In the boxing ring, Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade circles a seated Tammé “The Welfare Queen” Dawson, who is pretending to watch TV. Wade tells Dawson to get up and fight.
“Hell no,” Dawson responds. “I’mma sit here, watch my stories, eat me some lobster, some Howard Foods caviar. All paid for by the American taxpayer.”
“That’s the genius of it,” Sam Sylvia tells Dawson in Season 1 of “GLOW.” “It’s commentary on an existing stereotype.”
Sylvia (played by Marc Maron) directs the fictionalized Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling in the Netflix show, which was canceled earlier this month due to financial and safety concerns related to the pandemic.
On Monday, six “GLOW” actresses of color — Sunita Mani (Arthie “Beirut the Mad Bomber” Premkumar), Sydelle Noel (Cherry “Black Magic” Bang), Britney Young (Wade), Shakira Barrera (Yolanda “Junkchain” Rivas), Kia Stevens (Dawson) and Ellen Wong (Jenny “Fortune Cookie” Chey) — shared on Instagram a letter they co-wrote to “GLOW” creators earlier this year.
Those “existing stereotypes” became a problem, they said, and led to the six actresses feeling “disempowered” by their roles. Behind the scenes, they called on producers to implement specific guidelines to better represent their characters, whom they felt continued to perpetuate racist stereotypes rather than dispel them.
But change was expected with Season 4, starting with the storylines of the hit series’ characters of color.
“If Netflix didn’t cancel us, you guys would have seen something amazing,” Barrera told The Times Tuesday. “You would have seen what a true ensemble, diverse show looked like.”
The actress, 30, explained why the letter was necessary and discussed her Latinx identity and the importance of centering Black voices.
How do you think your posts were perceived?
The one thing that I wish wouldn’t have happened was that the press wouldn’t have picked it up as there was one person leading this thing, because it literally was all of us together. And it was such a collaborative thing. And I think that was so beautiful, and something that you never see between six women on a show.
When did the six of you start to think about posting simultaneously?
We were individually feeling these similar feelings about being women of color on a show where diversity was the word that was marketing the show. So we realized how important our roles were. But there was kind of a disassociation with that and how we were feeling. And I think at different moments, not realizing it, we had our concerns and some of the girls went up and addressed it to the producers.
When we got the final notice that … Season 4 [would be the last], we were all like, “This is the last time people are ever going to see these characters” ... I think it just hit us that we had to say something. It was after the Black Lives Matter movement that we really started to take it seriously and be like, “OK, there was an international uproar, and people are screaming for diversity, people are losing their lives to stand up for equality, and to end racism.”
How did the idea for the letter come about?
Having the six of us come together — and yes, we’re actors — but I think … the human part was what we all connected with. We were like, “What can we do as people, as human beings, that is going to change the world?” We’re in the media. Media is so important. Seeing yourself on screen is so important.
We wanted to respect our bosses and go to them first and keep it internally. So we never imagined to get to this point. This would not have happened if we didn’t get canceled. To clarify … this wasn’t an attempt to get the show back. We knew that we weren’t coming back at this point. This wasn’t something to get Netflix’s attention. This was literally a closure for all of these women. And that’s how we ended up coming up with writing our own statements.
Because, yes. we’re all women of color, but … I’m Latinx, and I have a different experience than Ellen [Wong], who’s Cambodian. So we ended up writing our own statements, because there was no way we could possibly put all of our feelings into one statement together.
You’re the only Latina on the show. How did your Latinx identity contribute to the letter and to your statement?
The show already had a successful Season 1, and they created such a beautiful blueprint. At first, being a woman of color … we all pretty much have imposter syndrome. So when I got the role and I walked on set, it took me a little while to actually understand that I was part of this ensemble. And if it wasn’t for those women being so nice and so open and so vulnerable with their own feelings, I would have never gotten to play Yolanda in the way that I got to play her.
After filming Season 2, one of the experiences that I had on set was being left out of the huge group picture for “GLOW.” And I started to honestly look at things outside of myself and say, “Wow, what a shame that our community can’t see themselves on a show this amazing.” I started, after that experience, to look at things from a bigger picture outside of myself. And then what really solidified it was BLM.
Did the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and subsequent protests play a role in the letter?
It was a major role, because three of the six women identify as Black. We realized that a majority of our women of color were Black, and we started by reaching out to them first. And seeing what we can do, instead of just trying to do something without any form of direction. We just wanted to take their lead and listen. Listen and not try [to] put our oppressive feelings together into one thing. We realized that the magnifying glass was really on Black folks ... and the brutality that they’re experiencing.
Were you worried about professional consequences when you wrote the letter?
Yes, 100%. When you are in an industry that values whiteness, it’s so difficult for you to navigate how to use your voice. You know you have one but you almost have gotten used to not using it. I think in this case, the beautiful part was that I didn’t have to do it alone. That also took a little bit of the danger off. We went through what could possibly happen. It went through our minds, like, “What if we lose our jobs? If this does end up blowing [up] in our faces, would we be OK with what we did?” And all of our answers across the board [were] yes, we would be so proud.
In your Instagram post, you wrote that “change began to unfold.” How did it feel to realize that the producers were receptive to your guidelines?
It was such a chilling moment: to have your executives — even though it was over Zoom — break down the entire Season 4 to the point where you couldn’t wait to get on set because you knew that these characters were going to be seen. It honestly gave me goosebumps.
When we were canceled, it felt like someone just slipped the carpet from underneath us. And we fell backwards and woke up in a strange dimension. To come back and take your power back, it’s exactly what “GLOW” is about. So we didn’t need to shoot anything. This was like Season 4. This was its own season; this was how it was supposed to be: The women of color taking their power back and showing us how to fight, how to lead first and tackle the issue and do it with grace. And do it together.