror that the bottom line can do to literature, but, most important, the absolutely disgusting pandering to racist stereotyping of Latinas that is, based on the evidence Valdes-Rodriguez presents, the essence of the TV show being developed, should spend some time reading her blog posts from the last week.

These posts start with "Afro-dectomies and other Hollywood secrets," and "Every Latina a slut, and other Hollywood secrets revealed," followed by the author's ideas about how she would have, how the producers ought to have, adapted the novel for TV--and then comes news that she's been slapped with a cease and desist order, and that CAA has dumped her as a client. Valdes-Rodriguez is fearless, however. She won't shut up! Other posts take on the twisted distortions the studio has wrought on her book's characters, including "From a powerful columnist to fired, unemployed drunk living in a residential hotel" and "How my normal lesbian character was made pathological for Hollywood."

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez has been wronged. She deserves great respect for blowing the whistle on the culprits. But the wrong goes far beyond the damage and pain to her as an author, as she well knows and expounds upon in her blog posts. This is about U.S. culture and cultural stereotypes and how (now this is me talking) capitalism distorts and destroys art in its drive for profit, how the profit drive dictates defaulting to the cheapest, sleaziest, shallowest, most racist and sexist norms in place of anything approaching art, any depth or dimension or truth. It's another cultural crime. I salute this courageous author for refusing to keep silent about it. And if this show does indeed make it onto the NBC lineup--which would come as no surprise from the folks who gave us the Seinfeld episode about setting fire to the Puerto Rican flag--we'll all have to step up and do our part to support the protests that will undoubtedly ensue.