Gay Characters Go Mainstream on Argentine Primetime TV

"Farsantes"

A love story between two men and a transvestite day-time host fight for the top of the ratings in Latin America’s most gay-friendly TV slate.

BUENOS AIRES – A pink-colored full spread in Sunday’s edition of Argentina’s most conservative newspaper, La Nacion, promoted a turning point in last Monday’s episode of El Trece’s Farsantes, the country's second most popular primetime drama. The ad showed Guillermo, a semi-closeted middle-aged lawyer played by Julio Chavez, and Pedro, his young associate at the firm (Chilean star Benjamin Vicuña), about to have their first kiss after months of a sexual tension that had created a huge stir among viewers of Pol-ka’s drama.

Farsantes opened last June with a rating of 20.6 and a 50.2 percent share, according to Ibope, and is the first drama to feature a relationship between two men as its main love story. Last Monday, the momentum built through the weekend on social networks and newspaper ads paid off, and Farsantes' ratings of 16.3 came in a close second behind Argentina’s long-time TV diva Susana Gimenez, which marked 17.8. The show kept a solid second place in this week's general ratings.

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Earlier that  Monday, day-time magazine show La Pelu started that day's episode with 5.7 points ruling the noon ratings and kept the first place of its time-slate all throughout the week. A magazine show driven by the charisma and bravado of its host Florencia de la V, La Pelu (Hair Salon) is the first show to be hosted by a transvestite person.

Although certainly these shows and characters are not the first to feature gay men and women in Argentine television, their prominent roles and successes illustrate a new status quo in local drama, with gay characters and stars now being part of mainstream TV.

“We certainly didn’t invent the wheel, but this is the first time a gay couple is the main one on a daily primetime soap, the most popular format”,  Farsantes writer Carolina Aguirre tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s a risk Pol-ka and its head Adrian Suar took for the first time: to take the issue out of weekly fiction and put it into people’s homes every night. And I guess this is also the first time the story is treated as a common love story, without the impact or novelty that it’s between two men."

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As they fight for the top, shows like Farsantes and La Pelu stand as proof of one of the more diverse and open TV programming slates in the region. They also reflect changing moods evidenced by recent gay-rights legislation such as the Egalitarian Marriage Law and the Gender Identity Act, which were passed in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

Aguirre, nevertheless, says that Farsantes' tone is more related to the authors' own artistic search rather than a social demand. “We’re not anyone’s flag or symbol,” she says. “This couple doesn’t represent the gay community, they’re not a figure. These are two lawyers who fall in love while working in a firm, just like it could happen to anyone. Nevertheless, it is true that television picks up a certain vibe of the moment. I think this brings originality, a natural feel, and a current spirit to a show –the fact that it reflects what’s in the air, on the streets, what people talks about in bars. But it was something organic, not a premeditated search," she adds.

Florencia de la V's involvement with the gay-rights movement has been far more public, as the actress stood behind the struggle for the Gender Identity Act by fighting in court to modify her government-issued ID and change her legal name to Florencia Trinidad in order to get married to her boyfriend Pablo. She was the first transvestite to obtain a new gender identity without the courts considering her situation a pathology. The current star host of Argentine day-time TV was given her new ID at the country's Government House. 

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