Author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez: "I'm Sick of Seeing Latinas as Powerless Sluts"
01/04/2011 - 17:30 ||
Cuban author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez gave George Lopez’s ex-wife, Ann Lopez, the rights to turn her first book, The Dirty Girls Social Club, into a television show at NBC. But when Alisa got her hands on the script for the show she was shocked to find that the Latina characters from her beloved book had all been converted from goal-oriented college students into what she referred to as “sluts.”
We hate to see two Latinas fighting and we’d love for the matter to resolve itself quickly and amicably, but Alisa claims that Lopez intentionally misled her. So we called the author to try to get to the bottom of this feud and find out why Valdes is so upset about the adaptation of her book.
We also reached out to Ann Lopez for comment, but her rep responded, “She has been advised not to comment on this.”
Here’s what Alisa had to say:
What’s the latest on your feud with Ann Lopez?
For me, it’s not even an ego issue. I wouldn’t care if they changed story lines at all and made it more modern—that’s fine, and I understand you have to do that when you adapt a book. But changing every single character to be, you know, not a good role model … I went out of my way to write a book that I hoped would show positive role models of educated, professional Latinas for everybody in the country to see that we exist, and it has been very depressing for me. I get a lot of e-mails from women—you know, the book’s been out for eight years, almost—saying that they read it in high school and it made them realize they could go to college, or they read about Sarah and saw her situation and left an abusive relationship because she had the courage to. That’s why I write. So where it sits right now is, I have a lawyer whose name is Harris Tulchin—he’s a really good entertainment lawyer who’s handling things for me. He hasn’t told me whether I can speak freely or not; that’s up to me. But NBC’s lawyers have asked me to take down blog posts about it and to stop posting about it until everything is settled. Basically, Ann misled me. She lied to me numerous times on a bunch of different things, and I would never have signed the option deal with her if I had known she was not going to live up to what she was promising.
What did she promise you?
Basically, that I would be a writer on the show and that I would have final approval over every script and final approval over every major change that they made. They didn’t do any of that. It’s still shocking.
Was any of this in writing?
No. Well, that’s the thing. I was not represented by a TV or film agent—I was represented by a literary agent, who had never done a contract like this. The wording in the contract is “Alisa shall be available as a consultant on every episode.” But what I didn’t realize is that that doesn’t mean that they’re obligated to make me a consultant. It’s just that I’m obligated to be one if they need me. And they did that intentionally—they misled me intentionally.
Ann is a Latina herself. Why would she want to do that?
Well, first of all, she doesn’t have any production credits other than having been thrown onto things her husband did at the last minute. She has no formal education. Her entire Hollywood experience is related to being around George Lopez, which is fine, but his demographic audience is different than mine. I think she’s cynical—they’ve been discouraged over the kinds of battles they’ve had to wage in Hollywood over the years. They’re so cynical that they didn’t believe that what I’d written would get past the gatekeepers. They took the title literally, and it’s not literal—its figurative and it’s ironic. They’re not dirty girls, and they’re not sluts. They also got rid of every non-U.S. African person in the book. I don’t know why they did that except the same cynicism that they believe this old-school Hollywood thing, which is that nobody wants to look at black people, everybody wants to laugh at fat people and Latinas are sexy hot tamales—they bought into every stereotype. And I think they did it by design to get it on the air. So from their point of view, I’m sure they were like, ‘Alisa is naive, Alisa is stupid, it will never get made unless we do this.’ And I would respond by saying, “Then don’t make it, or make it with your name on it.” And don’t put my book’s name on it, because this is a brand that I’ve worked for almost 10 years on to have a loyal following, and it’s going to destroy everything.
You said that the TV adaptation of your book “The Dirty Girls Social Club” was “racist,” and that your characters have become “bastardizations” of your original vision. Do you think the show is racist?
I think there are elements of it that are. Like for instance, the Cuban Jewish character, Sarah, was made into a non-Hispanic Jewish person from New York. And when I protested that to Ann, they made sure that her husband Roberto—who is now called Robert—was Cuban. They were like, “He’ll still be a Cuban Jew, we’ll explain it through him, but having her be Jewish and Cuban will confuse America.” I remember her telling me that and I thought, “That’s just insane!” How will that confuse anybody?” Anyhow, they did keep the boyfriend Jewish and Cuban, but in the first scene with him, he’s essentially raping his wife, and he says, “You should’ve known when you married a hot-blooded Cuban…” I find that prejudiced against Latin men. That’s what I’ve been reacting against in my writing.
Will you and Ann Lopez be going to court overt this?
I’m not sure. She’s got a lawyer, and I’ve got a lawyer. At this stage, our lawyers are exchanging letters.
Is it true that the Creative Artists Agency—who also represents Ann Lopez—has dropped you as a client?
Yes. That’s part of what my lawyer, he’s going to ask Ann for damages because of that. It’s clearly retaliatory. The agent was nervous that I would blog about any of it, and she found it distasteful and dropped me. She’s a TV and film agent—she’s not my literary agent. Although I did lose my literary agent because she accidentally sent me an e-mail for someone else about me, about all of this—that was very insulting. I know people think I’m crazy, but it’s not just a book. This has become a book club, there are girls who have never read before who call themselves “the sucias of the Dirty Girls Social Club.” I’ve been all over the country and I’ve met them. These women are going to tune in and once again be told they’re powerless sluts, and I’m sick of that. The only non-slut in the whole show is the one they made a non-Latina, white Jew from New York.
If you could rewind the clock and go back to the day that you negotiated the rights to your book—with Ann—what would you do differently?
I would say, “No, thank you.” Ann told me, “As a Latina, I get it. I love your work. George and I had to fight a lot of the same battles when we were getting his sitcom made. They wanted a lot of stereotypes and clichés. We had to fight those battles and we know how to do that.” And I believed her. Why wouldn’t I believe her? I will say this: The network is not to blame. NBC would’ve taken the deal with or without Ann, and I actually connected with the executive who bought it at NBC. NBC is not happy with the script either, so it’s doubtful it will get made the way it is. The network had asked Ann to bring me in, and Ann said no. I asked the executive at NBC why she would do that, and she said, “It’s pretty simple: Ann doesn’t want you in the room because if you’re in the room, Ann realizes she’s irrelevant.” It must be hard for Ann right now, going through a divorce, trying to make a mark for herself or whatever, but this is not how you do it. You don’t disrespect people.