Meet the Creator of "Pinkslipped," a New Latina Fronted Web Series on YouTube
Jacqueline Priego, known as Jacky to those close to her, sits on a sofa in a well-lit corner at Soho House in downtown Chicago. It is a warm June morning and her first web series she’s ever written, Pinkslipped, is about to launch on YouTube in just a couple of months. As we greet each other, she tells me that she ordered a pressed juice but was confused that it came in a bottle. Not at all bothered, she happily continues to peruse the menu.
“The chocolate croissants here are so good, if you want to split one,” she offers.
Growing up in a family of four siblings on the south side of Chicago, Priego’s humility and grace are noticeable as she cuts the croissant in half to share.
“My family and I lived by Marquette Park until I went to high school. We’ve been in River North ever since I got back from college,” she says. “I remember summer times with eloteros and paleteros walking by, it was fun. We had a great sense of community in the south side. Leaving that area and seeing how segregated some other communities were was a real shock to me.”
Priego’s parents, both immigrants from Mexico, were hard workers and full of life; her father worked for the CTA and her mother was a full-time stay-at-home mom while also working in real estate.
“We spent a month in Acapulco every single year,” she says. “My parents made sure we traveled and had beautiful experiences. We didn’t have a lot of money — we were your middle-class Latino family on the south side of Chicago, but they made it work with four kids.”
However, the family moved when she was in eighth grade, and it was then that she first experienced discrimination head-on.
“At the time Chicago was changing; our neighborhood was no longer safe. My parents made the decision to send my brother and I to a Catholic school in Evergreen Park,” says Priego. “We were the first Latinos that had ever been to that school. My parents taught us about Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so to go to an [all-white] school at such a pivotal age was difficult.”
After about a year of studying aeronautical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, Priego realized she wanted to change career paths. With the support of her family and the help of her older sister and PR maven, Jessica, she was able to switch into the college of communications.
“They [the engineering program] put us in internships on an army base and I quickly realized it just wasn’t for me,” she says. “I’d probably end up in the military and I didn’t want that kind of life.”
Her parent’s words were vital in making her decision.
“The best advice they’ve ever given me is just be happy. No matter what, be happy. My parents wanted to instill in us that kind of notion [of] Fuck fear. Don’t let other people influence you. Just live your life and everything else will fall into place. It’s difficult, I won’t say that I’m always happy. But I have that little voice inside my head.”
Having no formal training in acting or filmmaking didn’t stop her from following her true passion. Priego recalls always wanting to be at the movies as a child and wanting to be a storyteller. It wasn’t until a horrid experience with a therapist that she unwittingly ended up writing early drafts of her web series, PinkSlipped.
Distraught, Priego went home and immediately began journaling.
“I started writing about all the things that had brought me to that low. It began as journal entries [and] it started to evolve into a story. It was all cathartic — I had no intentions of actually developing it into a show. But that was the pivotal moment that catapulted me into writing daily about not just my own experiences, but the experiences of my friends and colleagues in the workplace.”
Within the span of nearly four years, Priego wrote anytime inspiration hit her while working full time. As the story developed, she shared it with her sister Jessica, who passed it along to her actor friends in Los Angeles, and they all encouraged her to write it in script form. With templates of scripts to use as guides, Priego created the first season of PinkSlipped.
“It’s an authentic story about what it’s like to be a Latina currently in the workplace,” she says about the web series. “It’s a no-holds-barred story. It’s a love letter to all those women that are children of immigrants, seeing their mothers immigrate from other countries, and everything they sacrificed so that their daughters could fulfill their dreams. For most of us, that meant becoming a professional, and then [realizing], oh, wait, that dream’s imperfect. That dream might not be my dream. It’s a universal story for any marginalized community.”
The story of Pinkslipped centers around three best friends living in Chicago, all on the verge of losing their jobs at the same time. The character of Jacqueline works in a non-profit, while Elena works for a magazine publishing house, and Rosie has a corporate job in public relations. All three women know that things are changing in the workplace and that a nine-to-five job is about to be obsolete.
“We’re going through a technological revolution right now where, with your cell phone or computer, you can work from anywhere,” says Priego. “So, these young women understand the power of that and are creating a site, and they’re investing all their time into that after work hours. That’s where the conflict comes in because they’re struggling with keeping their jobs while trying to create this dream together as best friends.”
While Priego describes Pinkslipped as a dramedy and likens it to other female-driven casts and writing teams such as Broad City, GIRLS, and Insecure, she made sure that it is ultimately its own unique story, rich with respectful references to the Latino culture.
“There is a lot of surrealism and magical realism in the show,” she says. “The characters are transported to this other place in time and you get to see what’s really going on inside their minds — kind of Frida Kahlo-ish.”
Although Pinkslipped is not autobiographical, it is loosely based on a lot of different experiences that she believes most women of color experience in the workplace — specifically, the imposter syndrome.
“I think the show touches upon that for Latinas in particular,” she says. “We go into certain settings and we feel like we have to strip away our identity. So, we might dress a certain way, or speak another way that we would never speak to our friends or family. I think it’s all imposter syndrome — how to turn one part of you on and how to turn it off. It plants the seed of self-doubt on what your identity is. So often, the leadership wants to see you play a certain role. And when you see someone else is playing up that role, you’re like, Why couldn’t I be that authentic self in the workplace? But also, you don’t want to be the token.”
Priego and her team filmed all of season one — which is comprised of five episodes — in eight days, shooting interior scenes in Los Angeles and exterior scenes in Chicago. Each episode is about 10-12 minutes long. She would have filmed one more episode, but as a self-funded project, she was limited in money and manpower.
“We did a GoFundMe and we might need to bring it back for the editing process,” she says. “It was so important to be doing it grass-roots style and [to] reach out to my community because everybody takes ownership.”
Though Priego and her crew usually worked from 6:30 am until midnight every day, they were the best days of her life.
"Working on a no-budget project, you would think that would be what halts the magic. My co-director, Michael Estrella, [has] been in the entertainment industry his entire career and was able to parlay the amazing relationships that he’s made over the years and bring in some of the best people in the business to work with us, pro-bono. Even with a million dollar budget, we couldn’t have had the team that we had, that put in as much blood, sweat, and tears as myself and my executive producer or co-director did. Everyone believed in the project.”
Casting roles also initially started out rocky, but she was grateful for the resources she constantly had.
“Before I involved Jessica [executive producer] or Michael into the project, I had cast just my girlfriends here in Chicago,” she says. “Unfortunately that didn’t work out, so two weeks before shooting we still didn’t have our two lead actresses. But as the universe would have it, Michael had worked on another shoot with this great actor whose girlfriend, Ana Ayora, was in the business as an actress and we met with her for coffee and I thought, oh my God, she’s perfect. She’s my Rosie. She just had the energy that I wanted for that role — a beautiful spirit.”
Finding the right actress for Elena proved even more challenging.
“My biggest fear about filming in L.A. was that we were going to work with Latinas that already fit a certain role. I’ve only seen us as beauty queens or pregnant—all those stereotypes. But I turned to [the activist group] Latina Rebels. They posted it to their 100,000 followers and we had a myriad of submissions, and I found her. Her name is Samantha Ramirez Herrera. She’s incredible.”
The cast of Pinkslipped also features Jessica Paré of Mad Men, and Siena Goines, who has been featured in TV shows such as Castle and Criminal Minds and currently stars in Disney’s Andi Mack.
As for the role of Jacqueline, she knew exactly who would play the part.
“I was very adamant about [playing Jacqueline],” she says. “I look at other women in this industry like Lena Dunham, or like Issa Rae in Insecure and there’s definitely been this awakening for young women in the entertainment industry where we understand that there are roadblocks and barriers to owning our art. And you know what? Maybe you don’t follow the traditional path, maybe you have to create the work and build your audience and that’s your power, your leverage.”
Priego also points out other leaders in the entertainment industry that have already begun to pave the way for writers like her. Tanya Saracho, the creator of VIDA on Starz, is one of her idols.
“When I was growing up I saw really cool shows like Friends and Seinfeld, and I don’t see why people of color [can’t] have multiple types of stories out there,” she says. “I’m so proud of VIDA because it’s written and created by a Latina, and we need more of that. We need more people telling those stories. Look at Gina Rodriguez, Jackie Cruz, Diane Guerrero, Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera—so many incredible Latinas. We all come from a different walk of life but we have so many stories to tell. I think our time is now.”
As our waiter comes to take our plates with remnants of the croissant, Priego admits that she’s already started on a rough outline for the next four seasons of Pinkslipped.
“I know where I see the lead characters going in the story,” she says. “There are going to be a lot of bumps along the way but it’s going to be a fun ride. What I want to see happen for these young women is to succeed. You won’t see a lot of succeeding happen in the first season, but know that there’s an imperfect, perfect ending for them all.”
For now, Priego wishes to simply take it all in and enjoy her time with family and friends in Chicago and L.A.
“[My] dream is be in front of and behind the camera,” she smiles. “I know this is my passion and there are so many more stories that I want to get out there. PinkSlipped is only the beginning, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
The premier of Pinkslipped will be hosted by 1871 Chicago on August 16. Tickets are free upon registering with EventBrite and can be found on the show’s website, www.pinkslipped.org.
Interview by: Dulce Arroyo
Dulce is a teacher, blogger, and Chicago native of Mexican descent. She is a firm believer in self-love, personal freedom, the arts, chocolate, and fabulously discounted shoes. Follow her for the latest adventure/thought/meme that she absolutely just had to share
Images Courtesy of: @Pinkslippd | Earl Gibson III / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images