Mishel Prada on How Starz's 'Vida' Is Charting Inclusive New TV Territory

“These discussions can only happen when you have a writer’s room that’s all Latinx.”

For all the talk of increasing inclusivity on television, few shows walk the walk quite like Vida, the Starz series created by Tanya Saracho. With only six episodes in its first season, the engrossing drama about two estranged Mexican American sisters—Emma (played by Mishel Prada) and Lyn (played by Melissa Barrera)—received immediate acclaim for showing characters who don’t often appear on mainstream shows.

Emma, for example, is queer, Latinx, and struggling with the untimely death of her mother, who she never made peace with after coming out and getting rejected. (Only later do we learn that her mother came out as a lesbian in her golden years.) In its second season, premiering May 23, Vida will dive even deeper into the sisterly relationship at its core. “This season, we see Emma and Lyn come together and try to be a family,” says Prada. “And we really see Emma trying to face her demons.”

Vida Season 1 2018

Prada’s Emma (right) with her on-screen sister, Lyn (played by Melissa Barrera)

(Image credit: Erica Parise)

It’s a heady role for Prada, 29, a relative newcomer to Hollywood who had only a few commercials and a Web series on her resume. She grew up in Hialeah, one of Miami’s most culturally rich neighborhoods, with family roots in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. “In Miami, it feels like a melting pot. You have to learn Spanish to be able to truly survive in the business world,” she says. “I was surprised when I came to L.A.; it felt like everything was much more sprawled out. You have communities—specific neighborhoods that are deeply rooted in other cultures.”

That’s why she’s especially proud of how Vida has opened up L.A.’s Eastside, where the show is set, to a wider audience. The historically Mexican American neighborhood doesn’t often receive the Hollywood treatment, despite being only a few miles away. “It’s rare to see the Eastside represented in a way that’s loving,” says Prada. “On the show, it’s not ‘Oh, look at the gangs!’ Here are families trying to pay the rent, find love, and navigate whatever emotional stuff they may have going on.”

But it’s not just on the show: Vida has been lauded for its representation off-screen too. Roughly half the crew is female, many of color. And since she’s still so new to being on set, Prada didn’t realize that achieving behind-the-scenes gender parity was a feat until someone visiting the set told her. “I wish we could tilt the camera a little bit so you could just see how incredible the set itself looks, with all of these women,” she says. “This season, for example, all of the directors are Latina women, which is really cool.”

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I wish we could tilt the camera a little bit so you could just see how incredible the set itself looks, with all of these women,” says Prada.

(Image credit: Charley Gallay)

In fact, the show’s thoughtful exploration of Latinidad has helped Prada reflect on her own life. “I was rediscovering myself as well as the character,” she says. “I speak Spanish, and my sister doesn’t, and we’re raised with the same parents. Does that make her any less Latina than me?” She continues, “Cultural identity is such a powerful thing to just start showing, and these [discussions] can only happen when you have a writers’ room that’s all Latinx.”

Prada acknowledges that the debate over on-screen representation is far from over. “We are in the process of creating a movement and seeing small changes, because there are so many women who have come before us that have made sacrifices,” she says.

Still, she views Vida’s second season as an optimistic sign of things to come. “We’re taking that baton and moving a little bit further, so that the women who come after us will be able to take it even a little further than we did.”

The second season of Vida premieres May 23 on the Starz app and on-demand, and May 26 on TV.

A version of this story original appeared in the June 2019 print issue of Marie Claire.

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(Image credit: Starz)

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