Scene from I Love Lucy
photo: Wikimedia Commons

This weekend you’ll have a chance to see Lucille Ball Arnaz in her full head of red hair glory. CBS is airing a colorized I Love Lucy Superstar Special this Sunday, May 17, at 8 p.m. that will feature two back-to-back episodes paying tribute to the show’s 60th anniversary.

The classic black-and-white sitcom, which ran from 1951 to 1957, wasn’t just a hit show, but it arguably changed the way television was made, while also expanding what was acceptable to see on television. In fact, according to Frances Negrón-Muntaner, an award-winning filmmaker, writer, scholar, and associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, Ricky Ricardo’s character played by Cuban American actor, Desi Arnaz, had a huge impact on how Latinos are perceived in the United States.

“Arnaz enjoyed a level of control over his image that few Latinos have enjoyed until very recently,” she says. “In this way, he pioneered a phenomenon that has expanded substantially in the last decade as we see in the careers of Jennifer Lopez, Eva Longoria, Salma Hayek, among others.” I Love Lucy and Arnaz’s character did of course cause some controversy. Some claim Ricky Ricardo accentuated stereotypes of Latinos, especially due to his over the top accent, but in many ways he defied stereotypes. Here are five ways I Love Lucy gave voice to Latinos in the U.S.


1

It proved that Latinos are capable of excelling

Having a Cuban immigrant play one of the major characters on the show made a huge impact in our history. “He demonstrated that Latinos were not only capable of excelling in acting and singing, which are considered ‘physical’ talents, but also of producing, innovating media forms, and building history-changing media companies, all skills deemed cerebral,” Muntaner says.

2

It improved our image

I Love Lucy showed how a Latino character can play multiple roles from a husband, father, artist, and neighbor. “In a way, Desi Arnaz expanded how a Latino could be seen and ‘softened’ the image of Latinos by showing that they could be part of American middle-class life,” Muntaner says. But she also notes that one of the ways studios and networks were able to mainstream Ricky Ricardo’s character was by representing Arnaz as an upper-class, foreign-born Latin-American of European descent versus a U.S. Latino. This is another reason why his marriage to Lucille Ball (both on and off the screen) was so largely accepted.

3

It stayed away from Latino-targeted jokes

The show did a great job at avoiding ethnic jokes of any kind, even though Lucy still poked fun at Ricky’s accent.

4

It broke barriers

I Love Lucy broke barriers and taboos and changed what was acceptable to see on television. For instance, it was the first show to present a couple (even a married one) talking together in their bedroom. It also showed Lucy’s pregnancy, something that was never before seen.

5

It changed television completely

Muntaner explains that Arnaz wasn’t just a character on the show, but he also co-invented the three-camera setup that became standard in the production of situation comedies and was the co-inventor of the rerun which he insisted to film rather than broadcast episodes live in front of an audience, the way it was normally done.

6
I Love Lucy in Color
photo: CBS Broadcasting Inc