Opinion: On MTV's 'Washington Heights', a Stylized Image Trumps Authenticity

Where are the larger-than-life Dominican moms? (We see a peek of one in Jimmy's grandma, who upon learning her grandson made a baseball team, tells him in Spanish that it's because of the rice, beans, and porkchops she's fed him, and her batting with him at age four.) Where are the loud, multi-generational households? Donde 'ta the audible bachata and merengue from other apartments, outside, or mom's stereo? So far, that unique local color is saved for sweeping establishing shots. Stylized imagery trumps authenticity on "Washington Heights."

But maybe the stakes are too high for it to be any other way? Maybe it's even a catch-22? Could too many chimichurri trucks or bachata guitar chords swing the pendulum towards stereotype? Would the bickering female castmembers be perceived like the women sought here?

Lack of positive representation in mainstream culture seems to have weighed on "Washington Heights" producers and the desire to create a positive portrayal to counteract drug-dealing stereotypes in hip-hop songs might've forced their hand. So we end up with a pasteurized version of uptown Dominican-American culture as a result. One that aims to be more palatable, but becomes innocuous and flavorless instead.

And that's the rub, right? No one expects a single show about white people to depict all of white culture. Yet here we have a show—maybe even the first show about Dominicans and Dominican-American culture on mainstream television—and we want them to get it totally right. Now that we've caught a glimpse of our blocks and brown faces on TV, we want to see all of ourselves and our lives on the screen.

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