May 24, 2008


I've written before (1, 2) about the differences in perception between Internet message board participants and the public at large. 

There are also important differences regarding the appreciation of the challenges associated with certain roles. Having been able to see the insides of telenovela production has allowed me to follow the creative process of writers and actors, and has given me a privileged and more complete view regarding the perception differences between the audience and the makers about a particular character. Through the years I've seen how the press and viewers measure "how big" is a character by the number of scenes or dialogue it has. Meanwhile, real actors measure the character using the performance challenge it represents, and the quantity and quality of nuances that the writing of this character enables. 

Recently in the TVVI message board there was a short discussion about the characters written by Leonardo Padrón.  The conversation was centered on two talented female actors: Nohely Artega and Caridad Canelón. Some message writers considered their two roles in telenovela Ciudad Bendita  small and without transcendence.  Other message board participants disagreed.

The discussion moved me to review again this telenovela's ratings, and my field notes and interviews while I was studying Ciudad Bendita. In my conversations with Nohely Arteaga and Caridad Canelón I found these actors to be very satisfied with the challenges that their respective characters,  Doble M and Peregrina, signified. They were also happy about the possibility of saying something about women who have lost their individual identity because of oppression that renders them as only spouses and mothers (Doble M),  and the everyday life of an Alzheimer patient (Peregrina). 

Those audience members who participated in my study appreciated Doble M, a character that spoke about "the experience of many Venezuelan women who lose their identity because of the expectations associated with traditional gender roles."  

Here is one of Doble M's first scenes with her husband Puro, where we see the emblem of their relationship: his obsession with her weight...with a twist--Puro likes chubby women:

(Important: if the youtube version seems to have video and audio out of sync, please click on the second version that requires Flash) 

Here, you can read (it's in Spanish) a fragment of another emblematic scene in which Doble M confronts her daughter's reaction when the latter learns that, unbeknownst to her father,  her mother is working outside her home. 

Ciudad Bendita enjoyed excellent ratings. The audience was particularly interested in Peregrina's storyline. When she, because of her Alzheimer's, gets lost for two days and is finally found by her son, Juan, the episode had a 47.8% share and an average rating of 14 pts. That night, Ciudad Bendita had 8.4 ratings points of difference with its nearest competitor. My study participants also were outspoken about how important they felt this plot was. They liked that Peregrina was "not just the protagonist's mother."

Here's a brief video summary of some of Peregrina's key moments:
  1. When she asks La Diabla to tatoo on her forearm the name of her loved ones, so that she doesn't forget them.
  2. When her son Juan finally finds her after two days. 
  3. The final resolution to her storyline, one that could not have a traditional happy end.

I believe that in both cases-- Doble M and Peregrina, it's easy to appreciate what can be accomplished when a good script meets performance talent and commitment. 

Telenovelas rarely achieve unanimous approval or appreciation. Hence, the question remains: How big is a telenovela character? Or, in other words, how do we measure the "size" of a character? 

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