The cult favorite lesbian drama “The L Word” is returning to TV screens near you soon, and this time around, it includes a character who lives with muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.
When the show was first on Showtime from 2004 to 2009, “The L Word” followed a group of queer friends in Los Angeles as they pursued their personal and professional endeavors. The reboot version, titled “The L Word: Generation Q,” will bring back several core characters, including Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals), Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey) and Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moennig), along with some new friends and hijinks, especially since Jenny is, well, gone.
On Monday, Deadline announced one of the new characters coming to “The L Word” reboot is Jillian Mercado, a well-known model and disability activist who lives with muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. Mercado will play Maribel Suarez in the series, an immigration attorney who often counsels little sister Sophie (Rosanny Zayas), a new character joining the L-world.
— Jillian Mercado (@jilly_peppa) December 4, 2019
“The L Word” was often criticized for its lack of diversity during its initial run and Mercado’s casting is a win for authentic disability representation. Only about 3% of main characters on primetime TV shows have a disability, and of those, nearly all are portrayed by non-disabled actors, according to a Ruderman Family Foundation white paper.
Disability representation matters to ensure people see themselves represented as the sexual, professional and fully fledged people they are onscreen. At the same time, authentic representation helps non-disabled people see past harmful and outdated disability stereotypes. Actress and disability advocate Tatiana Lee explained why, telling The Mighty at the Media Access Awards:
It’s very, very important to see that authentic representation because it’s a life experience that someone who doesn’t understand that authentic experience shouldn’t be able to portray. It makes you feel good about who you are and it lets you know that you can be anything that you want to be. And so that’s very important to have representation … to know that you can be a doctor, you can be lawyer, you can be a mom, you can do anything you want to do.
As a model, Mercado has worked for iconic brands such as Diesel, Nordstrom, Calvin Klein, Target and Beyoncé’s fashion line, among many others. She was featured on the cover of Teen Vogue in 2018, where she highlighted her role as a disability advocate and the importance of disability representation.
“Even as a very young girl and adolescent, I always knew that there was a hole in the fashion industry and that it wasn’t fair that I did not see myself reflected,” Mercado told Teen Vogue. “I wanted to feel like I was a part of it, but there was nothing that was helping me see that.”
“The L Word: Generation Q” premieres Dec. 8 at 10 pm ET/PT on Showtime.