Netflix’s ‘Gentefied’ Avoids Trauma Porn in Telling Stories About Undocumented Immigrants

·5-min read

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched Season 2 of “Gentefied,” streaming now on Netflix.

When “Gentefied” co-creator Marvin Lemus was a teenager, he testified on his undocumented mother’s behalf so that she could receive her green card. Decades later, under the administration of President Donald Trump, he found himself “terrified” that she’d be ripped away from him.

More from Variety

“I was hearing all of these stories that even green card holders were getting taken by ICE and sometimes being held for long periods of time,” Lemus tells Variety.

After spending a long time “pestering her to get her citizenship,” she finally did — while Lemus was breaking the second season of his Netflix series. “It was such an emotional release,” he recalls. “I was just so used to this being a part of my life — knowing that my mom’s status wasn’t always stable or safe or meant security.”

That constant concern for family sparked conversation between Lemus and “Genetified” co-creator Linda Yvette Chávez. They had already introduced an undocumented storyline in the first season finale when Pop (Joaquín Cosio) was stopped by the police on his way to a family event and ended up being taken into detention for not having papers. That imagery closed the season, leaving his fate in limbo for the 21 months between the February 2020 launch of the series and sophomore season bow on Nov. 10.

During that time, real-life ICE raids and deportation cases faded from daily news headlines as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, Black Lives Matter protests surged and a new administration entered the White House. Lemus and Chávez were not interested in producing trauma porn or re-saturating their community and their audience with imagery of undocumented individuals behind bars. Instead, they wanted to take Pop, who represented many in the older generation who “come from the fear of sharing their status,” Chávez notes, and turn him into “a very empowered person who can stand in their status and say, ‘I’m here.'”

This meant skipping over the time he was detained and starting the second season with him being returned to the family who fought so hard to get him out. Once they were reunited, the family had to pull together to focus on his legal battle to stay in the country, something much easier said than done.

Lemus and Chávez worked with an attorney to reflect Pop’s legal process as realistically as possible even as Lemus admits they had to do “the TV version where it’s sped up.” Six months “feels like forever in the show” he says, but in reality these cases can take much longer to get through the immigration system. One thing that came up in their research process that Lemus felt was imperative to put in the show was that Pop had to wear an ankle monitor.

“It ended up becoming a symbol throughout the season for Pop and the purgatory that he’s in. He’s not able to wear his favorite boots because he has to wear the ankle bracelet all the time. We wanted to capture that nuance, but we didn’t want it to turn into a procedural or a documentary,” he says.

In addition to legal hoops that Pop needed to jump through and the cost of pursuing the case, his family members were split in various directions. Ana (Karrie Martin) seemed to spend the most time and energy on legwork to help Pop, though she was also trying to make strides in her career as an artist. Chris (Carlos Santos) entered into a new romantic relationship and had his life further shaken up by the return of his father while Erik (Joseph Julian Soria) moved to Northern California when Lidia (Annie Gonzalez) got a better job opportunity.

Chávez admits the writers’ room went “back and forth” on that last story idea and she was one of the people who wasn’t sure about it because it is so hard for one family member to voluntarily split the group up while they’re fighting to get another to stay. Ultimately, though, Erik’s story presented a new way to explore the sacrifices people make for the sake of family.

“He had to leave part of [his] family to make a better life for his own,” Chávez says. “He had to migrate for a better life. It’s very similar, the only difference is there’s no border there. It’s a very natural thing for the betterment of family. That’s why Pop tells him, ‘You’ve got to go.’ But we gave them a lot of challenges and had them fighting because of course there are going to be issues, of course it’s going to be difficult.”

Similarly, by the end of the season Ana and Chris make choices to further their own lives and careers.

Chris heading to Mexico to learn more about its cuisine especially speaks to this theme, as he wants to connect with his roots. Being able to go down there with Pop is all the more special after the journey they were just on.

Chávez says her parents were staunch believers that the show should take its characters to Mexico because they wanted their daughter to “show how beautiful Mexico is.”

“It surprised me that they said they wanted to see Pop go home. It came up between Marvin and I and other folks in the room, how rarely do we see that — how rarely do we see the beauty of going home in that way,” she says.

Although the characters journeyed to Mexico for the final scene of Season 2, production did not; that was filmed in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Lemus reveals. Taking the story there was a pivotal piece in bringing “this specific chapter” of “Gentefied” to a close, though. Unlike with the first season, the creators purposely did not want to end the year with a giant cliffhanger.

“For all of our characters at the end of the day, they’re choosing themselves knowing that family will always be at the center of that,” says Chávez.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting