Crystal Roman Is Writing Afro-Latinas Into the Entertainment Industry
Though it’s a slight uptick, you’ll now find more Afro-Latinx representation on television and streaming service shows, in magazines and movies, and, of course, across social media timelines. Yes, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Tatyana Ali, who is of Afro-Panamanian-Indo-Trinidadian descent; Clueless actress Stacey Dash, born to an African-American father and Mexican-American mother; and Dominican-American Merlin Santana of The Cosby Show and The Steve Harvey Show were a part of our list of 90s’ hit shows. However, none of them played an Afro-Latinx on the small screen, nor discussed their Afro-diasporic identity in full.
Today though, on the HBO comedy Insecure, Dro (played by Afro-Panamanian Sarunas J. Jackson) is portrayed as Afro-Latino. Gina Torres, who has never been shy about placing her Afro-Cuban identity at the forefront, is the first Afro-Latina to create, produce and star in her own show, Pearson. We can also reference Afro-Cuban and Dominican Selenis Leyva and Dominicana Dascha Polanco on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, as well as actors like Laz Alonso, Tessa Thompson, and Zoe Saldana, who have been vocal about their Afro roots.
This new level of visibility wasn’t available when actress Crystal Roman began attending castings and securing acting gigs in the early 2000s. She quickly realized there wasn’t space for her entire self. In response to the void, Roman, who is of Jamaican and Puerto Rican descent, decided to write a play.
That play sparked a movement.
“I felt obligated, like my new purpose — or my new service to my craft — was to fill that void and create a space for women to be actresses, producers, and writers; and push not just in front of the camera but behind the camera,” Roman tells HipLatina. “Give space for writers, give space for other producers, directors, assistant directors and really show that in front and behind the camera we’re brilliant.”
Founded in 2008, The Black Latina Movement has a multi-layered approach to placing more Black Latinas on stage, in film and the larger entertainment industry. In addition to making the entertainment industry more culturally aware of nuance and lived experiences, the grassroots movement aims to provide artists the opportunity to create, write, produce and/or perform.
As the chief executive officer and founder, Roman has spearheaded the creation of plays and web series centered on multi-dimensional women of color. “I have to create more diverse characters,” says Roman of her response to what she was seeing on her screen. “A lot of the times you want somebody that has the layers that you have, the struggles that you have, the highs and lows that you have. And it would be nice if when you’re looking at the screen, the person looks like you.”
Though it debuted as a one-woman show, Black Latina the Play, written, directed and performed by Roman, features a monologue of five diverse women, each representing a different emotion: fear, anger, sadness, love, and empowerment. Black Latina addresses the Black/white binary, external and internalized racism or colorism among African Americans, Latinxs and Black Latinxs.
Complexity is a theme Roman enjoys weaving into her characters and showcases this through women’s agency. Take Valerie Pinkette in her web series The Colors of Love. As a Latina, there’s an unspoken expectation that she should be focused on work and building a family. But a child isn’t on her mind, so we see how she navigates that dilemma. Another is Cecilia in Cecilia the Celibate. An avid dater, she yearns for a deeper connection beyond sexual intimacy. After choosing to be celibate, she meets someone in an unlikely place — and as things progress — she’s faced with informing him of her choice.
“She has been [sexually active] but now she’s just taking a different approach in life,” says the creative. “Sometimes sexuality is not just one thing. You’re having sex, you’re not having sex; sometimes there are layers to sexuality and we don’t get to see that with women of color.”
Sexual agency is one area where Roman explores a woman’s decision-making process. In Of Mother’s and Men, which includes nine monologues (and narrators) exploring women’s relationships with men and their own mothers, a woman gets pregnant and she and her partner choose to have an abortion. “It’s something we don’t see. We don’t talk about it,” shares Roman. “When you think of abortion, you think of a young girl. You think of someone who’s just fooling around, who’s being blasé with it and using it as a form of birth control. No, there is a very deep conscious decision that women of color make…she’s making the decision with her partner. That’s saying a lot about Black men, where normally it’s all over a one-night stand, or he left her with a baby [and] now she has to have an abortion or have a baby by herself. I’m flipping the script on how we’re seeing people of color. That has always been my ambition as a writer.”
The Black Latina Movement is in its 11th year and it’s evident Roman continues to shift the paradigm through unique storytelling, complex character development, and cultural competency. While she has several projects in the works, audiences can expect screenings and shows in New York City and across the east coast.
The industry can learn a thing or two from her pioneering spirit. she’s eager to see how Afro-Latinx visibility continues to expand. “Media wasn’t allowing us to show our pride because of systematic oppression and racism. The narrative that was being told was as if we weren’t proud of who we are. We’ve always had pride.”