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Creating Without Shame: Care Providers Turn Real-Life Stories Into an HIV-Focused Telenovela

A Conversation With Sin Vergüenza Producers and Creators Natalie Sanchez and Hilda Sandoval

March 6, 2013

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Mathew Rodriguez: Did you sit down with the writer to write the script for the series, or did you give the writer your ideas? How does a process this huge get done?

Natalie Sanchez: It was a six-month process, and that's actually really quick for a non-profit organization to get something done in six months. [laughs] We worked with a professional scriptwriter and he did a draft based on the storylines and the characters that we came up with. We would do read-throughs of the script and go over the different lines and read them, and we'd be like, "Our clients would never say that. So let's change that." Then we would go through the script, editing. We probably did that about four to five times. I mean, I think we had about five drafts of the script. Once we had the script finalized, we worked with Kavich-Reynolds Productions to do the casting, and they did the scouting of the location. Everything after the script was done moved really quickly. A couple weeks later, we were already shooting and filming the four episodes.

Hilda Sandoval: Paco Farias was brought in by Kavich-Reynolds to be the director, and he met with Natalie and me, and loved the idea, loved the concept. He did a read-through himself and added the "Paco touch." Then we pushed on and identified the cast. That was a really neat process; and then right off the bat, the filming started.

Natalie Sanchez: When we first met with Paco, Hilda and I were like, "Tell us the truth, do you really like it? Do you like this script?" Because we loved it, and we're biased. [laughs] And he said, "Yeah," because there was so much more there than just that element of education about HIV. There were so many elements to the story that he really felt that it was a true telenovela.

Hilda Sandoval: There was such a realness to some of the experiences, some of the drama, some of the secrets; you're like, "OK, you can't make this up." And you really can't, because it's based on real life.

"There was this wonderful exchange between the reality and what normally happens on TV, and really getting viewers to see that when someone finds out that they're positive, it's a life-changing experience. We wanted to do it justice." -- Hilda Sandoval

There are some patterns, some very common themes that we've seen over the years here. Let's say, for example, after someone finding out that she's positive, that the family would be very happy and support the father at the end. They all go to the clinic together. We're like, "No, that would not happen!" [laughs] There was this wonderful exchange between the reality and what normally happens on TV, and really getting viewers to see that when someone finds out that they're positive, it's a life-changing experience. We wanted to do it justice. We didn't want to feel like we were wrapping it the story up with a bow at the end and it's perfect; because the reality is, when someone find out that they're positive, their life is changed. For the good, for the bad, whatever it is, it's changed. And we wanted to honor that.

We wanted to make sure that we told the story as it has been experienced, but also give the notion that it's not always the feeling of having to hide it. That it's important to talk about it, that it's important to address it and really start seeing that it's a problem and if we don't talk about it as a community, it will continue.

Mathew Rodriguez: Whose idea was it to offer the series in English and Spanish?

Natalie Sanchez: I think it was just all of us. We said that having subtitles at the bottom would not do the series justice. The clientele that we serve is highly Latino, and a lot of the patients speak Spanish, but we also have the second and third generation who don't speak any Spanish. We wanted to be able to reach a large Latino audience.

Hilda Sandoval: We also possibly wanted to have it in our waiting rooms. We wanted people to view it at any time they wanted, other organizations to use it as a prevention tool, to get the discussion of reducing risk behaviors going in the community. We said it had to be done in both languages to make sure that we target both audiences.

I definitely don't want to disregard the other communities we serve here. We serve the African-American community. And I think the themes that you see in this telenovela for the Latino community really hold true in the African-American community. Even though it has a Salazar name, you can put another name on it, and the themes would be honest for what you see in that community, as well.

Mathew Rodriguez: It is universal to a lot of communities of color. If you watch mainstream television, we usually only see white characters telling us "universal" stories. This series shows that you can have universal stories told by Latino characters. Anyone can definitely relate to the family dynamics and the keeping of family secrets, and all that nice stuff that families go through.

One of the things that Paco talked about was that there is such a rhythm and flow to some of the words in Spanish that is just lost in English.

"In the English version, we have that character actually saying the word 'SIDA,' because that leaves an impact in the viewers' mind, as opposed to 'I have AIDS.' But 'SIDA' is just like, wow. As a Latino, you feel that." -- Hilda Sandoval

Hilda Sandoval: Even when we were writing the script, we wondered, do we have the character who is identified as HIV positive say "SIDA" or "AIDS?" Do we have them stick to what is proper, or to what we know? In the English version, we have that character actually saying the word "SIDA," because that leaves an impact in the viewers' mind, as opposed to "I have AIDS." But "SIDA" is just like, wow. As a Latino, you feel that. We go into the explanation later of what is the difference between HIV and AIDS, and we throw in that education in that moment, but in a very subtle way. Definitely, there are still some terms that we just had to keep to the Spanish language.

Mathew Rodriguez: You both work at a nonprofit, and you both, for a few months at least, got to step into TV producer roles for a while. [laughs]

Natalie Sanchez: Yeah, it was hard to go back to our normal jobs, just let me tell you. [laughs]

Hilda Sandoval: We came back to paperwork, reports ... [laughs] As great as it was, we had to manage our departments in between. Usually, we were running into the clinic, Natalie was running into her office, and we'd say, "OK, we have to leave mid-day for the shooting or for the writing." We made it happen in six months and we don't know how!

It was a joy, for me. It was the chance of a lifetime. It was a very unique experience. The cast is immensely proud of the project that they've participated in. They feel very blessed and honored to be part of this project. They feel that it's a wonderful piece for connecting people and helping to reduce the transmission of HIV. Natalie and I have a warm and fuzzy relationship with the cast now. We're friends on Facebook, we talk on a regular basis.

Mathew Rodriguez: I'm sure you get this question all the time and you're going to get it from me, too, because I'm so addicted to the series: Are there any plans for Sin Vergüenza after it's done, if it's super successful? Would you do it again if people wanted to see more?

Hilda Sandoval: Our goal is that it gets picked up by a TV station and gets shown mainstream and reaches a larger audience outside of what we have control of, outside of our own reach. If it can get picked up, and shown as a special on a cable channel, or just a TV network, that would be our goal.

We have a storyline to carry us through at least five more episodes. We're hoping to get additional funding, to take the audience through what happens after the diagnosis. We're kind of leaving the story with someone getting their diagnosis, but the audience doesn't know what happens next, and the complex issues that come up after a diagnosis.

Mathew Rodriguez: Oh my God, I so want to know who gets diagnosed! [laughs]

Natalie Sanchez: Not even our friends and family get that information!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Mathew Rodriguez is the editorial project manager for and

Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.

Copyright © 2013 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
A Series Without Shame: Episodes and Interviews From HIV-Focused Telenovela Sin Vergüenza
13 Moments in Black Celebrity Activism
History's Biggest HIV-Positive Celebrities
More About HIV on Television

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