Yes, Roswell, New Mexico is about aliens. But like much science fiction, they're used as a metaphor throughout the show addressing current political events and hot-button issues like immigration.
Last November, we sat down with Executive Producer and showrunner Carina Adly MacKenzie on the set of the upcoming series based on the Roswell High books, to talk about how the show addresses these issues and why she thinks it's important.
"I want to challenge what we're used to seeing on TV, and specifically what we're used to seeing on The CW as far as politics goes," she explained. "Because I don't want this... it sounds ironic because this is an alien show, but I want this show to feel real. Like I want it to feel grounded in 2018, and sometimes real can get a little ugly."
Of course, diving into politics can be tricky. What's that they say about topics to avoid at dinner? Politics is one of them. But MacKenzie thinks including these discussions is really a way of showing the daily lives of these characters.
"At New York Comic-Con, we were asked the question of like, 'Are you nervous about having a show that's so political?' and I don't feel like it's so political," said MacKenzie. "I feel like it's as political as my daily life is, because I get affected by policies and I get affected, you know, we're not... we're living in a world where certain people feel disenfranchised, or certain people feel threatened, and I feel like those things come up in conversation all the time in our daily lives."
And Roswell, New Mexico doesn't shy away from the types of stories we see in the news. The very first scene of the show is Liz Ortecho getting stopped at an immigration checkpoint. This is but one example of how daily life situations some people go through are woven into the fabric of the show. Previously, MacKenzie worked on The Originals, a show on the same network which didn't address current political issues directly.
"It's actually interesting to me that I've managed to work on a show for five years that didn't ever bring up current politics," she noted. "Because I feel like it's so easy to fold into the narrative of the show because it's part of the DNA of who we are as Americans, I think, and I think it's part of our responsibility. You know, if people are involved in something, it's political."
Part of MacKenzie's inspiration for her take on this material was her own experience growing up.
"I was raised Muslim in Connecticut, and I look like this [white and blonde], and a lot of it was just sort of a metaphor for Islamophobia," explained MacKenzie. "The alien stuff is a metaphor for Islamophobia, and we cast our aliens as white because they look like the sort of Republican ideal. Like, they look safe, which is how I felt, so it's about passing as this safe thing. People talk about you like you're the enemy when you're sitting right there because they don't know who you really are, and so because of that, we've got three Muslim writers in our writer's room to sort of take everyone's experience and try to convert it to our sort of alien metaphor in the most sensitive way possible."
And because the show is science fiction, the genre provides a unique way to address these types of stories in that metaphorical way.
“It's a lot more palatable to write a show about sexy aliens experiencing discrimination and being frustrated that they're not being represented well in pop culture than it is to tell a story about, like, Muslims in Connecticut feeling like they're not represented in pop culture. I don't know that I would want to watch that show," said MacKenzie. "But I do think that we try to do both. We try to tell the story on the sci-fi metaphorical level, and then to also tell the story on a more real level. I mean, we have undocumented immigrants on our show that are feeling threatened the same way that we have aliens on our show that are feeling threatened. And I think that they're not that different, you know. That the way that you tell a story isn't that different."
MacKenzie also noted how the Roswell, New Mexico writers room works with Define American, an organization that works with storytellers who are telling stories about immigrants and their lived experiences.
"We send them our scripts and they'll call us and they'll say, 'You know, we did the research and this term generally isn't used in this part of the country. This term would be used.' So we consult a lot," she explained. "We have immigrants in the writer's room."
Don't be mistaken, there are aliens, but the story of Liz Ortecho is the focus of Roswell, New Mexico. The show is political in the way life as a Latin-American woman in America is today. MacKenzie referenced a recent guest column by Robbie Rogers in The Hollywood Reporter about politics in sports.
"You know, any time there's a human being involved in something, especially something that's such a big part of society, like sports or television, there's just an inherent connection to the decisions that are getting made across the country. And it was important to me to feel that in the show," said MacKenzie. "You know, our lead is a Latin-American woman, and she feels threatened every day. She feels like her existence is threatened, she feels like her work as a scientist is threatened. We're about to shoot an episode in which we talk a lot about the opposition to stem cell research, which had you asked me if I would be making a TV show about that, I'd be like, no, I write about vampires. But it matters to her. It's important, it affects her daily life, and so that's where the show lives."
Roswell, New Mexico premiered January 15 on The CW.