With perhaps the exception of her yet-to-be-seen role as a Smurf, Sofía Vergara is well-known in American television and cinema for portrayals of sexy, Latina characters; she acknowledged the typecasting in an interview with People Magazine, “…I cannot play a scientist. I know who I am. I know how I look. I know how I sound. I’m not going to tell my agent, ‘Book me for Schindler’s List 2.’” (Schwartz). However, she has concurrently expressed the opinion that she doesn’t portray the typical Latina stereotype either. In an interview with Blackfilm.com about her role in the film Four Brothers (2005) (a role that fits with her typecast), Vergara was asked, “Is it strange to have the stereotypical, crazy Latina in the movie?” to which she responded, “I don’t know why you’re saying it’s a stereotypical Latina because I’m Latina and I didn’t feel offended by the role or anything so I don’t know who thinks it’s the stereotype of a Latina.” Problematically, her words typify the way other Latinas/Latinos are treated in the media, and she assumes her feelings reflect the sentiment of the Latina/Latino population. She ignores the fact that her image on screen is routinely policed to portray a specific look for Latinas — erotic, brunette, and loud.
Not all Latinas self-identify with these characteristics, but you wouldn’t know that from watching American television or cinema. Vergara’s thin, big-breasted and “passionate” Columbian self is perpetuated in the media as a model-minority stereotype of the Latina population; line her up with America’s other beloved Latina stars, Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Eva Mendes, and Eva Longoria, and you’d be hard pressed to see a difference between anyone of them. They can all be described the same way: erotic, thin, brunette; and they all play similar roles: privileged, eroticized Latinas with attitude.
Vergara’s current TV role, “Gloria” on the show Modern Family, fits this stereotype, while also highlighting her Columbian heritage; however, her background seems filled with antidotes about drug cartel violence. In fact, it seems to be the butt of most of her jokes, which is equally problematic. Gloria as a character is an illusion of diversity; her wardrobe of close-fitting, revealing clothing, brown hair, and thin-n-curvy physique typify her physically (Schwartz). Yet, it is her effortless establishment of citizenship, wealth and respect that effortlessly marginalizes legitimate social problems Latinas/Latinos face in American society. Modern Family, while hailed for it’s refreshing perspective on family life, widens the void of diverse Latina representation in the media by dressing up an otherwise atypical Latina and writing away the typical obstacles that Latino immigrants face when living in the United States (Jakle).
Vergara said in an interview with People, “‘I’m a natural blonde, but when I started acting, I would go to auditions, and they didn’t know where to put me because I was voluptuous and had the accent – but I had blonde hair,’ … ‘The moment I dyed my hair dark, it was, ‘Oh, she’s the hot Latin girl.’”(Schwartz). P. Peña Ovalle explains that most successful Latinas have had to straighten and darken their hair; it creates a more ambiguous Latina look that compliments a racialized and sexualized physical body (Ovalle). In an interview with Larry King, Vergara said, “…My whole family is blond. There’s a very big population of blond people in Uruguay, Argentina, because we have, you know, mix of European –” (though cut off, she was talking about her European ancestry). If Modern Family is serious about equal representation of race, gender, sexuality, etc — why not let Vergara revert back to her natural hair color? Comedy is inherently predicated on the exploitation of stereotypical images, and part of what makes Gloria a comedic character is her ability to tell time-tested jokes about herself and other Latino/as (Butsch, 4).
Butsch, R.“Ralph, Fred, Archie, and Homer: Why Television Keeps Re‐creating the White Male Working-‐Class Buffoon.” Date Accessed 22 Nov. 2010. <http://www.europhd.eu/html/_onda02/07/PDF/11th_lab_scientificmaterial/Butsch/Butsch2003.pdf>.
Jakle, Jeanne. “Innovative series deserve Emmy nods.” Chron. 6 Jul 2010. Date Accessed 15 Nov 2010. <http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/7096400.html>.
“Modern Family.” CNN Larry King Live. CNN. CNN’s Los Angeles, Los Angeles. 22 Oct 2010. Date Accessed 15 Nov 2010. <http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1010/22/lkl.01.html>.
Morales, Wilson. “Four Brothers: An Interview with Sofia Vergara.” Blackfilm.com. Aug 2005. Date Accessed 15 Nov 2010. <http://www.blackfilm.com/20050805/features/sofiavergara.shtml>.
Ovalle, P. Peña. “Head & Shoulders Gives Good Hair: Dance, Hair, and Latina Representation.” Flow. 22 Jan 2009. Date Accessed 22 Nov 2010. <http://flowtv.org/2009/01/head-shoulders-gives-good-hair-dance-hair-and-latina-representation-priscilla-pena-ovalle-university-of-oregon>.
Salerno, Michael. “Recap – Modern Family 1.24 ‘Family Portrait’.” TV Overmind. 20 May 2010. Date Accessed 15 Nov 2010. <http://tvovermind.zap2it.com/abc/modern-family-tv-news/recap-modern-family-season-1-episode-24-family-portrait/24013>.
Schwartz, Alison. “Sofia Vergara’s Old Complaint: ‘I Look Like a Stripper’.” People.com. 13 Sep 2010. Date Accessed 15 Nov. 2010. <http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20425513,00.html>.