HBO has acquired “Generation Por Qué?,” a comedic Cuban American short inspired by and starring writer and producer Jacqueline “Jackie” Pereda. The coming-of-age story follows Jackie Pérez, a first-generation woman pursuing her acting dreams in New York City while enduring her very Cuban (and conservative) New Jersey-based parents. She can chase her dreams along with her other first-gen friends, but she cannot outrun her upbringing.
“We are thrilled that HBO is giving us the platform to share ‘Generation Por Qué?’ with the world,” Pereda said in a statement. There are so many stories about late twenty-somethings trying to find their place in the world, but largely leave out the first-generation narrative — especially comedies — where the parental intrusion is among our biggest hurdles.”
Written and directed by Pereda, “Generation Por Qué?” was a 2020 official selection at SeriesFest and The Women in Comedy Festival. At SeriesFest, Pereda was awarded best actress in a comedy and the Caz Matthews Fund — a fund supporting filmmakers who are committed to diversity and the dispelling of stereotypes in storytelling. The short-form web series was also a semi-finalist for the 2017 Sundance New Voices Lab. The film is executive produced by Dana Zolli (‘Younger,” “On the Rocks”) and Pereda.
The web series-turned-short film breaks boundaries not only with its subversive comedy and its plot, but also because the majority of the cast and crew are children of immigrants themselves. They were delighted to be on a set where most of the people were fluent in what it means to grow up “first-gen.” The cast includes performances by Pereda (“TruTV,” “A Perfect Murder,”), Andréa Burns (“In the Heights,” “On Your Feet,” “Westside Story,”) Sandor Juan (“Burn Notice,” “Blacklist,”) Amel Khalil (“The Enemy Within,” “FBI,”) and Melvin Lima (“Blacklist,” “Bull”).
“When you’re the child of immigrants, not only do you have to find your way, but you are the “grand explainer” of things. To your parents, you are explaining American culture and to your non-first-gen friends why it’s normal to wear a giant “eye” necklace to ward off evil spirits. Independence is not something easily given to us by our parents, and it’s ripe for laughs,” Pereda added.
In advance of the HBO Latino and HBO Max debut of “Generation Por Qué?,” Pereda spoke with Variety about adapting her first-gen, Cuban American experience for the small screen and what that means to her as a Latina creator.
What was it like to adapt the short from a web series? Would you ever consider adapting it further for a TV series?
I’ve always conceptualized this in my mind as a TV series, and I would absolutely love this to be a full series. In the web series, at first, it was just tiny little shorts between Jackie and her parents and Jackie and her roommates. Adapting it into a pilot was a completely different beast— just learning the story structure and getting the biggest bang for my comedy chops and heightening the quality of the jokes. I had to write way more jokes and I really had to strip it down to the fact that comedy is all about timing. So, really just mining my life and the lives of my friends to make it the best comedy and the sharpest comedy that it could be. It took so many drafts.
How different is Jackie (Pérez) in the short from you, Jackie (Pereda)? How many events in the short’s narrative were based on real-world situations, and how many were fiction?
For sure, she’s inspired by me. I’m obsessed with Selena and NSYNC, straight-up. And a Cuban flag is always in my room. I also teach Zumba, and I love that. But aside from all of that, I think the biggest similarity is how I have always had a longing to be understood, especially when I was younger, by my parents. I always struggled to tell them the truth of what I wanted from my life and I definitely used that for the series. And, you know, getting heartbroken, but of course who doesn’t when they’re dating in New York City and have no idea what they’re doing. But, yeah, she’s definitely a character that I’ll watch and say, ‘oh my goodness, she’s a hot mess, poor thing,’ but at the same time I’m definitely the Zumba-loving, Selena-loving girl. That’s definitely from my life and of course, my family, being from Cuba. A lot of it though was definitely hyped up and created to mine my life for comedic gold and to make Jackie (Pérez) as silly and dramatic as possible.
How did your family and your friends react when they first saw the web series and then the short?
They loved it! They were all laughing and, of course, they know me and laughed at the fact that Jackie (Pérez) is obsessed with Selena. A fun fact about Jackie is that I never wanted that to be the original character’s name, I had always wanted it to be Isabel. One of my friends read the original script, and they were like ‘Why is the main character named Isabel? Jackie is so much funnier because your dad calls you Yackie.’ So, that’s how Jackie came to have my name.
Why are HBO Latino and HBO Max the best good platforms to showcase “Generation Por Qué?” on?
I love HBO’s content. I mean, ‘Sex in the City’ was a huge inspiration for me. I think they have some of the most groundbreaking content that really toes the line and goes there, so I thought it was perfect. When they reached out to me, I was ecstatic. And, then you know they’re also doing this huge push for HBO Max Pa’lante, to showcase Latino voices there. They’re just really excited to have shows and shorts and movies that highlight the voices of children of immigrants and of the voices of Latinos in this country from an American perspective. They have the most subversive and edgy comedy and art on the screen, and they are always pushing buttons in their content, so I thought that it was the perfect place for ‘Generation Por Qué?’
How do you hope that “Generation Por Qué?” squashes stereotypes of Cuban Americans, first-gen kids and children of immigrants in general?
I’ll never forget that NBC wrote a whole profile on what first-gen kids are like and what our biggest fears are. The number one thing we feared was our identity, and how much we grappled with being American and then also how our parents are from a different country. And, I think the short is going to show that we’re just like you. We have the same issues with our parents — they may speak a different language, and they may be politically different from us, but we’re trying to make it just like you and chase our dreams. We have the same issues that you go through and not everything has to be pain and suffering. Our lives are funny, we have trouble dating, we have difficulty navigating New York City just like a lot of people do. I also want to show just how funny and dynamic and eccentric Cuban families are and I’m excited for people to see how life is like through or lens, and how much we love and value American culture as well.