Caution: The following contains mild spoilers for Vida and graphic depictions of sex.
The third episode of Starz's Vida opens with Emma (Mishel Prada), who until this point was simply the business-minded sister to her more free-spirited sister Lyn (Melissa Barrera), getting her toes licked. Emma's toe-licker casts a masculine profile in a white tank top, making it reasonable to assume Emma's being serviced by a man until, seconds later, the butch figure is bent over, breasts exposed and shaking as Emma rides her paramour in a hot, sweaty display of dominance. Emma then shoves her naked conquest onto the floor, peels off her own lace thong, and then mounts her paramour's face -- all as Jarina De Marco's baile-funk flavored rack "Tigre" blares, charging up the highly erotic scene even more. As it turns out, Emma's predilection for sex with persons without penises (Vida avoids labels like "gay," so this piece will too) is a surprise to Lyn and the audience, but jeez, that revelation couldn't have come in a sexier way.
Vida does a great job of bringing stories about queer Latinx women to the forefront, ending generations of silence about LGBTQ issues. It also does a great job of depicting lots (and lots!) of steamy, no-holds-barred sex, in scenes that do much more than simply titillate viewers.
Vida creator Tanya Saracho says her goal with Vida is to normalize brown queerness; with her show's sex scenes, she eschews modesty for in-your-face graphic hanky panky. This allows the queer Latinx story to be told on its own terms, but also heightens the feeling that Vida's characters are real people with real feelings and desires, and their sex -- whatever shape it takes -- is as valid and beautiful (and kinky) as anyone else's. "It's not glamorous glossy TV sex," Saracho tells TV Guide.
It may not be glamorous, but it's authentic, without apology or even explainers for its non-queer, non-Latinx audience. It's full of codes that speak to the people who know this experience. "Emma is a top femme," explains Saracho. "Before we see her having sex, you notice her nails cut short. You see how she has sex -- we never explain it."
Certainly, Vida having an all-Latinx writers' room keeps the series grounded in its reality, translating to sex that doesn't flinch or compromise. The second episode shows Lyn giving her boyfriend an enthusiastic rim job and then talking about (him receiving) anal sex. It's not queer sex, but it's certainly unconventional by the cis-gendered, heterosexual, man-on-top sex that's been the default on TV for forever; same for the aerial shot of Eddy (Ser Anzoategui) in the bathtub in the third episode, which puts Eddy's full nude body on display.
Anzoategui, who plays Eddy, identifies as non-binary and says Vida's presentation of brown queer bodies adds important representation onscreen, but beyond that it gifts the world a view of sex not told through a white male gaze. "It's awesome to see a non-binary person with big boobs just owning it," Anzoategui says. "It's told through a different lens... I really appreciate that -- people get tired of seeing the same bodies having sex."
By the fourth episode, Emma has a revelation about her sexual identity and her past that contextualizes her life experience -- and possibly helps unpack her attitudes toward sex and the roles she plays while engaging in intercourse. Though she's a beast in the bed (and the floor or in public or wherever else the mood strikes), Emma is never more vulnerable than when she's confronting her feelings about her sexuality in relation to her mom's hypocritical shaming of it; as a result, Emma becomes a little more sad, a little more endearing to viewers who naturally want to protect her. Vida's sex is always thrilling, but it's always in service of the story.
Once upon a time, minority creators like Saracho who were bringing stories about underserved audiences to the screen had to trade in respectability politics -- to make mainstream viewers feel that the people they were seeing were wholesome and good. Vida uses sex to do the opposite: show queer Latinx people who are thriving, breaking down, failing up and falling apart but always in control of their own lives and stories -- ideally while having raw, toe-curling sex. It's all part of the story and frankly, it's about time audiences see it.
"We shot the houses the way they look in East L.A.; you can open a door and see the same Last Supper clock you'd see in a house in the neighborhood," says Saracho. "Those are truths I wanted as code. The sex has to be the same."
Vida airs Sundays at 8:30/7:30c on Starz.