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‘Señorita 89’ Showrunner Lucia Puenzo: ‘Beauty is, Without Doubt, an Excuse to Talk About Other Things

Señorita 89
Credit: Amaury Barrera/Pantaya

Since teaming with “Spencer” director Pablo Larraín and his brother Juan de Dios at Chile’s Fabula, few Latin America writer-directors have shaken up the region’s TV scene as much as Argentina’s Lucía Puenzo.

That cuts various ways, in both artistic and industry terms. “La Jauría” Season 1 premiered at 2019’s Zurich Festival, first flagging the talents of Lucía and brother Nicolas Puenzo, its director/DP in a series which drilled down on multiple manifestations of sexual abuse.

The series also marked the first fruit of a first-look production-distribution alliance between Fabula and Fremantle.

Unveiled one year later, “Señorita 89” marks Fabula’s first production at its Mexico base and extends its co-production partners to include global streamer Starzplay and L.A.-based Spanish-language platform Pantaya.

Following powerful sales on “La Jauría,” to Amazon and HBO Max for the U.S., Fremantle announced last month that a third season of “La Jauria” and a second of “Señorita 89” were already in development. Due to bow on Pantaya in the U.S. from Feb. 27, “Señorita 89” received a teaser trailer last December and a full trailer in January.

These anticipate how the series will peel away the glamour and seeming paradise of La Encantada, where 32 contestants are groomed to compete for the 1989 Miss Mexico beauty pageant, to reveal its circles of hell. The full trailer also served to confirm the first season’s protagonists: Dolores, Miss Guerrero, with a perfect body and drug dependency; Jocelyn, Miss Chihuahua, who’s sister goes missing; Angeles, Miss Oaxaca, a single mom; Isabel, Miss Yucatan, educated and with big business ambitions; Concepción, La Encantada co-director; and Elena, La Encantada culture teacher.

Here, Puenzo speaks for the first time in detail about one of the most anticipated premium TV series from Latin America.

Episodes 1, 2 and 3 tell the stories of Elena, Miss Chihuahua and Miss Oaxaca. Why this structure?

It’s women who tell this story. A group of anonymous girls, four “Misses” who come from different corners of México with the dream of rising up from their hometowns to gain that very tiny place only reserved for a few. Girls who at first hardly look at each other, or if they do it’s with suspicion or envy… and who in those final months of training before the election of Miss México will be transformed into products for exhibition, negotiation and exchange in the worlds of media and politics. That will be their transformation: coming out of the place of victims. Stopping to look at each other with distrust. Understanding the power of collective action. They will begin to shake a world until then led by men.

And Elena?

The entrance into this world, as full of lights and glitz as of secrets, will be through the eyes of a young history graduate hired to join the staff as a cultural trainer. This is the first edition of the contest that includes in the Misses’ training in the subject of General Culture to raise the intellectual average of the girls, as evidence of a world that is already beginning to change.

Episode 1 ends with Elena and another girl running through the woods, trying to escape La Encantada. Only a decade ago, that event would probably have taken place chronologically, far into Season 1…

In La Encantada something much bigger is being cooked up than the annual beauty contest that fascinates the Mexican audience. Political pacts, economic alliances and million-dollar businesses are also brewed there. However, none of the contestants denounce the parallel life that is happening. Some because they believe that to attain the crown it is necessary to put the body in a different way from what they thought and they accept it, others out of fear.

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Lucia Puenzo Courtesy: Carol Holdsworth/Three.Sixty Marketing & Communications

As played by Ilse Salas, your portrait of Concepción is of a profoundly conflicted woman. The same goes, we sense, of Luisa, (played by Ariel winner Edwarda Gurrola), her right hand. These women are part of the system but also nuanced… 

They both have huge character arcs. Like many women they begin to open their eyes to just how complicit they’ve been in a patriarchal system. All the inhabitants of La Encantada are part of this factory of queens: doctors, nutritionists, trainers and, at the top, the guardian of the ideal of beauty in Mexico… Concepción. She is a deeply disturbing character, sweet and amoral who will push her “girls” to be part of this sinister network in which bodies are commodities of exchange. Because in that México of 1989, sexual harassment and exploitation was understood as the price to pay for the possibility of becoming a Miss.

Early in Episode 1, Elena delivers a lecture at a Mexico City university where she argues that beauty is a construct. To what extent will “Señorita 89” explore the economic and political drivers behind the pageants?

Beauty is without doubt an excuse to talk about other things. La Encantada seems to be the playground of power. This first season takes place in a confined universe: a heaven on earth that will slowly show its darkest face. There, the indoctrination is direct and brutal. Little by little, our protagonists will discover a dark underworld of abuse and mistreatment that becomes a complex and sinister modus operandi from which it is impossible to escape unscathed. Knowing they are part of a chain that reaches to the highest spheres, they are aware that they are in danger if they open their mouths.

The direction of scenes, if Episode 1 is anything to go by, frames a contradiction which drives to the dramatic heart of the show. Shots are highly composed, capturing the luxury of La Encantada; but insistent in-shot framing also hints at enclosure, a prison.

Nico [las Puenzo] will be so happy to hear that. Co-directing Episode 1, we worked hard at constructing a paradisiacal space which transforms into a prison in front of the viewer’s eyes, without ever stopping being a paradise. It seems like a contradiction, and it wasn’t easy to achieve.

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Señorita 89 Credit: Amaury Barrera/Pantaya