Friday, January 13, 2006

Colombia: Transgender TV Diva

I had read about it but until I saw it with my own eyes, I didn`t truly get it. Endry! Diva! Reina!

Something amazing is happening on Colombian television and her name is
Endry Cardeño (who interprets the irrepresible Laisa Reyes in the most popular soap opera in Colombia, Los Reyes). The soap, a dramedy which follows the trials and tribulations of the Reyes family as they are miraculously rescued from povery by an eccentric millionaire, sometimes is a bit too broad to qualify as a true classic in the vein of, say, Betty La Fea, which subverted Latino soap operas by creating a story line around a bookishly smart nerdy woman who stole everyone`s hearts (even if at the end of the series the producers gave in to the temptation of falling for the ugly duckling turns into a beautiful swan storyline).

In the soap, Laisa is part of the Reyes clan, who returns from Europe having changed gender and is still warmly embraced by her family. It`s clear, in the episodes that I have seen while here in Colombia, that the character was written as a broad and somewhat offensive caricature of what it means to be a transgender woman. But it`s also clear that Endry, a transgender woman in her first acting role, has taken the character of Laisa to a whole other level and that, to some degree, she has hijacked the show. Her role seems to have expanded to include a storyline in which she becomes the host of a television talk show and, though she plays the role of Laisa for laughs and a little bit over the top, the humor rarely comes at her expense which humanizes the character. In fact, in the episodes I have seen, there`s a subplot in which a man romances Laisa not knowing she is transgender and, what could be played as a set up where the pay off might be the laughter elicited by the shock of the man realizing that Laisa used to be a man, instead has focused on Laisa`s hope that she can have a real relationship where her gender does not complicate things.

Now, I hear Los Reyes is a remake of a soap from Argentina called Los Roldan so I`m not sure how closely it follows the original script. I was about to say that for a transgender woman to play the role of a transgender woman on a Spanish language soap opera was a first but then I saw this synopsis of Los Roldan and realized that they were first at it. Consider that in the United States you still have producers who won`t hire a transgender actor to play the role of a transgender woman in a movie such as Transamerica (despite how great Felicity Huffman is as an actor) or HBO`s Normal (despite how great Tom Wilkinson is as an actor).

On New Year`s Day, I caught excerpts of a "Personalities of the Year" television interview with Endry, who has become a media sensation and a soap fan favorite (and that`s nearly everyone in Colombia, women, men and children included). She spoke of hearing about a RCN television casting announcement for a transgender woman to play the role while trying her luck as a model and theatre actor in Europe. Of having worked for a non-profit agency in Bogota promoting safe sex amomg street workers and drug addicts (and how ultimately she did not think her work as a peer educator would secure an economic future for herself even if she loved the work). The talk show host was incredibly offensive asking Endry if, romantically, she liked to be involved with other locas (fags) and whether she had cut it off. Endry was gracious and direct in her responses, making the interviewer look like an ass, but also challenging a lot of his assumptions. She explained the difference between a gay man and a `travesti,`as she refers to herself. She spoke of being thrown out from several schools as a kid because, even at 9 or 10, she already had femenine traits and of her decision to get breast implants. She also spoke of her personal decision not to undergo gender reassignment surgery and of fully enjoying all the aspects of her sexuality just as she is.

Yes, the character os Laisa continues the recent tradition in Latino soaps of including queer characters as the `funny`neighbor, work mate or family member (see Betty La Fea`s Hugo, the hair stylist). But in this case, the role of the clown, as played by Endry, is what is so subversive about Los Reyes and the way that she has made Colombia fall in love with a real transgender woman.


Anonymous said...

Colombia, man they seem to be doing somethings right. I saw this over at vivir latino (
"In the western Colombia town of Tuluá, when police stop any male, age 14 and over, not only will he have to show his identification papers, but he will have to show that he his carrying a condom too."

Anonymous said...

This kind of tv soaps, rebirth of a new role of actors and actress whom against " the cruel homophobia" enjoy a nice tv offer.Thus, in spite of being a transgender Diva, "Laisa "( note that is the pronuntiation for Lisa)
is more than an actress is a value person , who regret the asshole and intolerance of the hetero-closed-monded people.
Good for her...!