Soapbox Mexico

Breaking taboos

Can soap operas help tackle stigma and discrimination related to HIV/AIDS in Mexico?

Soapbox Mexico goes behind the scenes of one of Mexico’s longest running and most popular telenovelas which promotes women’s rights and positive social change: What Women Don’t Say.

In Mexico’s commercial television station Azteca, women have ‘invaded’ TV. Alicia, the executive producer of, says that most of the production team are now women – except the directors.

Octavio, a highly articulate director, must use melodrama to teach viewers about a subject still wrapped in superstition and taboo.

He has to direct a particularly tragic episode about HIV/AIDS, telling the story of a man who infects his wife and unborn daughter with HIV. Years later, the wife, now dying of AIDS, tries to get her child a decent education.

At first all Octavio wants is to tell the story clearly, but writer Deborah is intensely committed to the soap’s social message.

She is a world away from the melodramatic lives she brings to the page, wandering through the city’s public spaces to look at faces and pick up snippets of dialogue. She visits an AIDS organisation and interviews two schoolboys who tell her how shame and discrimination prevent them from revealing their condition – even to their girlfriends.

On set, Octavio warms to the theme, and feels the tragedy of the scenes. Deborah crafts her story to reach a moment of drama on set when the dying mother fights for the right of her HIV-positive daughter to attend school. 

Both Deborah and Octavio are proud of the result and the helplines light up with callers, thanks to the soap’s message.