November 16, 2017

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“Yaqui Delgado” Goes Hollywood: Teens Give Their Two Cents on Screen Adaptation

Meg Medina. Photo by Petite Shards Productions

With the success of 13 Reasons Why, more YA books will be streaming from a platform near you. Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass (Candlewick, 2013) is being developed for Hulu with Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez and Eugenio Derbez (How to Be a Latin Lover) as executive prodicers. In June 2017, the executive team, including Medina; Emily Gipson, who heads up Rodriguez’s I Can and I Will Productions; and screenwriter Dailyn Rodriguez, whose credits include Queen of the South and Ugly Betty, met with a tough audience to suss out what the series should highlight: teenage girls.

The author and executives met with focus groups of students from the Cornelia Connelly Center, a Catholic school in Manhattan’s East Village, and at the Sunset Park branch of Brooklyn Public Library (BPL). The goal was to ask the teens for input and insights that might help the team make the pilot look and sound as authentic as possible.

A group of 25 seventh and eighth graders met at the Connelly Center, and they were open about “all the really big things they carry with them every day before they take out their textbooks,” Medina told School Library Journal via phone. “That’s what I want to see and capture—let’s draw these girls the beautiful way they really are,” the Pura Belpré Award winner added.

Library information supervisor and young adult librarian at BPL Jessica Ng was the point of contact for the public library event and helped recruit the participants. With only two weeks planning time and the teens’ disparate locations, Ng had to factor in multiple concerns when organizing the event. By the afternoon of June 1, a group of five young women from different areas of New York City were recruited via social media, flyers, and word of mouth and gathered at the BPL branch. The librarian was surprised at how easily the teens opened up about tough subjects. “The girls were very enthusiastic and ready to share their experiences with Meg and the production team. Initially, I was worried that they would be a little shy, but all of them were really eager to talk. They definitely didn’t hold back,” Ng told SLJ.

The focus group covered topics such as bullying, relationships, and issues with the school administration. The participants attend different high schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, some public and some private, and had experienced varying degrees of bullying. The teens expressed that more of the bullying happens online than in school. Rodriguez, the screenwriter, shared how this was an eye-opening experience for her. “I was bullied as a teen, but it feels like social media and the Internet has made bullying much worse, more vicious. You used to be able to escape your bully once you got home from school, but that’s not possible anymore. It’s 24/7,” she told SLJ via email.

The session educated the adults in the room in other areas of teen life. Ng said, “One of our livelier conversations involved the term ‘cuffing season’ because all the girls knew what it meant, but the production team and I had never heard of the term before.” Rodriguez loved hearing the new New York City slang and spending time with “cool girls who love to read and love storytelling. I saw my younger self in a lot of them.”

Ng reiterated how important representation is for the young women who attended. “Just like #WeNeedDiverseBooks, our teens also need to see themselves on screen, so I think this is a great step toward involving and showing them that they can be represented on-screen in a real and authentic way,” the librarian said. That was one of Rodriguez’s takeaways as well. “It made me more determined to make a show that will speak to them and reflect their experiences.”

Medina, though initially wary of the whole adaptation process, is excited by the creative team behind this project. “For the most part, this show is being conceived, written, and led by a group of Latina women. And, as the cherry on top, writer Rodriguez is a former kid from the boroughs, too.” The screenwriter added that the mostly Latinx production team adds another important layer to the development of the adaptation. “There are cultural touchstones and specifics regarding New York City Latinx culture that I don’t need to overly explain; they just understand it. We have wonderful shorthand, and their respect for the characters and world is so wonderful.”

Rodriguez counted the focus groups as a success because “they mostly confirmed how the issues in the book are still relevant today—bullying, being raised by a single mother, living hand to mouth in the city, the trials and tribulations of puberty,” she said.

Medina has high hopes for the adaptation and believes it’s just the beginning of this kind of representation. “It’s hard to get stories about women’s lives and issues and that lens in Hollywood. I’m so hopeful that this project will grow teeth,” Medina shared.

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Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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