By Josue Andavert
For two years we have been developing the idea of Soapbox Mexico, with the intention of showing just how influential TV can be in shaping our lives and how we communicate. This is especially true in the (fast) developing world. And where better to start than in the birthplace of world-conquering melodramas or telenovelas?
From the beginning we wanted Soapbox to be an entertaining and educational insight into what Mexico was really like. Of all the hit shows in the country, one stuck out.
What Women Don’t Say is made largely by women seeking to raise awareness about women’s rights and other social issues through melodrama. TV Azteca, a commercial television station, kindly opened its doors to us and allowed us unprecedented access to the production of their hit telenovela, What Women Don’t Say.
Our aim was to make our series authentic and entertaining – and to do it the hard way, in a pure observational style. That meant our production team in Mexico City had to match the pace of the Mexicans’ frenetic productions. We filmed everything – from the research and development process to the making of the episodes, and everything else in between.
We all quickly fell in love with our characters.
Alicia Carvajal, a veteran of telenovelas and dedicated campaigner for women’s rights, is at the centre of the series. We followed her as she faced the mammoth challenge of leading the relaunch of What Women Don’t Say. Around her were writers, actresses, producers and directors whose job it was to take real stories and present them on screen. Their main objective is to focus on taboo issues in Mexico – including disability rights, the sexual abuse of women, AIDS, mental health or mafia violence – and turn them into emotionally charged, glamour-edged programmes that keep up the ratings.
The most extraordinary thing about our filming was being able to see into the lives of the real people who have inspired the stories of What Women Don’t Say and then watch their experiences transform into episodes watched by millions.
Vicky was a victim of sexual abuse, who managed to free herself from her ordeal thanks to the telenovela. Eugenia and Zacarias, an indigenous couple, helped with the filming of an episode which tackled the issue of superstition in rural communities. And Horacio and some other actors were influenced by their own experiences of mafia violence.
Through our experiences making the series we learnt just how important melodramas were in shaping the reality of Mexico.
From the ruling classes (the current president is married to telenovela star) to the poorest communities, the shows are an integral part of Mexico. Many of the characters featured in Soapbox Mexico see themselves as having an important role in helping Mexican women better their lives. In a country so marked by the romantic fantasies of more traditional soaps, What Women Don’t Say stands out as an alternative that turns women into the heroes of their own stories.
As Alicia says: “What is a happy ending? Cinderella ends up with her prince. But no, in our programme, they don’t choose the prince. Often they send the prince to jail”.