If television is a mirror, Hulu's new LGBTQ series, "Love, Victor," premiering Wednesday, aims to connect with anyone who lives and struggles in between identities.
"I don't feel that anyone is 100 percent straight or 100 percent wherever you lie on the scale," says actor Michael Cimino, who plays Victor Salazar, the title character. "I feel like sexuality is not necessarily fluid. It's more like a spectrum. And so finding out where you lie on that is important."
"Love, Victor" follows up on the 2018 movie "Love, Simon," which was the first gay teen romantic comedy made by a major Hollywood studio. But whereas the big-screen original focused on the coming-out story of Simon Spier — a white, upper-middle-class teen — Hulu's series puts the spotlight on Cimino's character, a working-class Latino from a religious family who sets out on his own coming-of-age path.
Both stories take place in the same Atlanta high school, but the movie and the series are separated by a few years. And Victor corresponds with Simon via text and email as he navigates through the downsides of love, sex and adolescence.
Cimino, who is of mixed Puerto Rican and Italian-German heritage, says growing up in between cultures gave him a deeper understanding of his character. That is also true for Ana Ortiz, who plays Victor's mom, Isabel.
"It can be difficult, because sometimes you're not enough for one culture. And you're not enough for the other culture," says Ortiz, who is of mixed Puerto Rican and Irish American descent. "I'm not white enough for my white friends. I'm not Puerto Rican enough for my Puerto Rican friends. So who am I? What's my place? And where do I belong?"
In 2015, the Pew Research Center calculated that 6.9 percent of the American population (over 22 million people) has multiracial roots. On the show, Victor struggles with competing identities as he explores his LGBTQ sexuality, being Latino and living up to his family's religious expectations — issues that may be familiar to multicultural and multiracial viewers who have wrestled with where they fit in.
Intersecting identities, beliefs
For Ortiz, the intersection of identities off screen allows "Love, Victor" and other TV shows to hold up a mirror to society's complicated layers. She says her onscreen character dramatizes the tensions of a mother whose conservative religious beliefs oppose the sexual reality of her son.
"The thing that I really had to sort of dig into and to deal with was the religiosity in her," Ortiz says of Isabel. "I was raised Catholic. I consider myself Catholic, but I am also a progressive. I constantly am battling between my Catholicism and my beliefs. It's a difficult fight within my own self."
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Off screen, viewers might still have fresh in their minds the news of Monday's Supreme Court decision protecting LGBTQ rights in the workplace. Two conservatives — Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts — surprised progressive advocates when they joined liberal colleagues in supporting the decision.
On screen, Ortiz hopes that by showing a conservative Latino family coming to terms with their loved one's LGBTQ identity, viewers can similarly see how attitudes toward gay, lesbian and trans people are changing in society.
Cimino, who believes sexuality and identity are part of a lifelong journey that calls on people to be true to themselves, wants to deliver positive messages about change and authenticity to viewers on and off screen.
"As of right now, I am straight," Cimino says. "I don't want to put myself in a box and put myself in a position where if I were to come out as bi or as gay 10 years from now, that I was defending an identity that was being true to myself."