With more than 30 telenovelas under his belt, Epigmenio Ibarra has become a master of the genre.
But this former war correspondent-turned-telenovela producer is actually pretty disappointed with most of the soap operas that are featured on Mexican TV, and in Latino networks like Telemundo and Univision.
“The typical story is one where there is a protagonist couple, whose love is complicated by a villain,” Ibarra told Fusion at an interview in his acting school, La Casa Azul. “It’s very rare to find an empowered woman in a novela, who has goals that are different than settling down with the macho man in the film.”
Despite the repetitiveness that he perceives in most telenovelas, and their perpetuation of machismo, Ibarra still believes positive things can be done with this genre. His goal is to make novelas that challenge gender stereotypes and portray male characters that differ from the handsome, dominant, wealthy and somewhat narcissist macho man that is generally featured.
“Macho men have as their starting point the belief that we are not equal, that a man is worth more than a woman,” Ibarra said. “Whenever you see one of our stories, you will see men that have a more horizontal relationship with women.”
The upside to novelas, according to Ibarra, is that they are still watched by millions of lower-middle class and poor Latin Americans, who have very limited access to Internet shows like House of Cards or cable channels like HBO.
Ibarra argues that the telenovela, a mainstay of Latin American television, is actually an important form of “emotional education” in places like Mexico, where the average person reads few books, does not attend the theater and is bombarded with Hollywood films.
“We follow a dictum of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which is to engage them on their terms, to then come out with what we want [to teach],” Ibarra said. “We do telenovelas so we can reach millions of people.”