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GUEST COLUMN: On Otalia

Destini at the Otalia website, Big Purple Dreams, has written an excellent piece about GUIDING LIGHT's Olivia and Natalia. As a new feature to the site, I will be adding guest columns from fans, actors, behind the scenes folks and others in the coming months to bring new perspectives on the soap stories we love. I can't think of a better column to start with than this.


On Otalia
By Destini

I must make a confession. I am a soap opera junkie and a fandom pusher. There, I’ve said it and it feels good. CBS soaps are the ones I grew up with, sitting with my mother and grandmother in grand soap opera tradition. ABC soaps became an addiction later, when working as a bartender gave me my days free to watch mindless television. At various times in my life I’ve watched and been a fan of ATWT, AMC, OLTL, GH and GUIDING LIGHT.

I’ve shipped them all from Nuke (Noah and Luke on ATWT) to Kenlee (Kendall and Greenlle on AMC), but especially Bianca, of AMC the only out lesbian main character on daytime TV, and daughter of the infamous Erica Kane. I loved Bianca and Maggie, learned to like Bianca and Lena and looked forward to Bianca and Reese with no small amount of trepidation. Each time I came away from the experience more jaded than before, wondering if any soap would ever get it right.

So imagine my surprise (as Holly Near would say), while watching my favorite daytime character Olivia Spencer on GL. As she navigated her way through receiving the transplanted heart of the married man she’d pined for I was struck mute by the intensity of the scenes she shared with the man’s widow, Jessica Leccia’s Natalia.

Now I’m always up for a good soapy catfight but this was different. Just like Scooby-doo my ears pricked up. I blew the feeling off but kept watching, their emotional connection drawing me in hook, line and sinker. This was good stuff. Classic soap stuff.

They continued their snaky give and take as Natalia, who had made the decision to give Olivia her husband’s heart, shook Olivia up and demanded she live, demanded she not waste the most precious of gifts.

Their chemistry was blistering but still I had no reason to think any show, daytime or primetime, would ever have the courage to capitalize on such a thing.

My ears continued to prick up constantly, at their looks and body language, not to mention the small fact that the show had now positioned them firmly in each other’s orbits with nary a man in sight save for the bumbling Frank who Natalia clearly had no interest in dating. In the world of soap operas, consistently pairing to characters in a series of situations and scenes is traditionally code for a budding romance.

That’s when the rumours hit the blogs and print media. GL may be planning their own lesbian storyline, they said. A GL rep moved quickly to quash that, natch, saying “GL will not be presenting this as a gay storyline.” Many took that quote as gospel and forgot the rumour while GL just continued to tell their story and the two former foes moved slowly into a hesitant friendship, leaning only on each other during emotional times. But notice the semantics there, I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The buzz online, however, continued to grow. Was this the daring and different storyline that Crystal Chappell had re-signed for? Could GL be positioning them for a love story? Was it already happening right before our eyes?

Yes, I believe it was and is still today. Though I will admit to watching through my fingers sometimes waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In true soap fashion the last several months have been busy for Olivia and Natalia even besides the heart transplant. Olivia was there when Natalia’s son was arrested and sent to prison. Natalia cared for her as her body rejected the heart, holding her hand and begging her to live when she collapsed from a heart attack. Natalia lost her nest egg in a bad hedge fund investment and Olivia gave up her cherished job to get Natalia’s money back, asking for nothing in return. Finally in December, they moved in together, supposedly to share the mortgage and so Natalia could care for Olivia and her daughter. Meanwhile their intense connection grew.

Though they fought over religious icons and Christmas trees while moving in, the show featured them on both Christmas and New Years. (That’s another sign in soapland of the importance of a pairing.) Not in conflict but rather like any other burgeoning couple on the show, albeit sans romantic kisses. But there were thoughtful gifts and longing though unaware looks with Natalia giving Olivia keys to the house and asking her to stay despite their differences.

Through all of this little Emma, Olivia’s 8 year old daughter, has been an integral part of the story; showing through actions rather than words that two successful women could raise a healthy, happy, stable child together. A valuable lesson indeed.

Since the new year, the focus has begun to shift away from friendship and into uncharted waters. Uncharted not only for the characters but for GLBT people on television. Why uncharted? Because to my knowledge no same sex couple has ever been treated with such casual normalness. We have been voyeurs to their every interaction with nothing telegraphed, over sensationalized or treated like a bad after school special. Never before has the audience been allowed to see every minute detail in a growing same-sex attraction. Nothing has happened off screen, nothing has had to be explained in interviews or press. It just is. It’s been a slow, romantic, lush build; the kind I’d come to believe even soaps, once known for such things, had forgotten how to do with any couple regardless of orientation. In doing so Guiding Light has already changed hearts and minds, viewers becoming invested without even realizing.

Emma was given an assignment to write about what makes her family unique. As the little girl contemplated her task the show’s writers began to allow the audience to see Olivia and Natalia’s relationship through the innocent eyes of a child.

The presentation titled, My Two Mommies, continues to propel the storyline today. We’ve watched as these women struggle with now having a label put to their growing feelings. Seen Olivia kiss Natalia in frustration while trying to explain what people thought when using the word ‘lesbian’ would have made it all too real. Seen Natalia try to minimize and devalue their connection to Emma’s teacher, in the end unable to do so while looking into Olivia’s watery gaze. The speech to the teacher itself was a beautiful testament to what family really means and I cried at the honest truth of the words.

As sweeps approach, the two remain center stage. The fallout from the kiss, the presentation, the assumptions of others and their own growing awareness of romantic feelings have the characters in a swirl. Olivia, the more open of the two, is pushing Natalia towards the hapless and clueless Frank, suffering in silence when Natalia takes her advice in her own desperate need to feel normal. She then kissed an ex before finally admitting she had more than friendly feelings for Natalia. It’s all achingly realistic.

In short, the story has been, as the GL rep said, not a soap opera “gay story”. Instead it is simply a love story and has been treated just the same as any other love story on the show; superiority of the writing notwithstanding. Some say it’s the most skilfully written story in all of daytime at the moment.

This storyline has been building for over 10 months. It’s been beautifully and sensitively written, acted with great skill and subtlety, and unfolds without hoopla, over promotion or labels. It’s everything I have ever wanted to see for a same-sex relationship on screen. I pray every day they don’t screw it up.

Who knows where the future will lead Otalia? Recently we had a loving declaration from Olivia about Natalia, though t the younger woman was not around to hear it of course. This is a soap opera, you know.. It was said to the homophobic mayor who’d just “outed “ them, in a bid for political advancement. In the end the mayor said simply, “I wish a man would talk about me the way you just talked about her.” Yes, indeed, it was that blatant.

Will Olivia and Natalia admit their feelings and find love? Or will the show write it all off as a misunderstanding, shove them both in relationships with men and once again, like so many dramas before them, kick a growing fandom in the teeth?

Is it a stunt to pull in ratings for a dying show? Or are they truly committed to breaking new ground, shattering stereotypes and knocking down barriers? Will this be a story of more failed hopes and expectations, or just maybe, could Otalia be daytime’s first fully realized and fleshed out same-sex super couple?

I don’t know. I only know I’m more engaged, more invested, than ever before and happy to walk the journey with them wherever it leads.

Kudos to GL, their writing staff, Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia. You might want to tune in and have a look. I promise you’ll be glad you did. I feel like I can cautiously say that someone is finally getting it right.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Also, check out the Otalia "Big Purple Podcast" at bigpurpledreams.podbean.com.

22 comments:

  1. I, too, have become invested in this love story. It has become so much more than just another Lesbian storyline. It has because a slow-building, well written and beautifully acted romance. I don't really have anything to add to Destini's piece. I have big, purple dreams for Otalia.

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  2. Couldn't have said it better myself. It's nice to see really well paced soap couplings still developing in daytime. Now a days it's all rush rush RUSH! Those at GL should be proud of this display of artful of storytelling. A great first guest column

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  3. What an incredibly remarkable piece there, Desti!
    Huge Otalia fan & supporter here. Guiding Light has proven to be committed to telling a beautiful, compelling love story. The dialogue is brilliant; abound with humor, honesty, and integrity. The acting is sensational. i can't seem to look away. Crystal Chappelle and Jessica Leccia radiate as Olivia and Natalia, respectively. Their chemistry is off-the-charts. The writers are heavily concentrated on the slow build & the angst. That is why this particular plotline is uncanny. It's a real story...it's precisely what daytime & its viewers need. With this storyline, CBS & GL are returning the drama that is daytime back to its core roots and springing back into exactly what the wonderful world of soaps is all about.

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  4. That was beautifully and accurately written. Thank you Desti!I too have been waiting years for a love story between two woman to be treated with this kind of respect, commitment, and normalcy. And how proud am I to find it on my childhood's favorite show. It's true. I was addicted to GL for almost 20 years, proclaiming to anyone in ear shot that it was the best soap on daytime - best writing, best cast, best everything. It had, during it's hay day, what I learned over time was the essentials to great storytelling: heart, soul and character. It's the people within the story that count most, not the plot. Character driven drama, with wonderfully rich relationship development, in a raw, organic and natural setting... that is what GL is all about now, and that - with Otalia in the forefront - is why I am addicted to GL once again, after a 10 year absence.

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  5. Thanks for this great article! Honestly, I've never watched soaps. If you told me a month ago I'd be reading a website called "We Love Soaps," I'd have laughed in your face. Yet I am totally engrossed in this storyline, which is one of the best written storylines I've ever seen on tv. Thanks to Otalia, I am now thoroughly invested in "Guiding Light."

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  6. Another longtime GL watcher here... I had fallen away from the show a while ago. While the acting has always been superb, the writing just wasn't there. It was this relationship that brought me back. Thank you for this article. I am amazed at how good the show is overall, but in particular, this storyline has made coming back worth the while. Like you, I hope that they continue to develop this romance.

    Thanks

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  7. i tuned in to guiding light because of the promotion of the "my two mommies" storyline. i'm staying because of the truth and honesty of the story between olivia and natalia. no stunts. no pandering. just well written, brilliantly acted soap opera angst.

    in the hands of lesser actresses, this story would have been over before it even started. crystal chappell is a force to be reckoned with, offering a masterclass in acting every moment she is on the screen. and jessica leccia has grown by leaps and bounds, becoming a better actress because of working opposite this daytime heavy-hitter- a fact she has readily admits.

    this post encompasses why many of guiding light's new (and returning) fans are so excited. because of otalia, i've become invested in GL. and that's exactly what soap operas are desperately in need of- fans who come back everyday, who hold on through the twists and turns, who hope for their favorite characters and loathe those antiheroes.

    to paraphrase a great movie, if you build it, they will come. GL has been building this storyline for almost a year. and the fans are coming.

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  8. Excellent article! I resisted tuning into this storyline because I was disillusioned by all of the attempts from other shows that had come before them. I tuned in when someone mentioned Natalia's relationship with Emma. I thought, 'Wait. This is different. If they're developing the relationship between the child and the other woman then maybe they're doing something right.' Was I ever glad that I finally checked them out. Guiding Light is doing such a great job. I am still captivated everytime I tune into this couple.

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  9. Excellent article! I resisted tuning into this storyline because I was disillusioned by all of the attempts from other shows that had come before them. I tuned in when someone mentioned Natalia's relationship with Emma. I thought, 'Wait. This is different. If they're developing the relationship between the child and the other woman then maybe they're doing something right.' Was I ever glad that I finally checked them out. Guiding Light is doing such a great job. I am still captivated everytime I tune into this couple.

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  10. I am thrilled to be a returned viewer to Guiding Light because of the Otalia storyline. The writing and acting has integrity, commitment, and authenticity. Thank you for providing an insightful summary. I enjoyed reading it; you put a huge smile on my face!

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  11. I am also a new viewer to GL and it was this storyline that specifically brought me to the show. Currently there are 3 storylines on daytime TV that are attempting to tell a story about a loving relationship between a same sex couples, 2 of them between 2 females. Guiding Light is the only one succeeding. That other one? All for show and a disappointing and hurtful representation. Thank you Guiding Light for having the courage to tell it write and thank you, thank you Destini, my friend, for writing such an insightful commentary on them. Like everyone else, I have big purple dreams for Otalia, as well.

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  12. I left GL about ten years ago as well. I had been an avid soap fan, setting my VCR to record for the week. Over the years, its been DOOL, Another World, Santa Barbara, AMC, OLTL, GH, ATWT, and of course GL. In the most recent years General Hospital has been the only one to draw me back in when I've had the occassion to watch.

    Not anymore. For the first time in a decade I am seeking out a soap daily. Thank goodness for CBS.com streaming the episodes, and for Otaliafan's channel. Without her dedication, I would have missed this story. And I would never have forgiven myself if I came in at the endgame.

    This character driven storytelling has me, as Destini said, hook line and sinker. I've been so excited about this, I have even started asking my friends to tune in. And I have never been comfortable speaking of my soap habits. I don't care, what people think right now, they need to be watching this story.

    Thank you, CC and JL. You are giving an incredible gift that will last several lifetimes over. Thank you Eden, for being the first and I'm so sorry they never could give you this story to tell.

    Thank you, to whomever is writing this story and getting it pushed through, (or sneaking it under the radar until someone noticed.)

    I'm watching again. Otalia had me at "hello."

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  13. Otalia has had me hooked since last summer. I had a feeling they might be going somewhere with this story and they didn't let me down. This is a great article and I agree with every word. I am enjoying the journey with these two. Congratulations, GL! You gave me something to look forward too every week!

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  14. I used to watch B&B long time ago...
    that's all I ever knew about soaps.
    this sl is way better than most of primetime stories,and I'm talking of straight ones of course. Kudos to Gl writers.

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  15. As someone who gave up on soaps (and specifically GL) OMG - 18 years ago! No one could have convinced me that I would trust them to portray a lesbian relationship with any integrity or subtlety. And here I am eating my words. And getting super invested in this pairing.

    I'm still a little nervous, coming off the debacle that was (is) Grey's Anatomy - but the joy of watching Chappell and Leccia act is very distracting to my lingering worry. ;)

    Thanks for featuring this article - very accurate and very positive.

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  16. In early November I remember sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see if this country … my country … had come far enough to elect an African American president. The answer was “Yes”. On the morning of the inauguration I arrived at my office and sent a congratulatory e-mail to one of my co-workers … the only African American in our office of 50-something people. Knowing full well what a huge moment this was in her life and happy to share it with her.

    I find myself again sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see if this country … my country … has come far enough to put aside old beliefs and differences. I’m not sure what the answer will be. The Otalia story line is surely not as important as the presidency. World peace and the economy will not be affected by "will they or won’t they" in this amazing story. It’s just daytime television … a soap opera. What does this have the power to change? In my own little world … everything. Something as simple as watching two women grow close and fall in love and to have it written and acted so beautifully actually fills me with pride.

    Believe it or not, when I can turn on regular TV and see something as simple as a soap opera character that actually resembles my life it makes me smile … thank you Guiding Light for taking a chance, for shedding a little more light on something most people take for granted.

    I arrived at my office this morning and in between work I checked out the latest on the Otalia story line. If they do finally affirm their love for each other for all the viewers to witness, I don’t think I will be getting any congratulatory e-mails from my co-workers. Me, being the only gay person in our office of 50-something people … only I will know the huge moment this will be in my life.

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  17. First I want to thank Destini for writing such an insightful...beautiful article. I also want to Thank her for all she has done to encourage and publicize this storyline.
    I just want to touch on something Annette wrote. The 'L word' today is front and center on television as representing lesbian America.
    I don't really know...it might represent a small part or maybe even half but it does a lousy job in showing two women in a committed relationship, with children, working together...day in and day out. That's why I can relate to Natalia and Olivia...and why I am so proud that a network show agreed to think out of the box and take a chance on a storyline so desperate to be told.
    My partner and I are in our fifth year together...just after our first year anniversary, my oldest daughter (25) was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was a single Mom with a four year old and scared. My Partner's first reaction was 'we have to take care of them' So we moved them from Brooklyn to PA. My partner made all the phone calls instantly...Doctors..cancer centers...almost instantly my daughter always called my partner her 'step-mom' as does her Brother (16) and Sister (14) do today...kids know when they are loved. My daughter passed away last June in a loving home...with her step mom right by her side. I am grateful that a show I grew up loving...is strong and believes it is necessary to tell America a beautiful story of a family surrounded by love and committment. I truly hope America takes notice.

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  18. I started out as a BAM fan (AMC Bianca and Maggie) and through this great website discovered Otalia. I AM HOOKED. The two actresses are doing a fantastic job of conveying everything they are feeling without saying a lot. I love OTALIA. I am on the big, purple dreams web site often. Thank you Desti and everyone.

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  19. Beautifully written Destini. I don't think anyone could have said it any better.

    And again props to GL for the wonderful s/l.

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  20. I love this very in-depth and articulate article!! I agree, it is definitely a love story, and needs no labeling. It has me completely drawn in and invested. The exceptionally talented Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia make me cry actual tears and laugh out loud. What a roller coaster ride!! This story is achingly angsty and beautifully scripted, acted, and filmed!

    I hope that We Love Soaps will continue to follow this very special story.

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  21. Wonderful article, Destini. Very well thought out and very poignant. Says everything I want to say about the show and this particular couple.

    I love the slow pace and care that GL has taken to build this well crafted love story, done this far without really using labels. And it's so different from anything else being done on daytime or primetime.

    So, kudos to you for writing the article, kudos to Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia for their dynamic and nuanced performances, and kudos to GL for having the courage and drive to build the storyline and hope for a continued relationship between these two characters.

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  22. I was in a relationship once that built very slowly over many months. It happens. Guiding Light--cast, writers, etc--did an amazing job on this storyline...that is up until a few months ago. Posting 8 months after this piece was written gives me knowledge the writer did not have.

    I understand being nervous/conflicted about having a physical relationship, but there was a point when the 2 women professed their love for one another, a kiss, any kind of kiss, at the very least would have been appropriate. The lack of natural physical intimacy became ridiculously obvious, especially when you hold it next to what straight couples are doing on soaps these days. Chappell and Leccia worked with it the very best they could. There is only so much hand-holding, face-touching, and forehead bumping one can stand. At some point your desire overwhelms your fear and trepidation. Anyway, the Otalia storyline was definitely progress and better than any other soap romance I have ever seen (same or opposite sex). The problem is corporate-sponsored art. I hope the web serial Chappell and friends have planned can break away from that model and give them complete creative control. Art must thrive and progress for our culture to thrive and progress. We've had a period of stagnation. The long-term implications of breaking the sponsorship mold of serial storytelling are mind-blowing to me. Chappell and friends and others on the web are breaking important ground with potentially long-term affects. I must give GL credit for planting a seed, though--a beautiful love story that the mainstream could understand and even maybe accept.

    Only love can save the world.
    Only love can save the world. Goodbye, Guiding Light.
    Goodnight, sweet Otalia.

    Hello Venice.

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