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Disney Star Jenna Ortega Looks to Inspire Young Latinas With 'Stuck in the Middle' Role

First Posted: Mar 09, 2016 04:33 PM EST
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Actress Jenna Ortega decided to try out for the lead role on Disney Channel's "Stuck in the Middle" because she saw an opportunity to contribute to diversity on television and wanted a chance to become a role model for young girls.

The star of Disney's newest series talked to Latin Post about the importance of being a role model and being a Latina on television.

A Common Background

"Stuck in the Middle" will make its official debut on Disney Channel on Friday, March 11. The show will offer audiences the most diverse television family since the Baxters on "That's So Raven" and the Russos on "Wizards of Waverly Place."

The series follows the Diaz family, a Latino family of nine living in the suburbs of Massachusetts whose struggles and wacky experiences are narrated by middle child Harley Diaz. Harley is the glue of the family, trying to find her own way in a large family filled with unique personalities.

For Ortega, in this case television actually imitates real life. The 13-year-old is a middle child in a Latino family of six children. Along with the similarities between her TV family and her own family, Harley's personality was the cherry on top to a perfect role.

A photo posted by actress (@jennaortega) on Feb 15, 2016 at 12:39pm PST

A photo posted by actress (@jennaortega) on Dec 24, 2015 at 11:16am PST


"I was mostly excited about [playing] Harley because I relate to her a lot," said Ortega. "Reading the script, [I saw] she was dealing with situations that I thought about and said to myself, 'Wow, this would totally happen to me.' I found her very relatable."

 

Challenging Stereotypes

Disney's most popular characters have included a creative writer (Lizzie Mcguire), a popstar living a double life (Hannah Montana) and a half-Mexican, half-Italian wizard (Alex Russo). None of these, however, have challenged female stereotypes like Harley does. The character trades an interest in the arts, typical of Disney protagonists, for science.

Ortega praises this aspect of the character and explained that she sees it as an opportunity to expose girls to a male-dominated industry like engineering.

"I think her fascination with math and science and engineering makes her different because not a lot of teen girls are into those kinds of subjects. It's nice to know that Disney's promoting that, and that it's okay to be different. Harley is very different from an average teenage girl, which I really like about her."

Promoting Diversity

Another thing Ortega appreciates, along with the character's ability to inspire teen girls, is getting to represent Latinos on television. Those who may find Ortega familiar have most likely watched her play the younger version of current "it girl" Gina Rodriguez on "Jane the Virgin."

The role has not only allowed Ortega to be part of one of the few shows on television about Latinos, but also to be surrounded by strong Latina actresses.

A photo posted by actress (@jennaortega) on Jan 19, 2015 at 5:46pm PST

"I think it's awesome," she said about being a Latina on television. "Before, there weren't a lot of Latina roles out there so it could get really hard, but I think channels are starting to get more diverse. I'm glad Disney gave me the opportunity to show them my take on Harley."

Diversity in media is important for Ortega -- who cites Rodriguez, Denzel Washington and Jennifer Lawrence as her favorite actors -- especially to connect with Hispanic viewers.

"I definitely think that it ['Stuck in the Middle'] will bring in more audience members because there are a lot of us Hispanic people. We can watch TV and see our people so I think that's really cool," she added.

Looking Ahead

Plenty of Disney actresses like Hilary Duff, Raven Simone, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Zendaya Coleman and Selena Gomez, who Ortega considers a role model, have gone on to have successful careers in various forms of entertainment. That's Ortega's plan too.

Along with continuing to act and hoping that "Stuck in the Middle" will have a long life on Disney, Ortega dreams of doing feature films in the future. In the long run, she plans to represent Latinas in the entertainment industry as a writer, producer and director.

Next up, Ortega will be voicing the role of Isabel on Disney Junior's animated series "Elena of Avalor." Elena is Disney's first Latina princess.

Check out the video below for a look at the upcoming season premiere of "Stuck in the Middle."

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