“Ugly Betty” made a difference while on air
April 19, 2010 · Print This Article
MIAMI – During its four-year run, Ugly Betty skewered the New York fashion world while nabbing celebrity cameos from the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Isaac Mizrahi and Shakira.
America Ferrera, played the plucky but style-challenged Betty Suarez, into a household name. Her latent led her to land a Peabody Award.
The hour long series ranked among the rare network programs to take on issues such as gay teenagers, body image and illegal immigration.
The show contrasts Betty’s career at Mode with her working-class Mexican immigrant family, including her widowed father, Ignacio; her impulsive older sister, Hilda; and her theater-loving, fashion-obsessed nephew, Justin – who realized his sexual preference during the past season.
“Having this family at the center of the show made it normal to watch a Latino family in a non-stereotypical way,” Ferrera said.
The absence of the series will leave a void, said Lisa Navarrete, a vice president of the National Council of La Raza.
“You don’t have a lot of Latino-themed shows on TV,” she said, “so, when we lose Ugly Betty, we will have a major loss.”
Navarrete noted that George Lopez paved the way for Ugly Betty in 2002 with his Bill Cosby-style family sitcom, but she called Ugly Betty edgier.
The brainchild of producer Silvio Horta and actress and producer Salma Hayek, the show was based on a popular Colombian telenovela.
More than 10,000 Facebook fans from as far as England, the Philippines and Bangladesh have begged ABC not to cancel the show since the network announced that this season would be its last, following a decline in ratings and an ever-changing schedule.
Shortly after the height of the immigration debate, the show followed Betty’s father as he confessed to his American-born children that he had been living in the United States illegally.
Navarrete said, “The plotline illustrated the complexity of the lives of many undocumented immigrants who are otherwise integrated into American life.
“You have a lot of families like Ugly Betty, where you have U.S. born-children whose parents have undocumented status.”
More groundbreaking was the show’s handling of its gay and transgender characters, said Jarett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Although initially played for laughs, Ugly Betty provided a sympathetic portrait of Meade scion Alex, who transforms into the stunning Alexis.
And it followed the bumpy love life of Mode’s gay fashion assistant, Marc St. James.
Mostly, though, the series showed how Betty’s family accepted without fanfare Justin’s love of musicals and the latest fashion trends a tacit acceptance of his sexuality. Then, in this final season, Justin got his first kiss with a boy.
Too often, Barrios said, gay characters are depicted on television as adults without families.
“A gay teen is also a son, a nephew, a grandson,” he said. “As a man who is both Latino and gay (and a father), I liked the show because it depicted really my own experience and that of so many others in the United States.”
The show paved the way, Barrios said, for network depictions of gay teens and families in shows such as Glee, Brothers & Sisters and Modern Family.
“There are certain things that people just don’t expect anyone on television to talk about,” Ferrera said, “and whenever we dared to go there, it would make some people uncomfortable. But the only way to really make an impact and to inspire people to think is to venture into risky territory.”
In leaving the show, Ferrera said, she looks forward to other projects.
She will serve, for example, as an executive producer of Pedro & Maria, a multicultural telenovela in development for MTV and various Web platforms.
In theaters these days, she provides the voice of a Viking bombshell in How To Train Your Dragon.
“I think, from the beginning, I had a concern that we wouldn’t get enough time to kind of complete her transformation,” she said of Betty. “Could it keep on going? Maybe.”