Jane the Virgin: a Magical-Realist Telenovela
Written by Sylvia Monreal.
I’m already picking out my cosplay for GeekGirlCon ’15: Jane the Virgin. The new show, currently airing its first season on The CW, certainly has all the elements to spark a new fandom that would fit right in with the Lumpy Space Princesses and Daleks that typically make up the crowd: multiple sets of ill-fated lovers, a cast of dynamic characters (some absurd, some devious), a relatable protagonist at its center, and just enough magic to set it apart from other televised worlds.
I have to admit that it took me a while to give Jane the Virgin a chance. Its premise, inspired by a Venezuelan telenovela, that a young Latina would suddenly find herself a pregnant virgin, worried me. From Agent Scully’s abduction to the horror of Renesmee Cullen, mystical pregnancies have not been too kind to fictional women. (See the Feminist Frequency video about the trope for more information.) However, within seconds of sitting down to try out an episode, the show was clever and kind enough that it eased my concerns. Not only is there a completely scientific and human explanation for the pregnancy, the show isn’t even really about a “pregnant virgin.” It’s about Jane.
Jane, played by Gina Rodriguez, would be delightful at the heart of any show, so it’s all the more enjoyable that she lives in a world centered on brown people, strengthened by her relationships with the women around her, and tackling all sorts of young adult issues on her terms. She not only decides what to do with her accidental pregnancy, she faces the challenges of completing her college education, dealing with her conniving step-sisters, building a relationship with a materialistic father figure, figuring out if and when to have sex, and planning a wedding. And it’s all wrapped up in a charming bow as the characters share genuine moments with one another in every episode. Her fiancé texts his support before she faces her first class as a teacher, her dad worries to his assistant about whether Jane will love him, her abuela (who only speaks Spanish) offers words of wisdom and lovingly accepts it when no one follows her advice – I could go on, but I hope it gives you a sense of the warmth that grounds everything.
As the season progresses, the show is getting to play with more elements of magical realism, a genre that’s closely associated with Latin American literature. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s the idea that our world is made up of the mundane and the mystical. Magic just is–the supernatural and the fantastic just are–without any need for explanations or reasoning or, really, much attention. It’s the sort of thing that you find in works like “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez, where a winged man appears, intrigues everyone for a while, then gets forgotten once the next spectacle comes along to entertain them.
Jane the Virgin subtly follows in this tradition. There are halos that sometimes appear around hearts of destined lovers or fortuitous winds that make the petals fall like snow. (As Jane says, “Snow makes everything more romantic.”) It’s not the fantasy of Harry Potter’s world or the supernatural forces of Teen Wolf; it’s closer to the reality that we see in other telenovelas, a well of influence that Jane the Virgin returns to time and again. And it’s not that different from the reality of my family’s world and our own drama, where colorful characters sprout in each generation and people sling curses and, yes, hearts burn with love that have no explanation but magic.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out the show, I highly recommend it. There’s so much about Jane’s world that hasn’t been showcased on US television before, and it’s delivered in a fun, entertaining way that lots of different sorts of people can enjoy. The show has recently been nominated for a Golden Globe Award (Best Comedy), with Rodriguez receiving a nomination for Best Actress as well, but it’s the familiar, everyday charm of Jane, her intriguing world, and the wonderful people that fill it that has me hooked.
Sylvia Monreal is the Hospitality and Transportation Manager for GeekGirlCon. She likes to play citybuilders, read whatever she can get her hands on, and watch reality tv in search of the meaning of life.