How Gloria Calderón Kellett is making room for Latinx stories, one show at a time

A disturbing pattern led Gloria Calderón Kellett to reimagine her role in Hollywood and become one of the leading voices calling for improved Latino representation.

Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Calderón Kellett would come home from school and watch “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” while her grandmother would sew draperies or cook dinner for their close knit, Cuban American family. Fascinated by the shows, Calderón Kellett said she began dreaming about working in television.

Years before becoming producer and showrunner for the much loved reboot of “One Day at a Time,” Calderón Kellett became an actress. But as she got auditions, she found herself reading for stereotypical Latina roles as a gangbanger’s girlfriend or a gangbanger’s sister.

“It just became so frustrating to me that there wasn’t a school teacher, a social worker… nothing, nada,” Calderón Kellett said. “Hollywood had such a myopic view of who we are and what we are.”

It was then when Calderón Kellett realized that to make an impact in the industry, she would have to learn how to write for TV and eventually craft the authentic stories that she wanted to see on screen.

“I started putting all my time and energy into reading. I would go to the Museum of Television & Radio, now the Paley Center. I would study, I would break down scripts, I would read every book I could get my hands on. I would read all of these writers and directors talking about the craft of television and movie making,” she said.

She began by writing and directing plays and later worked on several shows, including “How I Met Your Mother,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Devious Maids” and “iZombie.”

More than a decade after those first auditions, her family’s story became front and center in the reboot of the Norman Lear sitcom that ran from 1975 to 1984. The critically acclaimed series debuted in 2017 on Netflix, where it ran for three seasons before Pop TV picked it up for its fourth and final season.

The series changed her life and brought her to the spotlight, Calderón Kellett said, but, she added, she feels far from reaching her artistic peak as a showrunner and wants to do more to advance Latinx representation in entertainment.

“I want there to be a better understanding of who we (Latinos) are by people who don’t know any of us and I want us to rise,” she said.

Q&A

Name: Gloria Calderón Kellett

Job: Showrunner and producer. Currently, developing TV series and films for Amazon Studios through her company, GloNation.

Projects you’ve worked on: “One Day at a Time,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Devious Maids,” and “iZombie.”

Years in entertainment: 20

Mentor: “I’ve had so many supportive people along the way like Pam Fryman. She’s been a very close friend and ally. To know that someone like her has done this job for a really long time and does it with kindness and with love, and can have a normal life was really important for me. Norman Lear and Mike Royce, they changed my life with “One Day at a Time.”

Latina…de dónde?: “I’m a first generation Cuban American kid. Both of my parents came in 1962. I grew up in a really beautiful Cuban community in the middle of Portland, Oregon.”

Trope I’d banish from TV forever: “I’m a little done with the gangbangers and drug dealers, I’ve just seen it a lot. Are there Latino gang members and drug dealers? Yes, there are. It’s just when that’s all you see, that’s just insane. I just need other things to exist. For me it’s about adding more so that you can see that there is a huge medley of experiences that American Latinos have — all of those should be explored.”

Latinx actor/actress I think will be a huge star one day: “Emeraude Toubia who is Mexicana (and) an incredible young woman, and Rome Flynn who is Afro Cuban. They are the new Latino stars of my new show (‘With Love’) and I think they are going to be big, big stars.”

Latinx show I wish everyone was watching/had watched: “I love ‘Rutherford Falls.’ My friend Sierra Teller Ornelas is the showrunner for it. She’s Mexicana and Native Navajo. It’s based so much on her, her love for her community and it’s so funny. It’s the last thing I watched and it brought me so much joy.”

Overused line that execs say when passing on a Latino for a project: “They haven’t turned down Latinos for (my) projects but I’ve had people pass on pilots. We heard “we are worried is going to be a little too niche” and I just disagree. That specificity is what was so great about ‘One Day at a Time.’ I got to talk about so many specific things to my Latino American experience and people from so many other communities said ‘I’m not Cuban but my mom did this’ or ‘I saw my family in your family.’ Because we were so specific, it made the story universal.”

What I think all showrunners could do to help increase Latinx representation on television: “The biggest thing is nothing about us without us. If you’re going to make one of our stories integral to your show or use it as a way of getting picked up because this is a moment when people understand that representation is important, have one of us in there baked into creating that show, so that you’re doing the job of representation behind the camera as well as in front of the camera. I think it makes a big difference. You can tell when you’re watching it if it’s honest or not.”

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