Roswell, NM / Roswell – Metz & Burns Discuss The Cultural Change

Melinda Metz and Laura Burns wrote the “Roswell High” books and they joined the writers of the TV show for the third season. With their book being adapted to screen again, they thought it was time to discuss the cultural change with the first time their books were turned into a TV show.

You can find the thread for sharing, RTing and replying here on Twitter. In a post Lena added to Crashdown last year, you can read more about why Liz wasn’t Latina in the first TV show.

Metz & Burns:

Hey, so it’s 2018 and there’s a new #Roswell show coming out based on our books. We’ve been mulling it over and thought it was time to discuss the cultural change b/w the first time our books were turned into a TV show, way back in the 20th century, and now. Buckle up!

When we were developing our YA book series, #RoswellHigh, we knew it was set in New Mexico, which meant we knew the characters were living in a place with a diverse population, one that included a large number of Latinos.

Naturally, we made some of our characters Latino to reflect that. (The aliens were, obviously, from outer space.) Our main human girl was fierce and smart and driven . . . and Latina. Her family owned the #Crashdown diner. Her name was Liz Ortecho.

Being Latina was only one aspect of Liz’s character, & frankly we paid more attention to the fact that she had an older sister who’d died and to her love for this hot-but-shy alien guy, Max. We didn’t do a perfect job with our diversity! But we considered the fact of diversity.

(Side note: back in the late ’90s, the thinking in YA publishing wasn’t what it is now. We’d never heard of sensitivity readers. As far as we know, that concept didn’t exist yet. Not to say we’re OLD, but . . . it was a long time ago.)

The TV rights to #Roswell sold fast, based on the 1st draft of the 1st book of the series. Not-so-well-known fact about Hollywood: They don’t involve book authors in TV development. Not unless the author is famous & powerful. So the rights sold & we just kept working on Book 2.

We mention that because we want it to be clear that we weren’t involved in the show yet, and wouldn’t be for a couple years. So we have no idea who made what decision or how any of this happened…but when #Roswell became a show, Liz Ortecho became Liz Parker. No longer Latina.

We noticed it right away, of course. We mentioned it a few times to various higher-up editors and people involved in the TV deal. There was a lot of shrugging as if to say “that’s just the way it is!” Did it seem like a malicious change? No. It seemed par for the course.

Turning a Latina character into a white one? That WAS par for the course. To us, it was disappointing but also unsurprising. Seems shocking now, but then–less than 20 yrs ago–it was just normal. Why do it? We didn’t know . . .

Maybe it was a casting decision? (For the record, @ShiriAppleby was an amazing Liz and none of this is about her.) Maybe the studio execs thought “Ortecho” was hard to pronounce? Maybe the network had a focus group that said WOC weren’t welcome. Who knows? We don’t know. BUT…

…the point is that a whole system existed wherein a Latina character (who in the books called her grandma Abuelita) could be stripped of her ethnicity and nobody stopped it from happening. This system simply didn’t care–or didn’t notice–that it was a problem.

Our Liz (Ortecho) wasn’t a recent immigrant. Her family was American, and also Latino. Her papa was a Deadhead. Her mama baked ridiculous alien-themed cakes for tourists. Their heritage wasn’t an issue, it just WAS. It didn’t need to be changed. Maybe it didn’t seem important?

Whatever confluence of people and/or events changed Liz Ortecho into Liz Parker, her Latina heritage just wasn’t important. Again, we’re not blaming anyone, we’re just pointing out a system that erased a Latina girl without a second thought. We were a piece of that system.

And that system is responsible for what people see reflected in their entertainment. How many young Latinas didn’t see themselves in #Roswell because Liz’s ethnicity was erased? And how many others in the system did what we did–noticed, commented, and took a shrug for an answer?

It’s a system so entrenched that most of us in it didn’t even recognize that it was there. It has a lot of different pieces–Witness the Hollywood shakeup lately with the #metoo and #timesup movements. In book publishing, there’s #WeNeedDiverseBooks. The system is being noticed.

And noticing it–talking about it–is the first step. If we can shake Hollywood out of its entrenched system of sexism, surely we can do the same for other areas where unfairness has always been par for the course. This isn’t a thread about negativity, by the way . . .

We don’t think anyone involved in the late, great #Roswell had bad intentions. This is a thread about progress, because @cadlymack’s new show, #RoswellNM, is about a new iteration of Liz. And her last name is Ortecho again . . .

. . . and she is once again Latina. So while we think it’s important to call out what happened, too recently, the first time our books were adapted, it’s more important to point out what’s happening now: Things are changing. The thinking is changing. The system is changing.

In short, things have gotten better, and it’s good to notice that during these sometimes dark days. So everybody support the change! Thank @TheCW–and tell them you want more diversity. Watch @CWRoswellNM this fall! Follow @RoswellNMRoom and tell them you love them!

(And also, you know, read books, people. Books are good.) #books Fin.