Netflix’s ‘Celia’ mixes swinging salsa, heartfelt drama

It’s the 1950s in Havana, Cuba, and young Celia Cruz (Jeimy Osorio) sings and dances while hiding from her father (Moises Angulo) a man whose only wish is for his daughter to become a teacher. Celia wishes to accomplish her father’s dreams, but her true desire is to become a singer and dancer.

Released in 2015, “Celia,” one of my favorite shows on Netflix, tells the story of a young, black cuban woman who doesn’t want to be oppressed by her father and a music industry where white latino men dominate. Though this is true to a lower degree now, the show is able to captivate the life of a young, vibrant afro-hispanic who succeeds in the music industry. With the help of her mother, aunt, cousin and her best friend Lola, this soon-to-be legendary singer reaches her dream when she lands a contract as the lead singer for Cuba’s most applauded orchestra, La Sonora Matancera.

Landing this position is no simple task for Celia, though. During her audition, the directors and band members believe that she doesn’t have “tumbao,” or the ability to dance with confidence. This episode also hints that this is where one of her hit songs, and one of my favorite hits, known as “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” could have originated from.

Despite already proving herself as truly talented with her unique and strong voice, some of the characters don’t believe Celia belongs in the industry. Her father, for instance, who has an impenetrable belief that the lifestyle of a female singer is nothing but sex and liquor, hates the idea of his daughter following that path.

This reaction from her father creates a great deal of emotional conflict for Celia. She loves her father but can’t pass up the opportunity of a lifetime. When Celia chooses singing over pursuing her father’s wishes he decides to leave the family and brands Celia as the woman who brought disgrace to his name. Really immature from her father if you ask me, but with a sad heart, Celia writes to him with hope that one day he will change his mind and they can be reunited.

Soon after the band spreads the rhythm and art of salsa on their Mexican tour, a few members decide to move to the U.S. when they find out Fidel Castro has taken over Cuba. Celia and Pedro Knight, a notorious womanizer and main trumpeter of the band whom Celia would later marry, follow their bandmates to the land of hopes and dreams.

Celia’s decisions to stay away from Cuba leaves Fidel in discontent. As a way to get back at Celia, he prohibits her re-entry into Cuba causing Celia to be absent at her mother’s funeral. After a small hiatus Celia continues to pursue her dreams in New Jersey, where she encounters several obstacles that revolve around misogyny, racism and the hatred from her very own sister.

Starring Jeirmarie Osorio as Celia, the show touches on many Afro-Hispanic issues and shines  light on the troubles women faced in the music industry during Celia Cruz’s career. Even though it’s set in the past, I believe that many things can be learned from this underrated show, especially in the year we are about to enter where there is a division in our country.

With love, tears and Celia’s signature note “Azúcar!” this Spanish speaking, eighty-episode drama will have you dancing, crying, screaming and dying of laughter as you look into the life of  a three-time Grammy and four-time Latin Grammy winner’s life through comedy, romance and Glee-type performances.