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Gina Torres attends The Hollywood Reporter's Empowerment in Entertainment event 2019 at Milk Studios on April 30, 2019 in Hollywood, California.
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For Gina Torres, The Mission Is Afro-Latina Excellence In Her New Series 'Pearson'

"I do know about power, and if you sit still, you won't have any."

That’s what the formidable Jessica Pearson, a disbarred New York lawyer who enters Chicago’s dirty politics as a fixer, warns her new boss, the mayor, in the trailer for the forthcoming Suits spin-off series, Pearson.

For fans of the eight-season USA Network legal drama, Jessica’s tough-talk and self-assurance is par for the course. Exuding power from the top of quick-witted head to the tips of her pointy stilettos, Jessica isn’t intimidated by status. An opportunity to tell the man how it only bolsters her own vigor. She’s commanding, incredibly skilled and feared–and she knows it. She’s the kind of powerhouse woman Gina Torres, the Cuban-American actress reprising the role, has taken on throughout her lengthy career.

“I’m very fortunate to play strong, significant women,” Torres, 50, tells Vibe Viva. “It’s been an incredible blessing and one I didn’t see coming early on.”

The Manhattan-born, Bronx-raised Torres got her start on the soap opera One Life To Live but has made a name for herself bringing sci-fi badasses to life. Famously playing Zoë Washburne, an ass-kicking fan favorite in Joss Whedon’s TV series Firefly, the Afro-Latina actress was also Nebula, a Sumerian princess and pirate in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys; Jasmine, a demon who takes human form and devours people into her super slaves in Angel and woman warrior Hel in the two-season Cleopatra 2525–a role that won her an Alma Award.

The sci-fi goddess, who also had roles in Hannibal, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alias and Westworld, says she, like many aspiring actresses, initially pined for the coveted girlfriend part in films and shows about the mundane life of some American man. But she was rarely cast as anyone’s sweetheart. Instead, she says, each snub guided her down a more fulfilling theatrical path.

“I got to play far more interesting roles,” she says.

For Torres, Jessica’s comeback in Pearson is an evolution of all the fierce women she has played in the past. Unlike in Suits, where the character, a former managing partner at New York law firm Pearson Specter Litt, is somewhat of an enigma, its spin-off, which sees Jessica as its lead, introduces viewers to the complexity of an influential woman of color who understands her might and value.

She is, to quote Torres, a “fully realized human,” who we see restarting her life in the Windy City, navigating the cutthroat, grimy political world as the mayor’s right-hand, grappling with relationship woes that stem from her controversial career transition and reconciling her incessant impulse to win by any means necessary with her drive to do the right thing.

“As I have evolved over the years, as a woman and as an actress, Jessica is a beautiful realization of so many roads taken and not taken. It’s why I think this character will resonate with a lot of professional women,” Torres says. “It shows the sacrifices it takes, the things you have to go through and let go along the way, the rewards and benefits you gain as well as the peace you have to make with it all.”

The idea for the gripping new series, where Torres will make her co-executive production debut alongside Suits veterans Aaron Korsh and Daniel Arkin, came to the actress while she was home watching the 2016 election explode on her TV.

Looking at the key players, their nasty tactics and the cult-like supporters they cultivated from her small screen got her thinking about her former Suits character Jessica and how she might move in this messy political landscape.

“I was perplexed by the different characters who inhabited this world, and I have to say on both sides of the aisle. I was looking at blind loyalty, true believers, people who just want to power grab. I was fascinated by all of that,” Torres said. “Jessica, as a character, I think was particularly interesting to people because she was a loyal, intelligent character who did whatever she had to do to keep her people safe and the firm together. So I started to think of her in this political arena, because she does have a specific skill set that can be seen in a different way, but she ultimately wants to use her power for good.”

She brought the idea to her agent, who told her she “had a show,” and Suits creators agreed. The then-unnamed spin-off was picked up by the USA Network in March 2018. The series casts Morgan Spector (Homeland) as Chicago Mayor Bobby Novak, Bethany Joy Lenz (One Tree Hill) as an ambitious city attorney, Eli Goree (Riverdale) as a journalist-turned-press secretary, Chantel Riley (Wynonna Earp) as Angela Cook, Jessica's cousin, and Simon Kassianides (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as the mayor's tough-guy driver.

As a co-executive producer with influence behind the scenes, Torres has taken the responsibility to drive diversity in the writer’s room. To start, she pitched the character and arc for Yoli Castillo, a DREAMer who is just starting her career in Chicago politics as Jessica’s assistant, who will be played by Puerto Rican actress Isabel Arraiza (Driven).

“Because it was my idea and I brought it to them, the powers that be have been incredibly open to my story ideas and respectful to my original vision of the show, which was to create and mirror Chicago as it is: a diverse world, socioeconomically, culturally and racially,” she said.

Being in the room where stories are created and decisions are made, an experience Torres calls “incredible,” also helped her make a lifelong career dream come true: playing an Afro-Latina character.

“I was very specific about reinventing Jessica’s mythology and making sure, for the first time in my life, I would actually be playing an Afro-Latina character,” she said, excitedly. “In the past, it was never an issue for me because I wasn’t in a position of power, but now, in this instance, I was, and I got to say, ‘this is who she is and we are going to reintroduce her to the world as a proud Afro-Latina character.’”

The Black Cubana, who has played multiple African-American characters during the span of her career, has long called out the mainstream media’s Eurocentric representation of Latinidad.

In 2012, she discussed how casting directors continuously passed on her for Latinx roles in NBCUniverso’s documentary Black and Latino, famously saying, “When I became an actress, I quickly realized that 'the world' liked their Latinas to look Italian and not like me.”

The following year, she told Latina magazine that despite the film industry needing to “figure it out and catch up,” her view of herself never changed, adding, “I know who I am. I’m Cuban American.”

For a Black Latina trying to make it in an industry that not only didn’t understand her but operated to erase her from the popular imagination of Latinidad, self-awareness was survival.

“They didn’t care about the Latina part of me at all because I didn’t look like the Spanish, Eurocentric standard of what Latina women were supposed to look like. But the way I counteracted that was by hiding in plain sight, never pretending to be anything but what I was,” she told Vibe Viva.

Years after Torres criticized the media’s whitewashing of Latinidad, we are seeing more Afro-Latinx characters on TV. On FX, the drama series Pose, which follows the lives of trans and queer African American and Latinx young people in New York's ballroom scene in the late '80s and early '90s, Afro-Puerto Rican actress Mj Rodriguez and the nonconforming Puerto Rican-Dominican-Haitian performer Indya Moore both play lead trans Afro-Latina characters. In the streaming space, even wider representation of Afro-Latinidad is prevalent, with Black Latina main cast members in Orange is the New Black, The Get Down and On My Block.

“We’ve always been around, Afro-Latinx people, gay people, indigenous people, we’ve always been here. Dealing with immigration, diversity, LGBTQ rights and inclusivity isn’t new,” Torres said. “The fact that there has been such a stranglehold on acceptance and inclusivity really boggles the mind. All of our contributions through time are significant, and so what this, [having women of color behind the scenes], brings is a point of view, a truth to what life is, a truth to how society functions.”

While there have been gains for Afro-Latinxs in film and TV in recent years, Torres’ anticipated role in Pearson marks another feat: it’s among the first hour-long, primetime network drama series to have an Afro-Latina lead, alongside FX’s Pose. While social media has been abuzz, praising the legend actress for the triumph, and Torres, too, understands its significance, she also recognizes that representation, alone, is never enough.

“My hope is that people watch the show and enjoy it because it is a great show and the performance is wonderful. I want people to get sucked into it because the success of the show means that I get to be on television for other girls, boys and women like us,” she said. “It’s not always about what you see, but about excellence and creating excellence. So often we are told our stories don’t matter or the talent pool isn’t wide enough, so we need excellence and success for this to last.”

If there’s one thing we can expect from both Torres and Jessica, it’s Afro-Latina excellence.

Pearson airs on the USA Network starting July 17, 2019.

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J Balvin performs at Baja Beach Festival 2019 in Mexico's Rosarito Beach.
Baja Beach Fest/Jose Prado

Review: Baja Beach Festival Brings Reggaeton And Latin Trap Oasis To Rosarito

One of Mexico’s Hollywood-friendly beach towns got some action this weekend with the third annual Baja Beach Festival. From Friday, Aug. 16 to Saturday, Aug. 17, the serene beach just under an hour from San Diego transformed into a paradise for urbano music stans. With the weather clocking in at mid-60 to mid-70 degrees, the end of summer breeze blew just hard enough for attendees to throw their inhibitions to the wind. An idyll of booty cheeks, bikinis, and Tecate beer guzzlers, the outdoor venue that boasted one main stage was not only ideal for those who wanted to take a dip in the ocean then plop on the sand to indulge in live entertainment but also for those who caught the performances from the balconies of the adjacent hotels.

The line-up mirrored a well-curated playlist of today’s popular Latin trap and reggaeton acts. Singer Cazzu brought her Club Emo Tour to Mexico, evoking bad girl vibes. She could slow down the tempo for a sensual love note à la “Toda” -- she appeared on the remix for the song from fellow Baja Beach performer Alex Rose -- or body roll to a sexy number like “Puedo Ser.” R&B-leaning artists like the Brytiago (Night 1) and aforementioned Rose (Night 2) present as rappers on-stage with fitted hats and tees, designer gear and iced out jewelry but croon for a woman’s adoration. Ear-pleasing entries like Brytiago’s “Bipolar” and “La Mentira” as well as Rose’s “Darte” (which borrows the melody from Akon’s explicit “I Wanna Love You”) and contribution to Lunay and Baja Beach Fest act Lyanno’s “A Solas.” Reggaeton duo Jowell y Randy brought classic reggaeton feels with “Un Poco Loca,” which samples Chaka Demus & Pliers's "Murder She Wrote” while also reviving eternal party-starters like Casa De Leones’ 2007 debut single “No Te Veo.”

Despite missing Cardi B -- who canceled a string of shows recently -- the star power for both nights was not dimmed. J Balvin performed an hour’s worth of material that anyone who owns a streaming service account would know. The Balvin fiesta came with dancing figures like life-sized clouds, mushrooms, and colorful creatures including a Cookie Monster-esque octopus. There was no territory he didn’t cover on the music front either. He sprinkled in gems from the Bad Bunny joint project Oasis and collaborative tracks like “Con Altura” (which features Anita) and “Loco Contigo” (which includes DJ Snake and Tyga). After their earlier set, Jowell y Randy appeared for “Bonita” during J Balvin’s set. He then hyped up the late-night crowd with infectious mainstream hits like “Machika,” a Cardi B-less “I Like It” fused with Pete Rodriguez’s original “I Like It Like That” and the explosive finale “Mi Gente.”

The main event came with Ozuna. The 30,000 in attendance clung to every canción, from “Vaina Loca” to the Romeo Santos-assisted songs “Ibiza” and “El Farsante.” His solo rendition of “La Modelo” and the megahit “Dile Que Tu Me Quieres” had the hot girls -- and boys -- singing every word. “Baila Baila Baila” was an immediate call-to-action for twerking on the beach while the closing number “Taki Taki” preceded a nearly three-minute fireworks show, a fitting nod to Friday’s explosive performances.

Following a night of afterparties that rang off in las calles till 4 a.m., Saturday was still loaded with vibras. To set Day 2 off, daytime acts like Amenazzy and Lyanno provided a melodic yet nostalgic buffet of their catalog’s finest. Amenazzy performed a track that borrowed the beat to Rich Gang, Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan’s “Lifestyle” while Puerto Rico’s own Lyanno brought “Se Cansó,” the Urba y Roma and Zion y Lennox-assisted “Te Veo” and “Dejarte Llevar,” which samples Mario’s “Let Me Love You.”

After an intermission of line dancing to Caballe Dorado’s “No Rompas Más (Mi Pobre Corazón)” (Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” morphed into a Spanish language hit), De La Ghetto stormed the stage with his latest release “Selfie,” the Nicky Jam collabo “Si Tú No Estás” and his verse on the “Escápate Conmigo” remix, an ideal soundtrack for lovers and lovers-for-the-night alike. He transitioned into a semi-bar fest by performing his solo take on Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” with “Estamos Aqui,” a track with Arcangel (the reggaeton artist De La Ghetto formed a duo with in the early aughts) and in a sense, an appropriate slogan for the sold-out crowd in attendance.

Now, full stop for Becky G. The fiery Chicana who hails from both Mexico and Inglewood, Calif. represented her two cultures with pride, telling the crowd in Spanglish, “I lived my life in between two worlds, representing two flags, y siempre me dijeron, ‘You’re either too Mexican for the Americans or too American for the Mexicans. You can’t be in the middle.’” But Becky G showed and proved she can keep the same energy for her peoples, bringing some hip-hop flavor to her crossover joints like “Mad Love” (which features David Guetta and Sean Paul) and the playful Anitta collabo “Banana” while dishing out Spanish-language songs like “Mala Mía” (Maluma and Anitta are on the original), “Que Me Baile,” the Myke Towers duet “Dollar” and the celestial love note “Cuando Te Besé.” Based on the hometown love she received from an audience that included her parents and siblings, claro que si, Becky G nailed it.

The roar of the crowd reached a fever pitch when one of the seasoned reggaetoneros, Nicky Jam, arrived. With the breadth of his catalog packed with, you guessed it, jams, the puertoriqueno effortlessly segued from his recent offerings (“El Amante,” “Si Tú La Ves” and the Silvestre Dangond’s wedding day-ready “Cásate Conmigo”) to the hits that cemented his reggaeton reign (2003’s “Me Voy Pal Party” and 2005’s “La Gata” which follows the same cadence as P!nk’s 2000 debut single “There You Go”). Nicky Jam then unleashed “X,” a continuation of J Balvin’s Night 1 performance of the Will Smith-co-signed single.

To note, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the same song performed by multiple acts. Rosarito was treated to three different verses of Nio García, Darrell and Casper Mágico’s 2017 smash “Te Boté” from Ozuna, Nicky Jam and Bad Bunny, who each appeared on the remix released in 2018. Same happened for J Balvin, who performed his parts in “La Canción” and “I Like It” on Night 1, followed by Bad Bunny, who delivered his share of the same tracks on the consecutive night.

To set the mood for Bad Bunny, Mexico’s own DJ Fredy Fresco dabbled in some hip-hop by spinning City Girls “Act Up” and a festival favorite, YG’s “Go Loko.” For context, the warm-up felt intentional as Bad Bunny’s melodic swagger and rap sensibilities have boosted his crossover appeal. Cue the summer smash “Mía," which features a Spanish-speaking Drake (Sadly, the 6 God was M.I.A. for the live rendition in Baja California), and definite crowd-pleaser. Still, the eccentric 25-year-old -- laced in a red tracksuit and his signature shades -- delivered other cuts across the spectrum from the high-octane banger “200 MPH” to the subdued “Solamente Soy Feliz." The YouTube phenom’s reach was palpable: for every track he performed, it sounded like his fans printed out the lyrics for a sing-along. He then brought el fuego (literally firing up the flame machines) for “La Romana” before bowing out with “Callaita,” a perfect send-off for Baja Beach Fest with this lyric alone: Si hay sol, hay playa.

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Christina Milian Provides All The Feels In Trailer For Netflix Romcom 'Falling Inn Love'

Netflix is keeping up their strong rollout of Romcoms with Falling Inn Love an artisanal love story of sorts starring Christina Milian.

Milian stars as San Francisco city girl (Gabriella Diaz) who finds her self at the bottom of her wine glass after her design firm folds. On a whim she finds herself entering a New Zealand countryside "Win an Inn" contest. It is just her luck when she is thousands of feet in the air and arriving in thigh-high boots and designer duds as the winner to The Bellbird Valley Farm neighborhood Inn.

She becomes seemingly disappointed that the advertised Inn has a deteriorating exterior, overgrown weeds, useless appliances, and a meddling goat that prances throughout the place. Trying to adjust to her new life, the Cali-girl is quickly introduced to a Kiwi heartthrob, contractor, and volunteer firefighter Jake Taylor (Adam Demos).

Eager to sell the property Diaz immediately teams with Taylor to renovate the space but once it is fixed and flipped,  she finds herself hesitant to leave the Inn she has taken pride in, her newfound beau, and the inviting community that stood by her side.

The Roger Kumble directed film is set to premiere on Netflix (Aug. 29) also staring the likes of Anna Jullienne, Claire Chitham, Blair Strang, Jonathan Martin, William Walker, Daniel Watterson, and Simone Walker.

The film continues their push in romcoms. Some notable Netflix gems in love include Someone Great (Gina Rogriguez, LaKeith Stanfield), To All The Boys I've Loved Before (Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish) and the hilarious Always Be My Maybe with Ali Wong, Randall Park and Keanu Reeves.

Watch the full trailer below.

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Selena Mural To Be Placed In Late Singer's Texas Neighborhood

A new mural of Selena was unveiled in the late singer’s neighborhood of Molina in Corpus Christi, Texas, The Corpus Christi Caller Times reports. The artwork was made by New York-based artist San Singueza and covers an original mural painted by students of nearby West Oso High School in 1995.

The revamped mural features three different images of the late singer, each painted in watercolors with the phrase, “The goal isn’t to live forever … the goal is to create something that will,” alongside Selena’s signature. This project was reportedly financed by the singer's family.

 

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A new Selena #mural was unveiled in #corpuschristi Read about it and watch it go up by clicking the link in our bio. 📷 @rachel.clow / @callertimes : #selenaquintanilla #selena #selenas

A post shared by Corpus Christi Caller-Times (@callertimes) on Jul 30, 2019 at 1:19pm PDT

The old painting, which featured a picture of the singer with the phrase, “Always In Our Hearts,” began to show signs of discoloration. Residents of the area pointed out that the 23-year-old portrait needed a makeover.

“Having to see it wear down after all the years,” said Eric Lee Tunchez, a resident who lives around the corner where Selena grew up. “It saddened me and made me want to do something about it.”

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