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Chicago-based web series Brujos is not for the faint of heart. The first episode of the OpenTV-produced show features blood, demonic possession, murder and—gasp—doctoral students having half-drunk intellectual arguments. That’s right. Brujos goes there.
The series details a coven of gay Latinx witches living, working and hooking up in Pilsen, and it’s as spooky and entertaining as it sounds. While its plot revolves around the supernatural (brujos means “witches,” after all), the show also grapples with themes of colonialism and liberation. “A supernatural series isn’t just about them hooking up with possessed Grindr hookups,” says the show’s creator, Ricardo Gamboa, “but also about the ways queer [and] trans people of color are supernatural because of the ways we survive under crazy systems of oppression and violence.” The telenovela noir is a fun, campy, queer romp, yes, but it’s also a hefty intellectual undertaking.
Now, after nearly three years of writing, producing and filming, Brujos will finally get to see its fantastical final act. The creators just completed fundraising for the 12th episode, which will be titled “Pisces” (each episode is named for a zodiac sign, in chronological order; the first is titled “Aries”). According to Gamboa, who uses they/them pronouns, the finale will be shot in April and the series will be released in its entirety in May. You can watch the 11 completed episodes on the Brujos website.
Like lots of intense artwork, Brujos’ origin story begins with a breakup. “It was my first gay heartbreak, and I went to a tarot reader because going to a therapist would make too much sense,” recalls Gamboa, a member of Goodman Theatre’s Playwrights Unit. “Everything the tarot reader said, down to the day and hour, came true.” This sparked a fascination with the supernatural for Gamboa, a master’s student at the time, and the gears for what would become Brujos began to turn.
At that time, shows like HBO’s Girls and Looking were the dominant representations of young people in urban areas. Though Gamboa identified as a young city dweller, they didn’t see themselves in those series. Thus, the idea for Brujos was born.
In 2015, Gamboa met Reshmi Hazra Rustebakk, who would co-direct the series, at a storytelling show. The two instantly clicked—when Gamboa sent her the initial script for Brujos, Rustebakk says, “I kind of lost my mind.” The script gave her a feeling similar to watching A Different World and Living Single as a kid: empowered and excited to hear stories told for and by people of color. By that fall, they’d done a read-through of the series and started fund-raising efforts; they were shooting by 2016.
For Gamboa and Rustebakk, Brujos isn’t about being trans or Latino or a Chicaogoan or a witch—it’s about being all those things at the same time.
In writing the series, Gamboa was most interested in the ways in which characters could “clarify existing with multiple identities.” That is, exploring the intersection of those entities within a character, rather than extracting one (e.g., being queer) and focusing on that in a vacuum. (Interestingly, this is similar to what Jill Soloway told Time Out Chicago about Transparent in regards to being queer and Jewish.) Since TV shows are packaged for consumption and typically not reflection, says Gamboa, characters often have to be one non-dominant identity—the trans character, the black character, the Muslim character. Of course, this isn’t an accurate reflection of who we are as humans, and is often reductive. Brujos strives to turn that insufficient way of exploring identity inside out, and instead explore where identities converge.
Campy shows like Brujos are more fun to watch with an audience. Check out a screening of episodes 1–11 at the Chicago Cultural Center on Wednesday, March 21 at 6pm.