'Hightown's Monica Raymund Changes Queer Latinx Rep Behind the Camera

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'Hightown's Monica Raymund Changes Queer Latinx Rep Behind the Camera
'Hightown's Monica Raymund Changes Queer Latinx Rep Behind the Camera

When Hightown premiered on Starz in spring 2020, it offered a new take on the familiar grizzled law enforcement officer character and broke barriers for queer Latinx representation. Swirling around the LGBTQ+ mecca of Provincetown, creator Rebecca Cutter’s show centers Jackie Quiñones, a messy but lovable lesbian “fish cop” who spends days on a boat and nights in a bar tossing back shots, doing drugs, and hooking up with women. That is until she becomes involved in the case of a murdered woman whose body she stumbles across on a P-town beach. Nefarious characters, the opioid crisis, morally questionable officers, exotic dancers, rehab, and even Jackie’s ex entered the picture of the plot-twisting first season.

It’s uncommon to see a queer Latinx lead character in a mystery series. But not only does this neo-noir feature a lesbian lead—out actor Monica Raymund has the starring role. The show’s second season premieres October 17, and Raymund, who directed the third episode, is part of a wave of women creatives taking control in Hollywood.

“I’m very committed to this directing career. Not only do I want to continue directing, I want to continue directing and starring in my own material, whether as a guest or maybe as a producer in the future,” Raymund says. “I hope to be able to be in that chair so that I can be as fully integrated into the collaboration process as possible.”

The 35-year-old has worked steadily in TV since the late 2000s with major arcs on Lie to Me and The Good Wife before landing the plum role of paramedic Gabriela Dawson on Chicago Fire. Since participating in NBC’s Female Forward program (which offers women directors a path to helming scripted TV) a few years back, Raymund is comfortable behind the camera. She’s directed episodes of FBI, Law & Order: SVU, and its spin-off, Organized Crime. In her Hightown episodes, Raymund’s directorial prowess and authentic queer sexuality are on full display.

'Hightown's Monica Raymund Changes Queer Latinx Rep Behind the Camera
'Hightown's Monica Raymund Changes Queer Latinx Rep Behind the Camera

Well aware of academic-leaning conversations about female agency and gaze, Raymund is excited to unpack the directing process and what she brings to it as a queer Latinx woman. She even directed her own sex scene with a character played by Tonya Glanz.

“This is one of my favorite topics to talk about because I’m deeply committed to the mission of creating safety and agency on sets. The female perspective in sex scenes is so distinctive and absolutely clear,” she says. “You can see when a man directed and you can see when a woman directed. I think that the female perspective is different. And specific enough, so much so that we’re seeing a demand for women to direct sex scenes, to write sex scenes, [to] be the ones in charge of telling the story of an intimate scene.”

Hightown is about more than Jackie’s hookups, though. This season finds a sober, calmer Jackie vying for a gig with the Massachusetts State Police to uncover a dangerous drug ring in the wake of the first season’s shocker when her pal Junior was killed. The returning cast includes James Badge Dale as Det. Ray Abruzzo, Amaury Nolasco as the drug kingpin Frankie, and Riley Voelkel as Frankie’s beleaguered exotic dancer girlfriend, Renee. Oscar-nominated director of photography Rachel Morrison, who directed the pilot and set the show’s visual tone, also directed a few of the new episodes.

Hightown
Hightown

Despite her lengthy résumé, there was a time when Raymund couldn’t envision her future in the primarily straight, white, heteronormative landscape of the entertainment industry of even just 15 years ago. She had to learn to carve her own path.

“When I graduated school, I didn’t see a real future in TV and film at the time. It was like 2008. I think Ugly Betty was on. America was sort of this mainstream representation, and it didn’t seem like a medium that I could be in,” she says. “Once I started getting into the TV world, I was scared and very naive but also pleasantly surprised that I could thrive in it. But I had to discover who I was and how to become a grown-ass woman while I’m working on the job, right?”

Hightown
Hightown

Rebecca Cutter, Monica Raymund, James Badge Dale at the Hightown Season 2 premiere in Los Angeles Oct. 16. (Michael Kovac/Getty Images for STARZ)

“It came with a lot of experimenting, learning my boundaries, learning how to stand up for myself, learning how to find my voice as a woman,” she adds. “How do I hold conversations with creators in a way that’s respectful that also makes very clear my intention and my demands as talent?”

Raymund joins the growing ranks of women flexing agency in storytelling — and she’s already a light for many. “I was really humbled and thrilled to get positive feedback from fans who still…aren’t as lucky to have that kind of support and visibility in their own homes,” Raymund says. “It’s important to continue showing characters who are as diverse as Jackie is, to be an example of creating space for every kind of person.”

“I’m still very, very proud to be a queer woman playing a queer woman but the story not being focused on my queerness.”

This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 Film and TV issue, which is out on newsstands October 5, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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