Moderate spoilers for the OUAT premiere which aired last week.
If you haven’t watched Once Upon a Time in years, you’re not alone. The show was struggling with ratings to the point where it wasn’t clear if Season 6 would be it’s final season or not. The showrunners decided to run what amounted to a season finale at the end of Season 6 but then they were picked up for Season 7. Season 7 is totally different than past seasons. Most of the core actors from season’s past have moved on and are not returning. Only Lana Parrilla (The Evil Queen/Regina), Robert Carlyle (Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold/The Beast/The Crocodile), and Colin O’Donoghue (Captain Hook/Killian) have returned for this season which premiered last week.
The general premise of the revamped Once Upon a Time is that Henry Mills (Regina and Emma’s son) is now grown up and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s under a curse and doesn’t remember that he has a daughter from the fairy tale world. Sound familiar? Yep. That’s exactly what happened when a ten year old Henry showed up at Emma’s door claiming to be her son and that fairy tales are real. Henry is a writer who wrote a book called Once Upon a Time which contains everything that happened during seasons 1-6. The problem is he thinks it’s just fiction that he made up. His daughter, Lucy, insists that her mother, Jacinda, is really Cinderella and Henry’s wife. Now we’ve seen Cinderella on Once Upon a Time before and she was a blonde white girl. So what’s up with Cinderella being a Latina now?
In the opening scene of Season 7, young Henry (played by Jared Gilmore) tells his mother, Regina, that he needs to go explore the world now that he has graduated high school. He has researched the fairy tale world by reading other fairy tales written by other authors (if you’ve watched the series you know what I’m talking about. I can’t be bothered explaining all the nonsense). In these other books, he found that there’s an “Italian Belle” and many other variations on the characters we all know. Essentially like parallel universes. This gives us the possibility for Latina Cinderella. Henry then jumps into a portal and next thing we know, he’s all grown up and living a cursed life in Hyperion Heights, Seattle.
OUAT has always pushed the boundaries of how one could think of fairy tales. Although I still think that Belle has stockholm syndrome like she always does in every single version of Beauty and the Beast ever (sorry, Emma Watson, it’s just a truth fact), the rest of the female characters had strength which far surpassed the sexist Disney versions. Snow White was a warrior and Emma, her daughter, was the savior who had power beyond every other hero and every villain. In the end, during Season 6’s series finale (it really was a series finale), the final battle came down to the Black Fairy and Emma while Emma’s father (Prince Charming) and Boyfriend (Captain Hook) stand by impotently watching her as she saves the day. Female power is huge on OUAT and they also get a lot of credit for trying to diversify the fairy tale universe.
Diversity is prevalent but ignored on Once Upon a Time. It’s never been acknowledged which is something that I generally like. They don’t feel the need to explain why some of the characters are racebent. But, as many Latinos have pointed out, including myself, racebent characters don’t typically include us. We don’t usually see Latinos in the roles that white folks have historically played. More often, we see white folks playing roles that should have been cast as Latinos. You could make the argument that the Evil Queen is Latina because Lana Parrilla is and this is where the fact that OUAT doesn’t recognize race actually impedes their diversity a bit. Because it was never acknowledged that Lana Parrilla is Latina, no one ever thought of her character as such. I knew she was Latina and I have always taken great pleasure in the fact that she’s a total badass and is also my people but I doubt most viewers even thought about it.
The difference with Dania Ramirez (of Devious Maids fame) playing Cinderella is that she is not a white presenting Latina and she has an accent, though not quite as obvious as it was in Devious Maids. As a white presenting Latina myself, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to recognize that darker skinned Latinas are more often typecast and are rarely offered versatile roles. Latinas who look and sound the way most Americans think we do face greater discrimination so the fact that this actor does have an accent and is recognizably Latina is crucial. No, there is no such thing as a typical looking Latina but we have to acknowledge the existence of colorism and discrimination for Latin accents, especially in this political climate where literally half our country voted for a dude who thinks that all Latinos are rapists, drug dealers, and murderers. We need to normalize the Latin accent and see Latino representation on TV and in film. I give OUAT credit for taking this step.
Unfortunately, I don’t foresee OUAT being picked up beyond this season because the story is wonky now. They’re trying to incorporate the three remaining actors from the previous seasons into what is truly a whole new show. It’s Scrubs: Med School all over again. It won’t work but I’m happy that the show is giving us this gift. It makes me just about as happy as it did when Red Riding Hood and Dorothy Gale from Oz became a couple last season after years and years of queerbaiting on the show (come on, Regina and Emma could not have been more hot for each other in Season 1. I wanted to scream, “Henry has two mommies alright but not the way you’re thinking!”).
So, sadly, I think this will be it for OUAT but let’s just take a moment to appreciate what it means to have a Latina Cinderella. I hope there are some tiny Latinas out there watching this and realizing that Cinderella or any other iconic literary character can not only be a badass woman but can also be a woman who speaks with a Latin accent and looks like them and the women of their family.