“There’s a very real woman here whose career and life are going to be affected by you pursuing this case.” In last week’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) delivers a hard truth to Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) as the latter investigates a report of workplace sexual assault that, for her, hits quite close to home.
At once sensitive and comedic, the episode, titled “He Said, She Said,” is a great piece of television that grounds a discussion of the #MeToo movement in the experiences of characters that fans have come to know and love. And on top of that achievement, Beatriz’s performance as Rosa is not the only way she contributed to the narrative. “He Said, She Said” also marks her directorial debut and shows her skills in striking a perfect tonal balance between humor and sincerity.
From The Fugitive-style encounters between Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) and his aging nemesis, “The Disco Strangler,” to Amy’s throughline of handling the sexual assault case alongside her partner Jake (Andy Samberg), Beatriz manages to capture the essence of the show’s usual antics while delivering on moments that are at once quiet and moving. Written by Lang Fisher and anchored by a powerful performance from Fumero, the success of the episode just goes to show the viability of stories written by, directed by, and about women.
In a personal essay published in Glamour, Beatriz wrote about her directing process, attesting that the recent revival and renewal of the series gave her a second chance at something she always wanted to achieve. “I outlined my case for directing and told [showrunner Dan Goor and producer David Miner] what I knew to be true, that there are very few female directors in television and even fewer women of color,” she stated in the essay. “I wanted to join their ranks.”
Indeed, Beatriz’s comments here factor into a wider discussion of how Latina directors face limited visibility in the industry. As film critic Vanessa Erazo identified on Twitter this weekend, Latinx creators — especially those who are US-born — still struggle to get their stories told, and have faced little to no advancement even in progressive, independent spaces.
There are ZERO US-born Latinas on this list. I'm tired. American Latinos are invisible in this industry. We're begging to be seen to no avail. Talk abt diversity hasnt helped our community at all. (Latin Americans have it a bit better. There's 3 on this list) https://t.co/eHDBmGDz3H
— Vanessa Erazo (@infoCinelandia) March 3, 2019
While Beatriz bridges the gap between the identities discussed by Erazo (she was born in Argentina and arrived in the US at the age of three), it is still powerful to see her vision guiding the story at hand. As she wrote, “I started having a very strong feeling that I had a point of view that could add something to the work that was happening on television, that my voice and sensibilities and sensitivities and brain could add something to a show and help tell a story.” Really, an American Latina framing the story of an American-born Latina is an unfortunately rare feat on network television, and so it is something to be celebrated.
To that point, part of what makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine so great is its sensitive approach to representing women and people of color; indeed, the show has been rightly praised for its diversity, including the fact that it features not one but two Latina leads in its ensemble cast. However, what really makes the inclusion of Amy and Rosa so important is that, while their identities do intersect along lines of race and gender, they are also two completely distinct people who often hold opposing points of view.
“He Said, She Said” brings that sense of uniqueness into the forefront, as Rosa and Amy argue about how best to advise the person most affected by the assault case: the victim. This standout scene gets at the double bind that persists for people who choose to speak out about their experiences: is publicly acknowledging one of the most vulnerable moments of your life truly worth facing more discrimination in the court of public opinion? The two ultimately agree to disagree on the subject, but as Amy exclaims towards the end of the episode, “We can be different and still have the same cause!”
Still, Erazo’s main point should be acknowledged here: talk about diversity doesn’t always will equitability into existence. In other words, these important examples of positive representation still do not eliminate the gaping disparity that persists in the industry at large.
But this acknowledgment—that there is much more work to be done—is also what makes “He Said, She Said” such an effective milestone. Once the assault investigation is closed, Rosa and Amy share a bittersweet exchange as they reflect on the relative gains and losses sustained by their particular case. In the end, Rosa gets at the core of why challenging injustice is still worth the fight, ultimately assuring Amy that “Two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward.”