Growing up with a latin mother meant being exposed to tv that was quite unique when it came to plots, twists and hysterics. Which in reality made it incredibly hard to ignore when it was on, so sitting with my mum and watching telenovelas became the norm. Not only did the shows leave me in total shock, but I was mesmerised by the incredible beauty some of the protagonists radiated. In Latin America the standard for beauty is like no other place, it was always far from achievable, and this didn’t just apply to women but to men too. The fact that the casts for these shows were always so unbelievably chiselled and pleasing to the eye, is probably why the plot lines and stories could be absolutely insane.
Detailing every show would be impossible because there are 100s and they all tend to be 4,000 minutes long. So I will be sharing with you the three shows that tugged at my heart-strings for some bizarre reason.
Rubí, was released in 2004 and was streamed on Televisa and Univision up until 2005. The novela has since been named the top telenovela of all time. The Mexican novela had an incredibly well-known cast and, as you can tell, an intensely beautiful cast. Rubí, portrayed by Bárbara Mori, is a young woman who comes from a humble family, where she is raised by her widowed mother and older sister. Through gaining a scholarship, she is able to attend a prestigious university in Mexico City to study architecture.
Rubí Perez develops an intense obsession with money, and throughout the show does anything in her power to climb up the green ladder. She uses her beauty to manipulate men and friends, including running away with her best friend’s (Maribel de la Fuente de Cárdenas portrayed by Jacqueline Bracamontes) fiancé on their wedding day. Although her obsession with power and money blinds her to morality, she still manages to fall in love. But she only realises that she is truly in love once she is married to Héctor Ferrer Garza (portrayed by Sebastián Rulli). However, she stays in her marriage because the man she has fallen for (Alejandro Cárdenas Ruíz portrayed by Eduardo Santamarina), does not come from wealth and isn’t on a quick path to the wealth that she “needs”. Her marriage over time grows more and more toxic and abusive, and all her choices eventually lead to a horrific ending.
The series concludes when she loses everything, her obsession with money robs her of a good life with the man she truly loves. Alejandro, thoughout the show suffers from loss and emotional breakdowns because of his love for Rubí. However, as her actions become more aggressive he realises that his love was not reciprocated in the right way, but she has only grown obsessed with him. When he does finally settle down, it is with Maribel, which drives Rubí towards her breaking point.
Many telenovelas pile their plot onto one underlying issue, which in the case of Rubí is: “el dinero le robo su corazon..”. This line can be found as a lyric in the opening theme— “La descarada” performed by Reyli Barba. It is quite unique in certain respects, as the show mainly follows the villain. Over time you find yourself empathising for the clearly toxic lead, but what is refreshing is knowing that every consequence she faces is merited. Sort of like watching Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader, you feel an attachment to a clear villain but also realise that they weren’t always as dark, and actually faced issues that led to a detrimental change in character.
Through the twists and turns, you find yourself watching several beautiful story lines that play out through the novela on multiple occasions. Even characters that don’t play a major role can keep you from straying away, the one thing you can always count on is the “little old lady”. A character that is nothing but pure and goodhearted, a role played by a sweet and loveable face. Rubí, was the novela that got me into the world of Latin-American television, and if anyone watches it, they will be hooked. Whether it’s because of the episode where Rubí commits murder or the beauty of the cast, you will keep up with the antics.
Sortilegio, was originally released in June of 2009 on Televisa, the novela consisted of 90 episodes that averaged out at 45 minutes per episode. The novela was produced by Carla Estrada, a well known producer in the industry at the time. Like Rubí, the cast is made up of extremely popular actors across South America and North America, including Jacqueline Bracamontes who played the role of María José Samaniego and William Levy as Alejandro Lombardo. The novela received prestigious awards such as; Best Leading Actress, Best Antagonist Actor and Best Direction at the Premios TVyNovela Awards which celebrate the best Mexican Television productions over the year.
María José Samaniego, is a young woman who is forced to grow up at a rapid rate due to the responsibilities she has to her family. She comes from a working-class family, where she and her younger sister were raised by their single father. Through the hardship she faces, she falls in love with who she believes is Alejandro Lombardo but is actually his older half-brother Bruno Albéniz. The story grows more and more complicated, including murder attempts, long-lost family, memory loss and quite frankly an annoying and evil half-brother. The long list of events that happen during this programme probably explains why viewers commitment to all 4,050 minutes of the novela. Sortilegio is definitely a good watch for those who have a short attention span, due to all the turning points in the storyline.
William Levy, is a topic on its own because it is clear that the beauty this Cuban-American actor is nothing short of incredible. Being a show produced by a woman, you can understand how she was able to create a character that is admired through the female gaze. Alejandro Lombardo is a brave, caring and loyal character, who evolves into a loving father and husband. His role as heartthrob shines bright as he stands next to his half-brother, Bruno Albéniz, who is a sadistic, selfish, manipulative and abusive character. A particular aspect of these programmes focus on the role of both man and woman, and anyone watching should be warned that themes including rape, sexual assault and physical abuse towards women are scattered across different episodes. Watching these early 2000s novelas, can remind you about how much society has evolved in regards to women’s rights. Although dramatised, the issues listed above were part of the daily lives of women all over the world, but especially in Latin America where machismo thrived and still does to a certain extent.
Like many novelas, the drama leads to what most would consider a ‘happily ever after’, where the girl gets the guy. Except they are married with kids, and the brother who tried to kill them all is finally dealt with, as well as other menacing characters. Sortilegio, was the novela that personally made me realise that the casts of these programmes were always going to be stunning. It really does the trick when it comes to setting Latin American beauty standards, which although over time has been revealed to be toxic is still mesmerising.
Last but certainly not least is, Dame Chocolate, aired on Telemundo from March until October in 2007. The novela consists of elements from several television programmed and movies such as: Ugly Betty, The Beverly Hillbillies, No Holds Barred and the Tammy films. The novela was also sold as a 4 disc DVD set, that was distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment and Xenon Pictures. The telenovela was produced and developed by Perla Farías and directed by Emilia Lamonte. Unlike the other two telenovelas, the majority of this show is set in Miami, U.S.A and is also a show that has lines in English, because of the setting.
The novela’s protagonist is a shy, awkward and loving young woman called Rosita Amado, portrayed by Génesis Rodríguez. She grows up in rural Mexico with her extended family, in the village of Xochilcacahuatel. Her and her family worship Ek Chuah, an ancient mayan god of war, and patron of cacao. When her grandfather passes away, the business and chocolate kingdom is handed over to her and Bruce Remington (Carlos Ponce), who is the man who worked at the company in Miami alongside the grandfather. Rosita falls for Bruce, but comes to the conclusion that her appearance will lead her to nothing but misery in the US.
Once she changes her appearance, through being put onto a beauty transformation tv show, she has a change in character. She they attempts to use her beauty and knowledge of the works behind the business, to get her grandfathers company back. She starts her own chocolate shop, with her own original recipe and eventually works her way up the corporate ladder. She hides her true identity until she deems necessary, the up and downs with her family and the business lead her to many emotional breakdowns. But she eventually finds true happiness and reunites with her first and one-true love.
Dame Chocolate, is a novela that has a more unique storyline but still has the basics of a true and classic novela: a hero, a villain, a love-story and the use of beauty. Novelas really do focus on the “It’s was sexism can do for you” plot when it comes to female leads. At least anyone can watch it and think they can relate on certain aspects. The underlying story about chocolate is honestly hilarious, but it is gold when it comes to making the show something new. As always the show ends on a happy note, which is what you get used to as a regular watcher of these programmes.
Written by Karla Louise Hallett