On January 29th, 2019 Fernando Gaitan, the creator of the Colombian hit TV drama Ugly Betty, died in Colombia of a sudden massive heart attack. He was 58. When I read about it on the news I felt nostalgic.
Although I never met him, I do remember seeing him often at a popular bar in Bogota when I was in college. The producing channel RCN started the rerun of the soap opera last week and since then, I have been glued to the TV every weeknight at nine p.m.
Beatriz or Betty is one of those characters that makes the actor who plays them invisible and timeless. Today, two decades later, the TV ratings have positioned the rerun at the top of the Colombian charts.
Yet to be seen is what kind of audience it will attract. Is it going to be the same people who watched it twenty years ago, or will it attract the millennials who were children back then?
Regardless of all this, I am thrilled to be able to watch a Colombian production that doesn’t include prostitutes or drug dealers in the plot. It makes me proud to see the highlights of our folklore without violence and our humor without vulgarity.
Fernando Gaitan’s legacy focused on elevating the good image of Colombia through the country’s top industries, such as coffee and textiles, in a time when the country was seen as one of the most dangerous in the world.
Nevertheless, I believe that his most important work was the way he empowered women through his characters. His heroines were never victims waiting for the perfect catch to solve their problems. They were strong and brave women who never faltered in the face of adversity.
In the case of Ugly Betty, even though her clumsy walk, terrible hairdo, old fashioned outfits, and squealing voice made her aesthetically ugly, Gaitan gave her enormous power through her intelligence.
At the same time, he subtly criticized beautiful women who use their attributes to climb the ladder in corporate environments, serving as fuel for sexual harassment practices exposed by today’s #metoo movement.
Keeping in mind the strong machista-society in Colombia, Gaitan created a starring cast based on the goodness, strength, and dignity of the Colombian women. I can’t prove it, but I would risk saying that his own daughters inspired him to embellish his characters with the values that he wanted them to exhibit.
RCN’s decision to rerun Ugly Betty killed two birds with the same stone. First, a well deserved homage to the screenwriter, and second, ratings increase.
I can only hope that producers and creators in Colombia and around the world learn from this and realize that a big segment of the audience is tired of bullets and thongs on every scene. There is a saying in my country, “The ugly’s luck is the beauty’s desire.”
Thank you for reading and sharing.
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