Interview: ‘The Most Beautiful Flower’ Producer Jaime Dávila on Authentic Latinx Representation
The Most Beautiful Flower is a poignant coming-of-age dramedy that hit Netflix on December 7, 2022. This gem of a series is steeped in authenticity as it is based on the real-life teenage experiences of Mexican actress and comedian Michelle “Mich” Rodríguez. The Most Beautiful Flower doesn’t just seek to provide Latinx representation, but to give a voice to those who may be overlooked, even within their own community. Hollywood newcomer Esmeralda Soto shines as Mich in the heartfelt series, which lovingly tackles what it is like to grow up in Xochimilco, Mexico, and to radiate confidence despite not fitting the mold of either popularity or tradition.
The series especially struck a chord with Campanario Entertainment co-founder Jaime Dávila, who came aboard The Most Beautiful Flower as the series’ executive producer. Like Rodríguez, Dávila experienced the beauty of Xochimilco as a child, riding in the canals and visiting the Island of the Dead Dolls, both of which are glimpsed in the series. He also shares a story with Mich, as he balances honoring his Mexican roots with forging his own path in the United States. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dávila to discuss the significance of The Most Beautiful Flower, and he explained how the series is bursting with authentic representation, unique perspectives, and the beauty of Mexico. Additionally, The Most Beautiful Flower truly examines Mexico through a nuanced lens as it delves into the wide diversity in race and family culture within its own borders.
Rachel Ulatowski (TMS): The Most Beautiful Flower is loosely based on the teenage years of comedian and actress Michelle “Mich” Rodríguez. How did you first learn Rodríguez’s story and what inspired you and your crew to adapt it into a coming-of-age dramedy?
Jaime Dávila: So, Netflix sort of came to us and said, “Is there something more we could be doing together and in Mexico in the coming-of-age space?” And I brought thatto Diana Mejia-Jones on my team, and she immediately thought of Mich and started doing more research. She immediately thought of Mich, I think, for a few reasons. One was, here was this amazing Mexican comedian who was killing it and was doing so well. But we noticed—part of her act is about this—that she doesn’t look like the stereotypical Mexican woman you see on TV all the time. We absolutely love that about her, and her confidence and her ability to sort of say, “Yeah, maybe this is what I look like, but I love myself, and this is who I am, and it’s great.” For us, we just immediately loved that. We loved that viewpoint, that perspective. It felt like a very fresh perspective. It felt like something very different. And for us, we just imagined, well, what was your life like then, in high school? Were you always like this? So, we talked to Mich about developing a show inspired by her own life—of what’s it like to be a confident woman in Mexico who doesn’t look like what you see on TV. It was just amazing that she said yes. We worked with Fernanda Eguiarte, our showrunner. They really worked together to create these amazing characters in this amazing world. But it was really tapping into Mich’s unique perspective and POV that made us sort of say, there’s a great show here.
TMS: The Most Beautiful Flower is set in Xochimilco, Mexico, and references many unique aspects of the city from trajinera boats to the Island of the Dead Dolls. Why did you choose Xochimilco for your setting and how do you feel the city represents Mexican culture?
Dávila: It was actually twofold. One, Mich is from Xochimilco, so it sort of kept it authentic there. But when she mentioned Xochimilco, I just immediately jumped off my chair and was like, yes, we have to do it there. I spent a lot of my summers growing up in Xochimilco, Mexico, where my aunt and uncle lived, and my cousins, and just always fell in love with what a magical place it was. I’ve ridden in those canals. I’ve fallen into those canals, which I don’t recommend to people. I’ve been to the Island of the Dead Dolls and just loved it. And so Mich sort of said, “That’s where I’m from, and it’d be fun to set a show in this part of Mexico City.” It’s known in Mexico City that a lot of tourists know about Xochimilco, but it’s not heavily populated. People are still discovering it. Even people who live in Mexico City discover Xochimilco. So, I think for us, it just sort of felt like this amazing ability to tap into something that people know in Mexico City, but maybe they don’t know it that well, and it really allowed us to tap into this amazing, colorful, vibrant, community.
TMS: In the series, Mich (Esmeralda Soto) refers to some of her classmates as “Whitexicans.” What does the term “Whitexicans” mean in Mexican culture and how does it reflect class and race issues in Mexico?
Dávila: Whitexicans is a new term. For me, growing up, Whitexicans did not exist, but a lot of young, cool people in Mexico use the term Whitexicans to mean lighter-skinned people. I would say it’s something that Mexico has always dealt with—colorism—but really underneath the shadows. We really don’t talk about it as much. It’s something that was in private conversations within the family, and, I think for us, what we really wanted to do was give people the chance to have a show that is open and honest about these conversations that are happening.
So, Whitexicans is a new term that allows us to talk about race and class in Mexico and how it’s different. But Mexico historically has been dealing with it for centuries, from colonial times, from when they categorized mestizos or whites or Indians, or Indios. It has been a very big part of our history, but there really haven’t been a lot of shows that have talked about it and really embraced that it is complicated. And I think the best thing about the show is that you often see it within your own family. Your own family can have lighter-skinned and darker-skinned people. Your own family can have curvy people or skinny people. Your own family can have so much diversity. I think that’s really what we wanted to showcase with this show: Mexico is full of diversity. Mexico is dealing with a lot of these global issues, but they’re dealing with them in their own very specific way because oftentimes in Mexico, you are related to these very people. I’m very proud of the show for giving the writers the chance to imbue their own experiences into the show, and for the actors imbuing their own experiences into the show. So, I think it’s just really powerful that we get to make something that allows these young people in Mexico to have these conversations and talk about it in a more frank way.
TMS: Campanario Entertainment has worked for several years to bring Latinx representation to the film industry. The studio now boasts two prominent Netflix series—Selena: The Series and The Most Beautiful Flower. How do these relationships with streaming services aid Campanario’s mission of increasing representation?
Dávila: Oh, I really can’t do it without amazing partners like Netflix. I have to give Netflix so much credit because they are really walking the walk when it comes to Latina, Latinx, and Latino representation. When you come to them and say, “For The Most Beautiful Flower, our showrunner is really passionate about making it an all-female writers’ room,” something really unique in Mexico, and Netflix said yes. When you go to Netflix and you say I really want to shoot with some unknown actors, like Esmeralda Soto, who shines in this project. This is her first major character role, her first leading role. And that’s scary, when you go to your buyer and say, “Hey, can we do this?” But Netflix has been the most amazing partner and said, “If she’s the best person for the role, let’s do it.” You really need incredible partners that allow you to be creative, allow you to execute, and allow you to do what it takes to make this. Netflix has been an incredible partner, and we’re very lucky that we have other great partners in Amazon and VIX and our American partners at ABC, at FX—we work with so many great buyers. But without that relationship, without those amazing connections we’ve been able to build after years and years, it would be meaningless. Netflix has been such a great partner on this.
TMS: The Most Beautiful Flower contained some surprisingly touching depictions of fatherhood, including a father willing to learn about feminism and art to support his daughter, and a stepfather who sees his stepdaughter as his daughter. How do these depictions of fatherhood represent family culture in Mexico?
Dávila: Thank you for calling that out because that’s what we’re really proud of about the show, which is highlighting the ways that fathers are in Mexico. I think Mexico, like every other country, has such a great diversity of fatherhood, but I think it’s often depicted as very conservative men who don’t want to learn about their kids if they don’t want to work in a factory. Or step-parents who have complicated relationships with their kids because they don’t get along or whatever. We really want to showcase that there are amazing Mexican men out there who are very supportive of their daughters. At the same time, we understand why their daughters would be scared of that. Mexican culture does deal with machismo. It does deal with a lot of these issues. What we love about this show is that—with any issue with machismo, with colorism—we really want to add nuance to the discussion. So, yes, machismo exists, but this also exists. I think that’s the beauty of diversity; that’s the beauty of Mexico, where all things exist. Everything is both and one. I think there’s something really cool about that. Family and culture in Mexico are changing. Women are getting more rights, men are realizing that they have to sort of acquiesce a little bit, which is right. And I’m really proud that the show is depicting that transformation and that transition.
TMS: In The Most Beautiful Flower, Mich realizes she wants to forge her own path as Alice in Xochiland and pay homage to her heritage by participating in The Most Beautiful Flower competition. How does one preserve their culture while also following their own path in life?
That’s a good question. I feel like that’s the perennial question for everyone like me, who sort of is Mexican and American. How do you do that? I think that’s the beauty of the show, which is obviously a very specific journey of a girl in Xochimilco trying to forge her own path. But in seeing her trying to choose between something more modern or something more traditional, I see my own journey as someone who’s trying to preserve my Mexican heritage and my Mexican roots. But at the same time, I live in the United States. How do you do both? I consider being a Mexican American a superpower. I don’t consider it to be an either/or, I am both, and I’m really proud of that and the balance of preserving that culture and creating a new life. That’s Mich’s journey, but that’s also my journey, and I would argue that’s a lot of people’s journeys. What’s so great about this show is that this journey that Mich is going through, about traditional Xochimilco or modern plays, you can extrapolate that to any person. To answer the question, I don’t know how one does it.
It’s sort of my life that I’m living. I think you do it by just being proud of who you are. And that’s another thing that I think I look at Mich and say, “She inspires me.” The best thing about this show is that it’s trying to answer that question, and it’s messy to answer that question and it’s complicated. But even if you’re not a girl from Xochimilco, you’re probably still going through something like that, dealing with tradition and modernity, and what your parents want you to do and what you want to do. There’s something very relatable to that. I see my own story in her story in that regard.
TMS: The Most Beautiful Flower ended on quite a cliffhanger. Are there any plans for the future of the series that you can tell us about?
Dávila: Well, look, I’m very hopeful that we get to do more and live more in this show. There’s no news yet, but I’m very excited about the future of the show and where we can go, and the answer to that cliffhanger—to see what happens with Brenda and Mich. We’ve got to find out, right? I’m hopeful that we get that chance.
(featured image: Zach Lyons, Netflix)
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