GENTEFIED’s Annie Gonzalez; Empowerment During Powerless Times.
Updated: Jun 18
We encourage you to listen to the audio commentary below before reading the article.
You may have fallen in love with Annie Gonzalez to the tune of Weak by SWV as she starred as Lidia Solis on Netflix’s Gentefied. But, when you hear her speak passionately about her journey to self-actualization, you’ll also want to be her best friend.
After the release of the Boyle-heights set series, Gentefied, hit the streaming world; the cast was deep into their press tour. For Annie, the time she’d been longing for since she was only nine years old, had finally arrived. She was cast in a recurring role on a major streamer, her face was on billboards all across the nation, and the show was receiving rave reviews.
“I felt like I was flying high,” she said. “Everyone on this show did such an amazing job that it was inevitable for us to do more. Right? And then we got hit by this.” I’m sure you know what she means by “this.” Just a month after the release of Gentefied, the world went into a standstill. A pandemic had looked at our plans and laughed at them, leaving us all with a sense of despair.
“It’s like I was running full speed and then I got slapped into a fucking concrete wall.”
The timing of the pandemic felt almost purposeful, in all the wrong ways. “It’s easy for us to take it personally: Why is it happening to me? My life was going so great, I’ve been working at this, whatever I was working at, whether its clarity or the industry.”
In our chat with Annie, we walked through how she has used the shelter-in-place time to search for a deeper sense of self, recenter her intentions as an artist, and find purpose in building a community of wellness. All the while, confessing how the uncertainty of our current time has affected her.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO FREAK OUT
Those who follow Annie online might see her as someone who has mastered how to keep her cool or is deeply in tune with herself, but no one was prepared for such an unprecedented event. “The first two weeks I completely had a breakdown. But I wasn't in denial of it, I knew I was going through it, and I very much verbally acknowledged it to every single person around.”
“I allowed myself to throw a fit. I threw myself on the floor and started shaking, like convulsing, like a two-year-old.” What happened next illuminated her. “My roommate looked at me and instead of shaming me, she nodded her head and said ‘okay,’ then started throwing herself on the floor too.”
“[My roommate] didn't get uncomfortable. Her surrendering to where I was at, kind of reminded me that if I have nothing, I have her.” she said, “I’m so grateful.” - “That is how I define my riches, that is how I define my success.”
BEING OKAY, WITH NOT BEING OKAY
Annie has made it clear that she is not interested in false positivity. This is why a text message asking her “how she is” rubs her the wrong way. “I will respond ‘I fucking hate that question,’ because I don't know how to respond to that anymore,” she says. “Do you want the truth, or are you asking that to be nice?”
“I don’t believe in trying to mask your feelings, ever. I think it's really important to talk about them, especially the uncomfortable ones. Because those are the ones that need to be talked about the most.”
Annie sees her community as an essential part of her path to wellness, a vehicle to keep growing even when the world stands still.
Linda Yvette Chávez, the co-creator of Gentefied, told Annie: “Art is not a luxury, it’s a necessity during these times.” That beautiful sentiment ignited Annie. “It made me think about all the artists that have created such beautiful work to help other people, to help understand their own expression. And sometimes via seeing someone expressing themselves, you say, that’s how I feel!”
Annie has always had the heart of an activist and an urge for public speaking, but as she describes herself, she’s an empath, which often causes her to feel paralyzed by the world. She felt powerless. “What the fuck do I do? I’m an actress and even that feeling… I don’t have any ownership of what I do.”
But her newfound exposure also gave her influence. “I’ve realized I'm a product, so if I'm a product, I'm gonna control what I'm selling. I'm not gonna let the media control it. I'm gonna be in charge of my narrative," she tells us. “That's why I've honed in on giving a good message.”
The message came from an issue she was deeply connected to, “I’ve been passionate about it for a while; mental health advocacy in brown and black communities. And I thought, it's hard to do things when the people talking to you about your own mental health do not look anything like you.”
That is why she started Meaningful Mornings, a daily live-stream on Annie’s Instagram where she shares her very emotionally intimate morning routine, and chooses her intention for the day before the day chooses it for her.
“I by no means say that I have any of the answers. However, I just have some tools that have worked for me.”
LOOKING BACK, TO MOVE FORWARD
Those tools took a journey to learn. She was forced to grow up faster than she was supposed to. “I had a lot of deaths at a young age. That, I think, made me question what the meaning and purpose of life was. Because the people that passed on were angels on this earth.” This, and what she called a reckless “callejera phase,” where she ended up with a DUI at 19, shook her into turning her life around.
“I started working more, I started to lose all the weight, I slimmed down, I listened to what everyone told me as to how to be happy. Right?.” Others told her: “You gotta get fit, you gotta find someone to love, you gotta get a new car, you gotta be successful in your industry,” and she ticked every box; fulfilled everyone’s expectations. “I did all of these things, and I was still so unhappy. I was the most depressed I've ever been, and I couldn't understand it.”
Luckily, her Tia was around to remind Annie that she had a history of depression reaching back to her childhood. She had struggled with anxiety and depressive-episodes at a young age. But now it was different, she could do something about it, ask for help, and seek a therapist. After reaching out to more than 18 different therapists, she finally found the right one. And from there, she began to learn the mechanism behind her behavior, her thoughts, and how to vocalize them, and then process them.
The idea of seeking help might feel too far-fetched, you may have convinced yourself into feeling undeserving of such self-love, or at times, you use external gratification to drown out your internal turmoil. For that, Annie Gonzalez left us with this gem: “Give yourself permission to start the journey of understanding yourself.”
And for those still in the fringes of wellness, those who roll their eyes at the term “self-love,” Annie urges you to ask yourself this: “Why are you so afraid to look inward? There’s fear in the ‘no’ of self-discovery. We all know it’s not easy, it’s painful. But, I’d rather have that really big pain of getting the splinter out of my foot than to constantly be walking with a limp.”
TAKEAWAYS AND SUGGESTIONS FROM ANNIE GONZALEZ
When lost: Remind yourself of your affirmations.
When self-deprecating: Ask yourself, “Why am I being mean to myself?” and always be intentional in the way to talk to yourself about yourself.
Get yourself a journal, and write down your daily intentions (or anything, “even the F-word 8 times!”)
Don’t text anyone asking how they are doing, if you don’t want the truth.
Read “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” (and join her book club.)
You can catch Annie Gonzalez on Netflix’s Gentefied, which has just been renewed for a second season.
Meet The Family
Francisco Cabrera is a Venezuelan-American trying to make his immigrant parents proud. He focuses on "slice of life" character-driven stories with radical explorations of vulnerability and empathy. Recently, Francisco graduated from FSU's College of Motion Picture with a BFA in writing and directing. This past year, his latest film YUNIOR premiered at HBO’s New York Latino Film Festival and later Outfest.
A few years back, he was awarded a Student Emmy by the National Academy of Television & Sciences for his short REVOLVING CHILD which screened at the TIFF Vanguard Honors. There he received positive reviews and was named "The New Promise of Latino Cinema." by People Magazine.
Learn more about Fran here: https://www.franciscocabrera.com/