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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Groundbreaking 'Ugly Betty' will be missed

By Laura Wides-Munoz
Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

America Ferrera stars in "Ugly Betty," a dramedy that has tackled issues such as gay teens and body image.


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MIAMI — During its four-year run, ABC's "Ugly Betty" skewered the New York fashion world, nabbing celebrity cameos from the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Shakira and Isaac Mizrahi.

It turned America Ferrera, who played the plucky but style-challenged Betty Suarez, into a household name. And it landed a prestigious Peabody Award.

As the credits roll on the wacky dramedy's last episode tonight, Latino, gay rights groups and fans are lamenting more than the loss of Betty's cringe-inducing outfits and the melodrama of the Meade family — owners of the show's fictional fashion magazine Mode. The hourlong show was also among the rare network programs to tackle such controversial issues as gay teens, body image and illegal immigration.

The show contrasted Betty's career at Mode with her working-class, Mexican-immigrant family, including her widower father, Ignacio, her impulsive older sister, Hilda, and her theater-loving, fashion-expert nephew, Justin, who came out as gay in this last season.

"Having this family at the center of the show made it normal to watch a Latino family in a nonstereotypical way," Ferrera said.

Lisa Navarrete, a vice president for the National Council of La Raza, said the show's absence will leave a void. "You don't have a lot of Latino-themed shows on TV, so when we lose 'Ugly Betty,' we will have a major loss," she said.

The brainchild of producer Silvio Horta and actress and producer Salma Hayek, "Ugly Betty" was based on a Colombian telenovela that became so popular it was copied in Mexico, Germany and elsewhere.

The English version also proved a global hit. More than 10,000 Facebook fans from as far as England, the Philippines and Bangladesh have begged ABC not to cancel the show since it announced this season would be its last, following a decline in the show's ratings and an ever-changing schedule.

Shortly after the height of the immigration debate, the show followed Betty's father as he confessed to his American-born children that he had been living in the U.S. illegally.

Even with comedic turns, "the plot line illustrated the complexity of the lives of many undocumented immigrants who are otherwise integrated into American life," Navarrete said.

More groundbreaking was the show's handling of its gay and transgender characters, said Jarett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Although initially played for laughs, "Ugly Betty" provided a sympathetic portrait of Meade scion Alex who transforms into the stunning Alexis. And it followed the bumpy love life of Mode's gay fashion assistant Marc St. James.

But most of all, it showed how Betty's family accepted without fanfare Justin's love for musicals and the latest fashion trends, a tacit acceptance of his sexuality. Then, in this final season, Justin got his first kiss with a boy.