The Dirty Girls Social Media Wars
January 14, 2011
Author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez angry at TV adaptation of her book
By Bel Hernandez
Holiday drama, titillating enough for a television series.
Right about the time Hollywood was closing down for the holidays, author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez was firing off a slew of Facebook posts and twittering about her dissatisfaction with the TV script adaptation of her award-winning book The Dirty Girls Social Club. The Dirty Girls Social Media Wars had begun.
Valdes-Rodriguez fired the first salvo December 23rd on her blog at producer Ann Lopez (George Lopez: Tall Dark and Chicano, Mr. Troop Mom), whose Encanto Productions optioned the book; Encanto development exec Lynnette Ramirez; and television writer Luisa Leschin (Everybody Hates Chris, George Lopez) for ruining her “brand”. Valdes-Rodriguez went as far as to compare Leschin to the White supremacist David Duke for her take on the Dirty Girls characters in her TV script adaptation. She claims the adaptation for the NBC series is “racist and sexist.” She made these allegations after having read a script she was given her by a “lowly no one” at her agency, CAA.
A succession of entries on Valdes Rodriguez’s blog claimed that Ann Lopez and Luisa Leschin “took a story about six college-educated, professional Latinas in Boston and turned it into a story about four Latina whores in San Francisco.” Further allegations claim Lopez had promised Valdes-Rodriguez that she would “run all major changes past me and [give her] final approval of each and every script.” Saying that in the end, “Ann failed to do any of the things she’d promised.”
Within a matter of hours the social media machine went into action, spreading Alisa’s allegations to sites like perez hilton.com, The Boston Globes boston.com, communitylivejournal.com, jezebel.com, with several Latino blogs making it their centerpiece issue.
However, with the exception of a few websites, the coverage was a little one-sided with headlines like: “How Hollywood is F—ing up The Dirty Girls Social Club,” “Author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez Alleges Racist TV Adaptation of Her Book,” “George Lopez’s ex-wife racist? She removes black characters from NBC project!” Valdes Rodriguez’s own blog headlines read “Every Latina A Slut And Other Hollywood Secrets Revealed” and “CAA quits representing Kindred (another of her books) because I spoke out against Ann Lopez” were enough to get readers to forget the merriment of the season and the “good will towards men” and for the most part join in on condemning Lopez, Ramirez and Leschin for their alleged transgressions.
Why this rush to judgment of three Latina women who have a proven track record of decades of dedication to seeing Latinos represented proudly and well on TV? It seems that in the viral world of social media, objectivity, if facts are not readily available; just seem to stand in the way of being the first to get the “news” out.
Granted with Lopez, Ramirez and Leschin wishing to stay above the fray in the midst of what they consider cyber bullying, they were not giving interviews. But where was at least a modicum of objectivity? Some bloggers just reprinted Valdes-Rodriguez’s allegations with an encouragement to fight on to the end.
In an effort to obtain some facts from the other side, we contacted Encanto to address Valdes-Rodriguez’s allegations and they were ready to comment, albeit on general terms. The production claims that Valdes-Rodriguez’ allegations about the changes are not true but that they are unable to go into detail because its NBC’s property and are not able to talk specifics.
However, Encanto did confirm that the script Valdes-Rodriguez got a hold off was a draft. The script has not yet been ordered to pilot and stated that Valdes-Rodriguez is fully aware of this fact. As to Valdes-Rodriguez’s allegation that Lopez had “promised” to give her final approval of the scripts, well that is a rarity in Hollywood. In this particular case, Encanto stated no deal was ever established and Valdes-Rodriguez willingly signed off to no creative consultation.
The names Ann Lopez, Lusia Leschin and upcoming producer Lynnette Ramirez are well known and respected in Hollywood. Lopez, having worked as a casting director, producer and ultimately executive producer (Mr. Troop Mom), has consistently fought for inclusion of more Latinos in her projects. Leschin has been writing roles for Latinos since the late 80s when she began transitioning from actor to writer, writing for the comedy troupe Latins Anonymous, which she co-founded. She has worked her way from playing gang girls, hookers, maids and pregnant women, to writing the roles for television that elevate the image of Latinos.
Both Lopez and Leschin have worked their way up the Hollywood ranks to the point where they are able to walk into a network and pitch a show like The Dirty Girls Social Club and get picked up for a pilot script. That is a tremendous accomplishment in Hollywood and not just for Latinos but for anyone no matter what color.
Likewise, Valdes-Rodriguez’s work is impressive. She has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. In 2005, Time dubbed Valdes-Rodriguez “The Godmother of Chica Lit” and named her one of the 25 most influential Hispanics in the United States. The Dirty Girls Social Club is a New York Times bestseller selling over 600,000 copies. Valdes-Rodriguez has also written six other novels.
So where did the communication fail? Why did Valdes-Rodriguez feel she had no other option but to go viral with her allegations? Why did she feel she needed to personally attack the three women who were working to bring her book to the small screen?
Some industry insiders consider what Valdes-Rodriguez has done to be professional suicide. On December 24, Christmas day, Valdes-Rodriguez was sent a cease and desist letter by NBC to refrain from posting anything more about the project. The following day Valdes-Rodriguez’s CAA book agent, Shari Smiley (who she met through an introduction by Lynnette Ramirez), had an assistant call to let her know they would no longer be representing her.
When asked on the Being Latino blog if she was worried about the Hollywood backlash, she replied: “If by ‘backlash’ you mean Hollywood never trying to make any of my books into films or TV shows again, the answer is a big, fat ‘Hell no!’ It is my dream at this point that the sociopaths and liars of mainstream Hollywood stay as far away from me as possible. I will never relinquish control of my hard-earned works to anyone again. If and when any of my material becomes a film or TV show, it will be the Tyler Perry route—by us, for us, no clueless, greedy middleman who thinks they know what they’re doing.”
One might suspect that Valdes-Rodriguez is just naïve about the business. However, she has had three other options for this property and should be familiar with the development process by now. The Dirty Girl Social Club was first optioned in 2003, before the book’s publication. Columbia Pictures along with Jennifer Lopez and Laura Ziskin optioned the film rights and were set to produce but the option expired without going into production. Lifetime Television network was developing the book as a television series, but the project did not go forward. Valdes-Rodriguez then partnered with Nely Galáns Cienfuegos Films company, for an independent film, with Valdes-Rodriguez, Galan and Debra Martin Chase as executive producers and Valdes-Rodriguez as creator and screenwriter, but that deal never came to pass either.
The Dirty Girls Social Club television series was on its way to possibly being a ground breaking series by being the first show produced, created, written by and starring Latinas. Ann Lopez optioned the book for a year, but will NBC, who is said to be happy with the script in its current stage, see this fracas as a liability or an asset? If anything, it has proven to them that enough people care about this book enough to follow the online drama, comment on it and e-mail NBC about it.
And just as quickly as this all began, Valdes-Rodriguez changed her tone, blogging on January 1, 2011 , “I have chosen to respect NBC’s wishes that I remove my posts about the issue for now.” She claims that her fight was never with NBC, though “I understand that legally it is the network who will for now represent the parties I have issue with.” Where she once encouraged her fans to call NBC and e-mail Lynnette Ramirez (giving out her e-mail address) she now asks her readers to “Please refrain from bashing NBC on this issue, on my behalf, for now. We don’t know what the future holds.”
Unlike print media, social media blogs can be easily erased, but it might linger in the minds of everyone who read it, and it especially does not erase the damage it has caused the entities and persons who feel maligned.
In the end, it’s not the fact that Valdes-Rodriquez stood up for her characters and is fighting for her “brand”, that’s admirable. It’s the way she went about it that gives one pause to think.
Valdes-Rodriguez commented on why she chose social media to make her statement about her dissatisfaction with Hollywood, “Social media equalizes the playing field in a way even money cannot. If this had happened 15 years ago, I would have had to call the New York Times and pray they cared enough to write about it. Thanks to social media, the world can know what’s going on instantly.”
Social media is most certainly instant, but in most cases not as objective as say the New York Times might have been. In a matter of 10 days the Dirty Girls Social Media wars were “instantly” waged by Alisa-Rodriguez and just as “instantly” came to an end. What the collateral damage is, is yet to be seen, but one thing is sure, you will read about it in the social media outlets — instantly.
Bel Hernandez is the publisher of Latin Heat (http://www.latinheat.com/) a digital and online magazine focused on the business of Latinos in entertainment.