Actress Ilse Salas And Director Lucía Puenzo Discuss Backdrop Of ‘Señorita 89’ Ahead Of Premiere

U.S. Spanish-language Pantaya continues to bolster its profile, investing in and tapping high-profile talent for new original series. The newest addition to its platform is Señorita 89.

Ahead of its premiere, renowned Mexican actress Ilse Salas, who stars as Concepción, the matriarch and villain of a fictional Miss Mexico contest set in the 1980s, and Argentinian director Lucía Puenzo shared details on how her research of beauty pageants shaped this political thriller.

“We realized very quickly that beauty was really an excuse to talk about other things that interested us. The reality is the beauty pageant universe has been part of a media conglomerate in every country in Latin America,” says Puenzo. “And for these media conglomerates, beauty pageants were a way to infuse glamour while using young women for other things. This political thriller looks at issues that would scandalize us today, but were 100 percent accepted at the time. We expose the brutal truth of how the entertainment world treated the bodies of young women.”

In the series, Salas’s character goes to extreme lengths, along with a team of makeup artists, trainers and plastic surgeons, to “polish” the 32 contestants into viable beauty pageant candidates.

“I think she is part executioner and part victim,” muses Salas. “I tried to make a contradictory Concepción, difficult to read, instead of just a villain who exploits the girls. Because if we took away her conscience, remorse or sensitivity, in my opinion, we would miss a lot and be unable to connect with the character. I always like when writers or actresses succeed in making us feel empathy for those we judge to be villains.”

Salas believes the audience will find the series exciting, as it delves into a world of secret parties for politicians with the contestants, but will also prompt those who watch to revisit their views about beauty and pageants.

“The series tackles many very relevant issues, such as social conditioning, beauty stereotypes, the objectification and sexualization of women – many of which have been explored recently in almost every country in the world but we still don’t see enough coverage of these topics within the entertainment world,” says Salas.

Although beauty pageants today aren’t as popular as they were in the 70s, 80s, 90s, “when entire families were glued to their television sets,” Puenzo says she continues to be fascinated by the meaning of beauty in different cultures. She questions why the pageant machinery in Mexico and other Latin American countries have tried to “standardize beauty,” instead of accentuating differences.

“In Mexico, that is also a political response. Just look at how in all of its ads and commercials they featured fair-skinned blondes with light eyes. Mestizo women do not seem to exist, indigenous women weren’t on telenovelas….That is political ideology.” 

How indigenous and darker skinned contestants are treated in the beauty pageant is part of the conversation in the series.

The eight-episode Señorita 89 premieres on Pantaya on Sunday, February 27. New episodes will drop every week.