At the Golden Globes yesterday, Modern Family star Sofia Vergara walked out to introduce the ceremony's three Miss Golden Globes.
"The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has an anal tradition," Vergara began before breaking into a giggle. "I didn't mean anal," she continued. "They have an anus tradition. They have a tradition that they do every year ..."
The joke plays on the hypersexualized Latina trope that Vergara is routinely subjected to at awards shows. Yesterday, the audience laughed uncomfortably as the Colombia native pretended her accent prevented her from being able to pronounce the word "annual."
On a night when Tracee Ellis Ross became the first black woman in 34 years to win best actress in a TV comedy, Vergara - the highest paid television actress five years running, according to Forbes - was reduced to a stereotype.
The joke evoked a stunt at the Emmy Awards two years ago, which found Vergara introducing Bruce Rosenblum, the CEO and chairman of the Television Academy. He invited Vergara to stand on a revolving platform, literally putting her on display as he happily declared "our academy is more diverse than ever before, both in front of and behind the camera, resulting in a greater diversity of storytelling."
By all accounts, Vergara has always been in on this recurring joke. After the Globes telecast ended, she posted a photo of herself backstage to Instagram, writing, "I look lonely back stage but I was just trying to come up with my an*s joke hahhahha!!!"
Responding to critics following her Emmys gimmick, Vergara told reporters that she didn't think it was offensive. "I think its absolutely the opposite," Vergara said. "It means that somebody can be hot and also be funny and make fun of herself."
Vergara is familiar with the criticism because it also extends to her Modern Family character, Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, the much younger wife of a man played by Ed O'Neill. Now in its eighth season, the show consistently milks Gloria's mispronunciations and botched idiomatic expressions for laughs.
In Season 6, Gloria tried on an American accent, which found Vergara imitating a Texas drawl in short denim cutoffs.
For her part, Vergara has defended the role. She told Sky1 that she liked the fact that Gloria was Colombian like her and that she would get to "play" with her accent.
"I didn't like the part that she was this immigrant, hot woman, coming and marrying this 65-year-old guy. I thought 'people are going to hate her, they're going to think she's a gold digger.' So, I was a little worried about that. But you totally see how they love each other, how they're perfect for each other at that time in their lives."
"I don't see anything bad about being stereotyped as a Latin woman," the actress (a natural blonde, who said she started getting more roles when she dyed her hair brown to look more stereotypically Latina) told The Daily Beast in 2012. "We are yellers, we're pretty, we're sexy, and we're scandalous. I am not scared of the stereotypes."
That's fair. But what does the alternative look like? Take Netflix's outstanding One Day at a Time reboot for example. Rita Moreno plays Lydia, the fiery Cuban abuela to two teenagers - her grandson speaks Spanish and her activist granddaughter speaks almost none (their mother, played by Justina Machado, is fluent). Moreno's character has an accent and the show does use it for humour. ("Eslam," Moreno says while angrily closing the curtains that divide her room from the family's apartment. She means slam, of course.)
The difference here is that Lydia's family doesn't make fun of her accent the way Gloria's often does. And the show presents a range of what it means to a Latina woman through Lydia's daughter, granddaughter and some of the other people in the family's inner-circle.
Similarly, CW's Jane the Virgin presents a range of Latina women through Jane, her rebellious mother and her devout Catholic grandmother. And the telenovela-inspired comedy parodies Latin stereotypes without embodying them as absolutes.
This is good news for television. As TV expands to include more stories about Latin-Americans, Vergara is correct - there's room for Gloria, too. But at an awards show, Vergara is appearing as herself - a successful entertainer, like others onstage, but only she had to use her background for comedy.
And as Remezcla notes, none of the several Latino performers nominated at this year's Golden Globes took home awards. Which means that Vergara was one of few Latino stars to grace the Globes stage Sunday night. Perhaps it's time for a different act.