creator, producer, & director
It's no surprise that today's media continue to highlight white narratives. Even when a network or film's director decide to show a person of color, they usually do it without nuance and with plenty of inaccuracies. Paloma Valenzuela saw and felt this lack of identity in media and created The Pineapple Diaries, a comedic web series on YouTube. It surrounds the lives of four Latinx women in Boston's Jamaica Plain, maneuvering their way through their 20s and 30s. In making a reflection of her own life, Valenzuela found herself in another community and family within her Pineapple Diaries' team, or as she calls its members, the pineapples. It's just another level of intimacy and an identifiable connection she invites viewers to embrace. Women, women of color, 30-somethings, and Boston residents can laugh with, cry with, and most important, relate to its stories and characters. Valenzuela is broadening the media landscape for actors, writers, and directors of color, one pineapple at a time.
Tell us about The Pineapple Diaries?
The Pineapple Diaries is a comedic web series that is available on YouTube. It has 2 seasons. The show is about 4 women living in the neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in Boston. They are almost in their 30s and just going through life - like dealing with relationships, holding onto their friendships, careers, and seeing what they want to do with their lives. I think they are in a state in their lives where many can relate to in terms of being 29 or 30, or you know, just going through changes or maybe feeling like there isn't enough change - and just trying to figure all that out - and trying to enjoy life and life's absurdities at the same time. That's what the ladies are going through in the show.
What are some of your favorite moments that have arisen from your web series? What has the response been like from your community?
I don't know - so many! I feel like I'm about to cry. I think the friendships that I've made with everyone in the show. I came back to Boston at a transitional time in my life. I'd just come back and I felt I really needed something to connect with and I wanted to create a project that I could just be completely immersed in and just, I don't know, work my ass off on something that I could create. But I definitely needed a community to do it. And the fact that there was a community, the fact that I could reconnect with my friends here in Boston, my classmates from high school, and also stay connected with my friends from the Dominican Republic - who also helped out with the music and the motion graphics - the amount of people that made this happen and not only that, but the community of Jamaica Plain, it just made me feel like...home. The pineapples - we actually call the actors, crew members, and everyone else involved with the show "the pineapples" - have been the best part of this whole experience; the family that was created from it. And all the laughs! It's just been a really good time and we all love doing it and we really do love doing it. No matter how hard it is because we've had hard times, but we really genuinely love doing it and doing it together. I have so much love for everybody in the show. So that's the thing that I think is the best part.
[The response] has been really, really positive. I was pleasantly surprised by how much people connected with the show and enjoyed the show. To me and what I noticed is that maybe we don't have 100,000 subscribers or 1,000,000 followers or whatever, but the people that do watch the show truly enjoy it. I feel like our viewers are a part of this little community as well. It's a supportive community of viewers. It's been really, really wonderful and I feel very grateful.
Who is Maite and what were some key elements in developing Maite's character? How important was it for you for Maite to be an Afro-Latinx and also the main character of the show?
I think all the characters have a little piece of me in them, so that's something that I feel like if anyone knows me it's probably obvious. She's definitely the side of me that's a little bit neurotic, self-doubting, she's certainly the character that is playing off everyone's locuras. It was really important for me, for the entire show, to be not forced in any way, but a real representation of what my group of girlfriends looks like. It was important to me, and it doesn't mean this is what everyone's group of girlfriends looks like, but this is what my group of girlfriends looks like. In my case, like my girlfriends here in Boston and my girlfriends in the DR, we don't all look the same. I always preface this - just so everyone knows - I'm really proud of every stride of any Latino no matter their skin color or if their hair is straight or curly. I'm proud of all the Latinos who are doing work in television and film and all the television shows with a full Latino cast; I love it. It's important and we need that. However, one does notice that the makeup of what the Latina woman looks like on mainstream television or in the movies is usually what the world tells us a Latina is supposed to look like - she has olive or tan skin, has long straight hair (maybe blow-dried) - the look of like Sofia Vergara. Just to make it clear, Sofia Vergara is Latina and lovely and so talented and hilarious, and I love her and I'm proud of her - she's a Latina and representing! However, it's not about saying one isn't and the other is; it's about saying she is and so are we and so are they. That's what it's about.
I love those shows, I love Jane the Virgin, I love Gina Rodriguez, and they are Latina - I mean these are women that represent me even if they don't look like me or if they don't look like Maite. They are and we are a part of the community. Let's show the world more representation. We are very multi-faceted, we are very complex, all of us! We are from so many different countries, some of us are profound indigenous, some of us are profound afro-descendants, some of us are profound descendants, we are all a huge mixture, so it's impossible to say that we all look one way. So it was really important to me, for the women in my show to be what I feel like a representation of what my Dominican girlfriends look like. Different shades of skin, curly hair, some straight-hair, you know it doesn’t matter, but that it be authentic and that’s why I wanted Maite to be the protagonist because Adobuere is amazing, and yeah, I think it’s important. I think it’s absolutely important for the protagonist of the show to be Afro-Latina.
Representation matters, which is why "The Lavado/Secado" one of our favorite episodes. It's a situation many women of color face - wanting our hair to be something that it isn't (usually eurocentric in the sense) and coming to terms with our hair's natural state. What's the process of highlighting all different types of Latinas and their hairstyles like for you?
Representation is really important for me and also, my school of thought is that as women, we should all be able to decide what to do with our hair, whatever we want to do, so I also don't agree with anyone from the curly-hair community who might decide to shame someone who wants to blow dry their hair. The problem is that maybe we're not aware of the, you know, how we are taught that the "eurocentric aesthetic" is suppose to be the "standard" - when we shouldn't be taught that. It's about being informed and making sure that women know that their curly hair is beautiful just as it is, that their textured hair is beautiful just as it is, and then from there, if you choose to blow dry your hair or do whatever you want, you should be able to do that. I think there are women that totally want to do fun things to their hair and they don't need anybody policing them about their hair and I think that's how it should be in terms of the magazine industry telling us women with curly hair that we should straighten it to look better and the same with the curly hair community telling other women with curly hair not to straighten it. Everyone should be able to do what they want with their hair. So that was the joke of the episode. It was about how ridiculous it is to even fathom policing women's hair. In this episode my character was told she should not straighten her hair, but the episode also plays in the reverse of exactly what society does to women with curly hair. In some cases in the United States and around the world some women have a difficult time getting a job if their hair is done a certain way or they might be in trouble at school. It's a real reality that women are being told what to do with their hair and thanks to women like Carolina Contreras of Miss Rizos, who's doing a lot of amazing work to empower women in the DR and around the world to wear their hair natural, or learn how to care for your hair and to feel empowered to do whatever you want with your hair.
Aside from The Pineapple Diaries, you have also written and produced other comedic shorts, documentaries, and stage plays in both English and Spanish. Who were some of your major influences when you started out?
I had my first playwriting class in high school at Boston Arts Academy (BAA). They gave us classes exploring different departments in theater and so we had a playwriting class and I fell in love! I originally thought I wanted to be an actress. My playwriting teacher was so encouraging of my work and I definitely felt like I was drawn to comedy, so I started writing comedy skits, comedy scenes, and I think the first time I really said I wanted to be a film director/writer or when I felt that I could do it was after I saw Raising Victor Vargas. I was completely in love with Victor's character. It's a very subtle, very realistic, very beautiful movie about a young Dominican kid living in New York City. I connected with it because it was about a Dominican family and I thought to myself, "Oh I love this. I can relate to this." I realized that I hadn't seen Dominican characters on screen before at that time and that immediately inspired me and I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell stories and I wanted to tell stories about these experiences - the Dominican experience, the Dominican-American experience. It all sounds so obvious now, but in high school, I hadn't seen anything I felt like I could access or have access to. I could relate to this story; I could write a story like this and so that was my biggest inspiration.
What is one thing you would like to share about being Dominican-American? What are you most proud of?
I'm really proud of everything that I am and I'm trying to put my finger on this, but I'm biracial. I'm half Dominican and half Jewish American, and it's been a struggle when everyone tries to identify you because they can't figure you out, so they throw identity labels at you and you don't know what to do with any of it and then you feel lost. Growing up, finding out more about myself was always important so the first thing I decided I was going to do when I was in college was learn Spanish and I was going to move to the Dominican Republic after college where I'd learn more about my Dominican side. I'm Dominican, but I'm also American. I embrace it. I feel like there was a time I wanted to find a place where a label could be thrown at me and I would just catch it and that would be what I was going to use and my life would be "easier," but I realized that I don't need that. I don't need anyone to tell me who I am. When I say I'm Dominicana, I mean it from the heart - it's in my blood. I love being Dominican. I love being Dominican-American. The Dominican people are so resilient and resourceful and smart and talented and brilliant and funny as fuck. I feel proud, so proud to be a part of that. I am also Jewish-American and I am so proud to be Jewish and to be a part of my mother's side of the family. I am proud to be my mother's daughter. I am proud to be a part of all of it.
What advice would you share with other women of color who are thinking about creating similar multi-media spaces such as La Gringa Loca Productions?
I would just say go for it. When I started out, my first experience with YouTube was in DR. I did a comedic series called Onomatopeyas Dominicanas and like literally in one day it got about 15,000 views. This was my first experience with YouTube and I hadn't previously thought to use it. I love Awkward Black Girl, love Issa Rae, love COCRE. Obsessed with everything that woman does and everything that production does. I didn't think that was where I was going to go in my path, though. When I was just starting, I thought I was going to write a script and sell a script and wait for a production company to do it for me and that would be it. It's not like that in everyone's case. It just makes you realize that you can't just wait around. You certainly can try to go through the system - that's great too, get an agent, a manager, get a deal to produce your work with a production company, have a big budget and have a big team behind you. But sometimes you don't have a team and it's just you in front of a computer and it's scary. I say just do it and I know this is so cliché and you've probably seen memes about this, but don't wait for the perfect time because there is no perfect time. There is never a perfect time, so don't wait for the perfect budget or the perfect month for things to fall into place. Once you start, things will fall into place and things will fall apart too, but that's a part of it. You have to be open to all of it. I feel really proud of The Pineapple Diaries; producing this show and doing the most with the little resources we had. We put a lot of love into this. We did not sleep. We did not take a break. We were all tired and we pushed through and we didn't have all the perfect amenities, but we had what we had and we made it happen and there it is. Could things be better or easier? I don't know, maybe. Things can always be better, right? You learn and you grow. But what I do know is that for the past two years I've been able to do what I love and I think it was that I just went for it. So yeah, I would say just do it. Go for it.
And lastly, one of the questions we typically ask our Spotlight features, how does your identity translate through the way you dress?
I love clothes. I use style as a way to express myself based on how i feel that day. I really like colors. The style from the show is very colorful and inspired by the feeling you get when you are in DR. Boston is the least island-y place you can think of, but in Jamaica Plain it feels like a little corner of color in the city. And that's how I feel about J.P. and maybe it doesn't always feel that way, in the winter time or whatever, but no matter what, the colorfulness of J.P. shines through the murals, the people. I certainly wanted the show to be based in Boston, but also show the brightest parts of it. The bright colors in the costumes in the show were also a part of that inspiration.