The underrated importance of Laurel Castillo on ‘How to Get Away With Murder’
As everyone praises the brilliant performance of Viola Davis in How To Get Away With Murder, there is another character on the same show that is quietly bringing down major stereotypes. If Annalise Keating is the strong, confident, and sensitive female lead role that African-American women deserve, Laurel Castillo, the idealist law student, is the one that thousands of females in Latin America were waiting for.
As a young Mexican woman, it’s hard for me to see any character that matches my gender and nationality on American TV shows and movies without cringing. It is a terrible experience to see how some features of your traditions are extracted from context and then exaggerated into an almost comical result. Which is why it has surprised me to find in Laurel Castillo a woman that represents me and my culture accurately.
Karla Souza, the actress that plays Laurel, started breaking the mold of what was expected of her from a very early stage of her life, and is a real life role model for me. She has lived in London, Moscow, and France as well as Mexico City, and has studied in the most prestigious acting and singing schools in each of those cities. She suffered from depression as she worked to pay for her studies in London. Some producers suggested she should go though cosmetic surgery to secure roles, but she refused. Souza then started acting for a major production company in Mexico, Televisa. There, she could have secured a leading role in small soap operas. Instead, she decided to take riskier roles, including her part in Nosotros Los Nobles, the highest-grossing Mexican film of all time.
Then she landed her role in HTGAWM.
Finally, we have a Latina woman who can actually speak English without an evident accent; a woman who constantly rebels against being treated as a sexual object and insists on being taken seriously for her intellect; a woman that wears conservative clothes that fit her figure right; a girl that went to college; a Latina character that isn’t tied to drug dealing or crime; a woman that is not an illegal immigrant; a girl that has an introverted, coy demeanor—just like a majority of middle and upper class Latina women all over the world.
I’m not saying that dressing a certain way or a lack of accent makes her a good character. But so far, American TV has only focused on representing a certain sector of the population of Latino/a viewers both outside and inside the borders. Laurel is here to change that with a simple character writing principle: her ethnicity is just background information for her plot line, not a feature that overshadows her entire personality.
Hopefully, other producers will learn from this kickass, well-written character and start realizing that including one stereotyped minority in your cast is not bringing diversity into the mix.
Carolina Mejia is a 19-year-old Mexican journalist student that rambles about fictional plots for weeks after it’s socially acceptable. She makes terrible jokes about her scoliosis and the fact that she doesn’t know how to be an adult. Currently, she’s struggling to start publishing articles, write a novel, and finish her homework on time. Her hobbies include cooking bad-looking cupcakes, reading cheesy fanfiction, making vlogs, and convincing her sister to start watching The Walking Dead.