EXCLUSIVE | 'The Baby-Sitters Club' star Xochitl Gomez says Californian girl Dawn in 2020 had to be non-White
Netflix's reboot of the cult classic 'The Baby-Sitters Club' was a hit when it aired early July with its modern take on the book series by author Ann M Martin. With strong characters that have influenced an entire generation in the '90s, the reboot has done a fabulous job catering to the young audience of this generation. When five young girls Kristy Thomas (Sophie Grace), Mary Anne Spier (Malia Baker), Claudia Kishi (Momona Tamada), Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph), and Dawn Schafer (Xochitl Gomez) come together to form 'The Baby-Sitters Club', they end up on a long road of understanding loyalty, family, independence, feminism, and relationships.
In an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), Gomez, who plays the role of Schafer, a Latina in Netflix's reboot, speaks on why it's important that representation of cultures be taken into consideration in the industry, and how she thinks the series will influence not only kids but adults also. The young actress explained that the role of the iconic character from the classics came to her through an agent but she had already read the book series and was "familiar" with Schafer's character. "I knew I would be a match for Dawn," said Gomez, "We have a lot in common actually. We eat healthily, we have a strong sense of empathy for others and we care about the same things."
Gomez, like many, is a fan of the book series that has been adapted three times on the small screen. The actress reveals that since the reboot was announced, she has read over 80 books in the series. "My favorite is the two-book saga in books #30, 'Mary Ann and the Great Romance ' and #31, 'Dawn’s Wicked Step-Sister'," revealed Gomez, "these two books cover a lot of stuff such as the marriage of Dawn’s mom and Mary Anne’s dad and plenty of friendship drama between the girls." The reboot does not at all take away from the original narrative. In fact, we think the addition of modernity, appreciated representation, and the open-mindedness of the series has not yet garnered the applause it should get.
Schafer, originally blonde-haired and blue-eyed, was replaced as a dark-haired Hispanic character in the reboot's forward narrative. The importance of diversity and representation has been a world-wide discussion these past few months, and so seeing the reboot trying to bring some change, is marvelous. When asked why Schafer cast as a Latina was important in this day and age, Gomez's answer was simply brilliant.
"The decision to make Dawn Latina is important for a lot of reasons. First of all, it's realistic. Two-thirds of California is non-White, so being White and blonde is not the typical California girl in 2020," said Gomez. "This fact shows why it's so important to leave behind old stereotypes and have TV characters that match the culture we live in today." The young actress, with an attitude we wish many had in this era, also spoke on race and media: "If girls of color do not see themselves in the stories that are popular in the media, we will continue to get the message that we don’t count. As a Latina character, Dawn and her family will be very relatable for 50 million Latinx streaming Netflix worldwide. I’m truly honored to be the actress bringing that representation to this modernized adaptation. It will hopefully become a pattern that other shows will copy," said Gomez.
The reboot wasted no time on semantics with each episode airing powerful doses of realities such as racism, divorce, LGBTQIA+, and feminism among many others. Calling these "heavy" topics have become the norm, but the characters in the series carry them so gracefully that young minds relate to them easily. Interestingly enough, while most think that 'The Baby-Sitters Club' caters to a younger audience, Gomez says, "I already see that the series is influencing both kids and adults. Fans write to me and tell me exactly that, so I know its true."
How could it affect adults, what part of the narrative brings to light themes that adults can relate to? Gomez explains: "I feel both kids and adults are relieved to watch a show that has so much kindness and hope. It's like we need to be reminded of how people should resolve their differences or have respect for others, and our show puts that example out there. The topics that are addressed aren’t new to kids, but maybe it’s the first time they’ve seen a family show write them in, and that’s what is so important. By talking about these things (racism, gender identity, inequality, divorce, etc.) and bringing them into TV conversations, it opens a path for discussions and acceptance of others to happen in real life. I think it's great and that we will see the benefits in the future."
While there is so much to take away from the series, we had earlier reported that the series does have intense hits on the importance of women's independence, rallying against sexism and the patriarchy. Gomez explains that the way the show explores women and their lives is something she hopes the audience could take away from the reboot. Gomez said, "I hope that people take away some of the basic ideas of the series: Women and girls’ stories are interesting and people want to see them. Friendship wins the day. Our power comes from joining together, not tearing each other down."
Gomez also revealed that she likes to do "scenes with different emotions" and also wants to improvize. "I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to do both of those things often," said Gomez explaining that she not only had emotional scenes with co-stars Malia and Sophie Grace, but her scenes with Marc Evan Jackson (Mr. Spier) and Jessica Eason (Dawn’s mom) were "cool". "Both of them are professional comedians and improv experts and so that was a real highlight for me," said of the stars. The actress also revealed that the episodes on camp were "the biggest challenge" for her.
"The script had a different tone so I had to think a lot about how to translate “chill” Dawn from the earlier episodes into “activist” Dawn for the last two, without it feeling like it was two separate characters," said the confident Gomez. "I had to find Dawn’s leadership but not lose her tenderness. It was tricky. I rehearsed at home a lot to find the tone to bridge that change in the character. I tried to dial in a subtext that she was new at organizing and she was overdoing it sometimes and getting it wrong, and so you could forgive her for being a bit obnoxious because her heart was in the right place," continued Gomez giving us a lovely insight into how she prepared for the role of a character from an influential book series.
To say that Gomez killed the role of Schafer is an understatement, and we can't wait to see more of the young actress. So what's next for this beauty? "I have a short film streaming on HBO right now called 'The Letter'. I filmed it a couple of years ago and it went to a bunch of film festivals and won a lot of awards," said Gomez. "It is based on a true story of an 11-year-old girl trying to understand the circumstances behind her father’s disappearance. It's both funny and emotional, so it's right up my alley!" said Gomez
'The Baby-Sitters Club' is available to stream on Netflix.