The Queering Of ‘Madam Secretary’ Via Sara Ramirez

Ramirez’s role on the show is a sending a powerful message.

Last month, CBS debuted their last cast addition to the show “Madam Secretary.” Kat Sandoval, portrayed by actor Sara Ramirez, is helping to usher in a new phase—Ramirez’s presence on the show seems to be signaling a larger change in prime time television that has historically lacked diversity. Ramirez, who is an openly bisexual Latina woman, has been a mainstay on the show “Grey’s Anatomy” over the years. Ramirez’s latest role is Kat Sandoval, a brilliant, quirky, openly gay political-strategist-turned-avocado-farmer. This addition to the “Madam Secretary” cast is a step in the right direction in an effort to showcase more diverse characters; but there is a larger need for a shake up in the entertainment industry and beyond to feature more LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Ramirez has started to become more deliberate in the asserting her queerness in the roles she has taken on. This is a big step in the entertainment industry and is helping to further a larger LGBTQ agenda. In 2016, Ramirez publicly came out as bisexual, after playing Grey’s Anatomy’s bisexual doctor, Callie Torres, who eventually married another woman. After her role as Callie, she took on Kat Sandoval, furthering the visibility of queer women on TV. Last month, Ramirez addressed the topic of LGBTQ visibility in a speech at the annual “Women’s Event” benefiting New York’s LGBTQ Center while receiving their “Trailblazer Award.”

Photo by Shea Carmen Swan

Ramirez began her career on Broadway after earning a degree from the acclaimed Juilliard School. Her performances in Paul Simon’s “The Capeman” as well as her role in “Spamalot” secured her the coveted Tony Award. However, it wasn’t until her role as Dr. Callie Torres on the long running ABC medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” that helped introduce her to a more mainstream audience.

The Kat Sandoval role Ramirez recently took on is the total opposite of Dr. Callie Torres, who was stylized as more feminine. On Madam Secretary, Kat’s coiffed pompadour, tailored suits, pocket squares and butch aesthetic diversify the cast of the show, as well as give visibility to another representation of the LGBTQ community. The spectrum of identity is broad, and now that Ramirez has portrayed two extreme sides of the coin. This has showcased her depth as an actress, but there is also an increasing need for networks to portray perhaps less extremes in an effort to better situate identity politics. This depiction of a more butch-dapper flâneur via Kat is critical, but there are identity nuances that are still not getting airtime on mainstream shows.

While Ramirez’s role on the show is a sending a powerful message, it is something that took almost four seasons to the achieve. For those who are not regular viewers of“Madam Secretary,” the storyline of the show centers around Dr. Elizabeth “Bess” Adams McCord, played by Tea Lone, a savvy, brilliant former professor and CIA agent, turned Secretary of State, and the inner workings of her family and the State Department staff. The cast is rounded out by Tim Daly, who plays Henry, the nerdy, religious scholar husband who also is involved in high level CIA work. The story centers around their three kids, the complex issues that come up for their family, as well as the State Department staff and the political fires that need to constantly be put out.

While the addition of Kat Sandoval is helping to mix up the regular cast, it is not the show’s first attempt at sexual identity diversity. There is also Secretary McCord’s gay assistant Blake, who left his lucrative job in finance to come work in the public service sector. This ongoing storyline does help to offer another perspective, but Kat’s presence seems to offer a more radical shift. Kat comes out the gate setting a new style and tone for the show with five different outfits within the first few scenes we see her in. Her outfits, observations and dialogue are on point. Thanks to Kat’s quick thinking, and evolving agricultural knowledge she is able to give Bess the lay of the land. This is all prior to her being able to snag a new job in the State department. Bess, along with her staff has to convince the Russian government that the smallpox outbreak needs to be contained and they have to be the ones to help then with it. Through Kat’s quick thinking and suggestions, they are able to get the Russians on board and in the process save the day.

Kat’s energetic personality adds to a show that is sometimes-slow moving. And, in the process, is helping to give more presence to queer women of color, who have often been written out of such roles. The quirky, butch, role suits Ramirez and is a bright spot in an industry that desperately needs more diversity.

As the show progresses, Kat settles into her new job but has much less screen time. In the latest episode, Kat was nowhere to be seen.

Madam Secretary is clearly is making an effort to have more gender, racial, and sexual diversity, but by not having Ramirez as a permanent character is doing the series, and its mission to diversify, a disservice. Although the fate of Kat Sandoval is still being determined, the presence of queer WoC characters on shows with white storylines is still offering a glimmer of hope for more waves of change to occur.

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