Latin American Markets are the Future of Lesbian TV Characters

For decades, the English-speaking world has led the entertainment industry on gay and lesbian TV representation. The U.S. alone, the undisputed juggernaut in the field, has had over 650 shows with LGBT characters (with the UK coming in second with over 100 shows). Look into trendlines, however, and it’s clear that Latin America is poised to break out in the next decade. The environment of Latin American TV today feels very similar to how US TV felt circa 2002: on the cusp of greater representation, if viewers just push for it.

It’s a common belief that Latin America’s machismo culture is so homophobic that non-heterosexual characters will be immediately rejected by viewers in these countries. For this reason, the number of TV shows throughout South and Central America that have ever aired homosexual characters are few. However, while there have been few lesbian pairings on Latin American TV, most of these recent pairings have been massively popular in a way that is not paralleled in the English-speaking world. It only awaits studios in Latin America to realize it.

The metrics on viewership of Latin American lesbian pairings are nothing less than impressive. Take, for example, “Clarina”—the portmanteau for Clara and Marina from the Brazilian telenovela “Em Familia.” The top two YouTube videos for Clarina have 12 million views each.

It’s hard to find a direct English language comparison for Clarina given that telenovelas occupy a place in Brazilian culture that isn’t matched by American soap operas, a similar genre, but for a “buzz in the lesbian world” comparison, the two most viewed “Sanvers” (Alex Danvers and Maggie Sawyer from “Supergirl”) videos have 2.8 and 2.5 million views, while the two most viewed “WayHaught” (Waverly and Nicole from “Wynonna Earp”) videos on YouTube have 2.1 and 1.3 million views. Even “Clexa,” Clake and Lexa from “The 100,” the ship that launched a thousand social movements, only has 2.8 million and 2.6 million views.

It would be easy to view Clarina as an outlier, an exception reflecting Brazil’s massive population rather than the regional norm, but astoundingly, it’s not. In Argentina, the two most viewed YouTube videos for “Flozmin” (Flor and Jazmin from the telenovela “Las Estrellas”) have 12 and 10 million views, respectively, while Brenda and Marisa, from the telenovela “Sos mi Hombre,” have 9.4 million and 5.7 million views.

In Mexico, Julia and Mariana from the telenovela “Las Aparicio” have 12 and 9.9 million views, while “Lutricia” (Lucia and Patricia) from the telenovela “Las Trampas del Deseo” have 8 million and 4.4 million views. As popular as Clexa is among English-speakers, these Latin American telenovela pairings are quietly averaging three to four times more views.

The difference between the popularity of Latin American and English-language lesbian TV pairings is also one of proportion. “Em Familia” only achieved a high of around 5 million viewers per episode, so 12 million YouTube views, while not equivalent to 12 million unique viewers, could still represent millions of individual viewers, or more viewers of Clarina than viewers of “Em Familia” itself. “Grey’s Anatomy,” for comparison, averaged something around 11.7 million viewers per episode during the “Calzona” (Callie and Arizona) years, but Calzona’s top two YouTube videos have only 10 and 2.9 million views.

The Brazilian web series “RED” has only ever had a max of 373,000 views on Vimeo, but the top two “Meliz” (Mel and Liz) fanvids have 5.1 million and 2.8 million views on YouTube. Put another way, a couple from a Brazilian web series produced for about $10,000 per season has twice as many YouTube views as Wayhaught (“Wynonna Earp” averages about half a million viewers per episode).

Why are the fandoms for these Latin American couplings so large? Partially, demographics. By numbers, there are more native Spanish speakers than native English speakers: there are more than 400 million native speakers of Spanish, while English has approximately 360 million native speakers. Add in the 220 million native Portuguese speakers, and the Latin American market could conceivably reach 620 million people globally. With an average lesbian and bisexual population of somewhere around 6%, that’s a potential audience of 37.2 million native speakers in addition to all the non-native speaking viewers who could watch with English subtitling.

Of course, there are probably more non-native English speakers than non-native Spanish speakers, so a better answer is that as was the case in the very early 2000s for the English-speaking world, there are so few lesbian pairings on Latin American TV that viewers voraciously consume what content does exist. In that sense, the Spanish-speaking fandoms are more monolithic and operate in larger blocs. While the English-speaking fandoms have fractured into hundreds of shipper communities as the amount of English-language content has skyrocketed, the Spanish-speaking fandoms have rallied around a much, much smaller number of pairings.

The point is, Latin America offers a perfect, mutually beneficial situation for lesbians and content producers: Latin American content producers can easily attract this potential lesbian fandom of millions of viewers and at the same time monetize their lesbian content in a way that would result in more lesbian content produced and disseminated in order to be consumed globally. How could this work in practice?

For example, Rede Globo, the Brazilian network that aired all 12 of Brazil’s TV lesbians that AfterEllen was able to find, could centralize that lesbian content into one online location and offer it for free viewership with English subtitles in return for showing advertisements, thus finding a way to make money off of older content that otherwise would either be passed around for free on social video sites like YouTube or Vimeo or relegated forever to the company vaults, neither of which would provide any financial benefit the studio. Everyone wins. If Syfy can cater to WayHaught fans, Mega in Chile can cater to “Barcedes” (Barbara and Mercedes, “Perdona Nuestros Pecados”) fans.

And of course, it’s clear that English-language content producers should also seek to make inroads into the Spanish market, including offering Spanish subtitling and targeted marketing in Latin America. #REDHaught is a good start to that.

Below, AfterEllen offers for readers not previously acquainted with Latin American lesbian TV characters all of the TV shows with lesbian characters that we could find. Not all the characters represent good representation or escape the Bury Your Gays trope, but most do. We invite readers to add additional shows in the comments section to share with the community.

Argentina: 5 shows
1) “Las Estrellas
Airdate: 2017 – 2018
3 non-heterosexual female characters: Florencia Estrella, Jazmín del Río, Elena

2) “Sos mi Hombre”
Airdates: 2012 – 2013
2 non-heterosexual female characters: Brenda Garay, Marisa

3) “El Elegido”
Airdate: 2011
3 non-heterosexual female characters: Greta Sáenz Valiente, Gigi Gilardoni and Paloma Riccardi

4) “Los Vecinos en Guerra
Airdate: 2013-2014
2 non-heterosexual female characters: Agustina Joglar and Valeria Acosta

5) “099 Central”
Airdate: 2002
2 non-heterosexual female characters: Silvina and Marisa

Brazil: 6 shows
1) “Em Família
Airdate: 2014
4 non-heterosexual female characters: Marina Meirelles, Clara Fernandes, Vanessa, Flávia Campos.

2) “Felizes Para Sempre?”
Airdate: 2015
2 non-heterosexual female characters: Daniela and Denise/Simone

3) Malhação
Airdate: 1995 – current
2 non-heterosexual female characters: Lica Gutierrez and Samantha

4) “Nada Será Como Antes”
Airdate: 2016
1 non-heterosexual female character: Beatriz de Souza

5) “Torre de Babel”
Airdate: 1998 – 1999
2 non-heterosexual female characters: Leila Sampaio and Rafaela Katz

6) “Vale Tudo”
Airdates: 1998 – 1999
1 non-heterosexual female character: Cecilia Cantanhede

Chile: 1 show
“Perdona Nuestros Pecados”
Airdate: 2017 – current
2 non-heterosexual female characters: Mechita Möller, Bárbara Román

Mexico: 4 shows
1) “Las Trampas Del Deseo
Airdate: 2013-2014
2 non-heterosexual female characters: Patricia de Santana and Lucia Salazar de Fuentes

2) “Mi Familia Perfecta”
Airdate: 2018-current
2 non-heterosexual female characters: Génesis Pérez, Megan Summers

3) “El Señor de los Cielos”
Airdate: 2013 – current
3 non-heterosexual female characters: Esperanza Salvatierra, Cristina Salgado, Zoe

4) “El Capo”
Airdate: 2016
1 non-heterosexual female character: Patricia “La Perris” Arévalo. Originially a Colombian series

5) “Las Aparicio
Airdate: 2010
2 non-heterosexual female characters: Julia Aparicio, Mariana

6) “Capadocia”
Airdate: 2008-2012
Many non-heterosexual female characters