Gina Torres is creating change with her new show Pearson, a spin-off of USA's Suits.
If you loved Jessica Pearson on Suits, then good news — the fabulously fierce and witty attorney just got her own show. In the new spin-off Pearson, Gina Torres reprises her role as the assertive lawyer who makes men tremble, and this time around there’ll be a bigger focus on Jessica’s backstory. “When Pearson came along, I very much wanted to bring her Afro-Latinidad to the foreground,” Torres, who also serves as an executive producer, tells People CHICA. “When I started off as an actress, there was no such thing as — or place for — the Afro-Latina. You had to be one or the other, and your two choices were being identified as African American depending on how dark you were, or you were Latina depending on how light you were.”
Pearson, which airs Wednesdays on USA, follows Jessica to Chicago, where she takes a job as a fixer for the city’s highly shady mayor. Heavily influenced by contemporary political tensions (including the phrase “alternative facts”), Pearson sheds light on the nuances of Jessica’s identity and depicts the character in a way audiences didn’t get to see her on Suits. We see a more vulnerable Jessica, who at times struggles with morality and understands that changes at the top trickle down and affect her loved ones and community. Still, Torres is hopeful for Jessica’s future in the world of the show: “There’s an Afro-Latina in charge, and she’s going to make it better.”
Born in the Bronx to Cuban immigrants, the 50-year-old actress says she’s never once denied what her cultural makeup was, and understands that even though the term Afro-Latina is relatively new for some people, she has always been proud of her roots. ”I’ve always been Cubana,” she explains. “I was raised to believe I was Cuban American.” She’s also been infusing some of her own identity into the character of Jessica, using her platform to educate viewers on the Afro-Latino experience. For example, in the second episode, there’s a scene where one character meets Jessica for the first time and talks about her in Spanish, not realizing that Jessica is bilingual. “She has no idea that I’m fluent in Spanish,” explains Torres. “So she’s talking about me, not knowing that I heard and understood all of it.”
Torres is filled with pride to witness other actors represent their cultures while educating the masses. “It’s been wonderful to see all of these actors come out — to say ‘come out’ even sounds ridiculous because we weren’t hiding,” she says. “We’ve always been here, but now they named us, so I guess it’s OK to talk to us and let the world know that we have a voice. It’s a very specific voice and a beautiful voice, informed by a great many things.”