Jane the Virgin has hashtag activism at its finest

You wouldn’t think in an episode that featured criminal cover-up, a lesbian sex scene in a mental asylum, an escaped hostage, a love triangle, and a massive hurricane that the most intense narrative would be an immigration issue, but with “Jane the Virgin”‘s latest episode that’s exactly what happened.

I won’t bore you with the details (you really should be watching the show and be all caught up anyway) but essentially Jane’s Grandmother Alba took a tumble down the stairs at the end of episode nine, and episode ten finds her in the hospital, stable but still in danger. As Jane and her mother are quickly told that the hospital knows that Alba is in this country illegally and has no insurance, and so she can’t be kept there while she lingers in her coma. In fact, they have plans to extradite her to Venezuela, while she is in her coma.

“You can’t do that!” exclaims Jane’s Mom. And then this happens:

janevirgin3The show’s use of onscreen text is inspired, consistently closer to an asset than it is a gimmick, but this one really takes the cake. Immigration reform is an extremely important subject these days in the U.S., and this is about as in your face as “Jane the Virgin” has ever gotten about politics.

You see, although “Jane the Virgin” finds its roots in and embraces telenovela culture, the show is so successful because it’s never afraid to ground itself in the legitimacy of the lives these women lead. Alba speaks fluent Spanish all the time, Jane cares deeply about her loved ones but also knows how to follow her own path, Xo (Jane’s Grandmother) is sexual because she chooses to be. These characters are clearly full people whose writers are in touch with the beats these characters would actually face in the real world.

So when they talk about medical repatriation that’s threatened in the show, it’s more than just a plot device, or way to raise the stakes. It’s a way to introduce real challenges people face, and even includes a hashtag for people to continue the conversation (which coincidentally worked out to be more timely than ever). It makes the drama around it all the more weighty, because it’s showing its characters as full people. It’s the seemingly small touches like that which earned lead Gina Rodriguez a Golden Globe and keeps me coming back week after week.




Jane the Virgin’s got half the story right

Jane the Virgin Episode 8 spoilers below. If you’re not at Episode 8 I advise you come back later. And if you’re not watching the show at all I advise you start. 

While I was catching up on CW’s excellent “Jane the Virgin” last night, I found myself disappointed for the first time by that show.

“Jane the Virgin” never goes full virgin; it never says that there’s anything wrong with sexuality–whether you’re having it or no. Jane herself wavers on her decision to wait from time to time, and has made it clear that she’s “a virgin, not a prude,” when it comes to her sexual exploits. In addition to all the other minority it tackles (illegal immigration, family, class, women of color, lesbians) I found myself wanting to stand up and cheer the show for its full on embracement of sex postivity/neutrality that ran so strong through it.

Last night’s episode featured the inevitable plot of Jane having to fess up to the (former) playboy she’s seeing about how he wasn’t going to be getting lucky anytime soon. It led to an awkward, uncomfortable dinner, and a problem the dashing Rafael couldn’t quite wrinkle out.

"But I had already cleared my schedge tomorrow to be all night to get lucky"
“But I had already cleared my schedge tomorrow to be all night to get lucky”

Ultimately they do talk it out, and Rafael says he’s fine with waiting (and fighting) for the relationship to reach that point. It’s a fabulous moment of acting on the parts of the leads, managing to find the balance between romantic fantasy and grounded emotion.

But what I feel was missing from the conversation–and from the show as a whole–is a discussion of the intimacy that can grow from sex.

The show, an adaptation of a telenovela, follows Jane, a hard-working young woman who’s pledged to save herself for marriage who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. The initial concept didn’t sound appealing to me, but when my person and I happened to find ourselves tuned in for the premiere I found myself engrossed because of the way it rooted its virginity politics in a choice Jane made for herself (even if it was ushered in a bit by her very religious Grandmother’s lectures on purity).

It seemed to me that the show would open a dialogue around sexuality in a way that hadn’t quite been explored before in the media: that sex or no, there’s a benefit to taking time to figure out what you want, and waiting until you’re ready, no matter what or when that decision is. Obviously that would involve an embrace of a young woman who was waiting for marriage (even if she knew it was an arbitrary day), which it did. But it seems more reluctant to dive into what sex can bring and foster, like an emotional intimacy that may be what the parties in the relationship feel ready and excited for.

Throughout their courtship, Jane has always expressed concern that Rafael’s history as a playboy was too much for them to overcome, and Rafael has always been adamant about his growth from his former, reckless persona. I was excited for “Jane the Virgin” to finally hold him up as the counterexample to Jane: perhaps sex crazy when he was young, but as someone who understood the closeness and warmth that could come from a sexual relationship. But I guess, like the titular character, I’ll just have to keep waiting.