Party of Five Reboot Centers on the Value of Immigrant Families

February 5, 2020 Rachel Grow

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

If you were as big of a fan of the original Party of Five like I was in the 90s, then this year’s Party of Five reboot on the soul crushing series, which streams on Freeform, is sure to please.

When I first read that Party of Five was being rebooted, I was immediately overcome with excitement to learn that this version centers around a family dealing with the current administration’s immigration crackdown. As a rabid consumer of entertainment – mainly of the television and film variety – seeing a new show like Party of Five that has the potential to shift mindsets always gives immense pleasure.

Instead of the five Salinger children struggling to hold their family together after their parents are killed by a drunk driver, the reboot revolves around the five Acosta children (ranging in age from 1 to 24) who struggle keep their family together after their parents are deported back to Mexico. What makes the stakes even higher is that the oldest of the bunch, Emiliano, is a DACA recipient and could be deported pending President Trump’s decision on whether to overturn the program. Additionally, he will not be able to visit his parents in Mexico without the risk of not being able to return to the States.

Similar to the first series, the three eldest of the children – Emiliano, Beto, and Lucia – are trying to run their family’s restaurant, which has been in business for approximately 24 years. The parents have been pillars of their community and have responsibly paid their taxes the entire time, which was an important thing for the show to mention to accurately portray undocumented immigrants as contributors to our economy.

Like Emiliano, many of the restaurant workers are also undocumented. In the first episode, they are seen running to hide as soon as Immigration and Customs Enforcement appears at the restaurant, which has apparently been happening often enough that a routine was developed. This situation poses additional challenges for Emiliano because if he is caught employing undocumented immigrants, his DACA status will be revoked and the remaining four siblings will be split up in foster care as they are under 18.

What makes this reboot storyline nuanced is the division it shows amongst the immigrant community itself. In the second episode, when Lucia makes a passionate plea to Beto’s teacher that she give him a second chance on a test he failed given the stress of their home situation, the teacher explains that while she feels badly for them, this is the risk their parents chose by failing to go through the proper process to come to this country. The teacher goes further, saying her parents’ actions give immigrants a bad reputation and, for that, there are consequences like families being split up.

The optimist in me hopes that this show can help move hearts and minds away from this sentiment, instead allowing audiences to see immigrants as the valuable and contributing members of society that they are. The pessimist in me feels that it is highly unlikely that anyone who believes undocumented immigrants should be automatically deported regardless of the reasons they came in the first place, will maintain that point of view. 

The Opportunity Agenda’s Power of POP research shows just how much negative portrayals of immigrants on TV shape public perception. I am hopeful that Party of Five, among the flood of shows in recent years with social justice themes, can change this trend.

Granted, I’ve had my fair share of arguments regarding films and TV shows that I think walked the appropriate balance of being able to pull skeptics into a conversation while subtly shifting their mindset vs. shows that are squarely marketed for a conservative or progressive audience. I see the validity of having a variety of options for people from all walks of life to engage with as deeply important to the power of entertainment to invoke the change it wishes to see.

The Party of Five reboot plays an important role in this environment, delivering not only an engaging and dramatic storyline, but also a powerful narrative that will push viewers to question the administration’s current stance on immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants. I believe this is the show’s strongest quality – that it addresses divisive public opinion about undocumented immigrants face-on, all the while staying true to its core narrative: that immigrants are a valuable part of our community. 

I hope you will join me in watching the rest of the season, which runs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Freeform and on Hulu the next day. It will not disappoint.