“Controlada” is an episode of the newest Netflix’s original series “Easy,” an anthology of short stories focused on romantic relationships, sex, and technology among Millennials in Chicago. Leaving aside any merits the series may have from an artistic or entertainment standpoint, what caught my attention and would like to discuss in this post, is the fact that the episode “Controlada” is almost entirely in Spanish, with subtitles in English. It tells the story of a couple, Bernie and Gabi, who you would describe as affluent “Chilangos” (originally from Mexico City) living in Chicago and their friend Martin paying them a visit and triggering a series of confusing feelings for Gabi in her relationship with Bernie. You can tell they are Chilangos because of the slang they use throughout the story.
The story could easily be portrayed with WASP characters, in English, and nobody would think anything of it. Yet the director and writer of the show Joe Swanberg decided to shoot the whole episode in Spanish, and Netflix gave its blessing. Besides the characters’ language, there’s nothing “Mexican,” or “Hispanic” about them or the story, and that’s what I think is interesting. There’s been a lot of talk about Millennials’ attitudes towards multiculturalism, and what we usually mean by this is that they crave Chinese and know how to cook it; they wear Toms because it provides shoes for poor kids in some underdeveloped country; or watch Bollywood movies and can identify its stars. This is what it could be referred to as “the tourist attitude towards multiculturalism.” It’s an attitude in which people “celebrate diversity” because they value the idea that there are people who have different experiences than theirs and, when feel like it, they can participate and feel like they belong to a broader community. Nothing wrong with this. But I think that Millennials, at least some of them, are more than tourists in their own cities.
It seems like Netflix knows that connecting with a story portraying situations that are relatable to many people, yet entirely in Spanish, is a way to represent the type of relationships that Millennials are looking for. It’s a representation of the openness to new experiences that they value and seek in their own lives. This is not multicultural tourism, this is the recognition that my own personal experiences are comparable to those of people who might look or sound different than I do. At Scansion we call this an “intercultural” attitude, because it’s not only about the specifics of a particular cultural group, but also about the glue that binds us all together.
Whether Netflix is purposefully using an “intercultural” approach it is still TBD. But what is clear to me is that we’re going to see more and more examples like this coming from companies and organizations that recognize that diversity is much more than ethnic food and world music. It is about cultural values and how those determine the type of experiences and relationships we value.