Can a TV show change hearts and minds in less than 22 minutes?
Actress Diane Guerrero, who stars on CBS comedy “Superior Donuts,” isn’t sure. But she’s proud of her show for trying.
On Monday, “Superior Donuts” will air an episode about immigration, a subject Guerrero has spent much of her time off screen to highlighting, through advocacy, interviews and even a memoir.
Guerrero’s family was deported to Colombia when she was a teenager – first her parents, then her brother – leaving her to rely on the kindness of family friends for the next few years.
In “The Icemen Cometh,” Guerrero’s character, Sofia, becomes worried when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials begin conducting raids in the neighborhood, as her brother, Rafael (Erik Rivera), is undocumented.
The writers sought Guerrero’s input on the finer points of the episode.
The story that comes to life in “Superior Donuts” is not Guerrero’s, but, she said, an important one nonetheless.
“I think the first thing I said was, ‘Oh, boy! If we have 22 minutes to talk about this important issue, then I want to make sure we do it right and we do it justice,’” she told CNN. “It was important to me because the topic of immigration is barely talked about on shows.”
She’s not wrong. But the number of TV series tackling stories about immigration has been steadily increasing in recent years.
Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” had an ongoing storyline in its first season about a young teen whose parents are deported to Mexico. CW’s “Jane the Virgin” has had a running storyline about a main character’s immigration status since 2014. And long-running medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” recently aired an episode in which one of its young doctors, who was in the country as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, was nearly deported to El Salvador.
“I think it’s a very difficult issue to talk about,” Guerrero, also known for her work on “Orange is the New Black,” acknowledged. “In order to talk about it, you have to cover your bases, and sometimes shows don’t have the sufficient time to do so, and a lot of people don’t want to talk about it because it’s very complicated.”
Guerrero hopes that all of that, however, will not deter other TV shows from having the conversation.
“I certainly think we have the power through storytelling to start conversations and to change hearts and minds,” she said. “I don’t know how much this episode does it, but I would hope that someone can empathize with a young brother and sister.”
“Superior Donuts,” about the patrons and workers of a neighborhood donut shop, is currently in its second season. If picked up by CBS for a third, Guerrero would like to see “Superior Donuts” revisit the storyline about Sofia and Rafael.
“It would be an opportunity to dig deeper into the case – maybe talk about DACA, talk about some of the country’s anti-immigrant sentiment, maybe talk about some of the divides that we have,” she said.
Or solutions, she said, like updating the visa system or “actually voting for a congress that will enact some immigration reform.”
“This country has made it so we barely ask any questions about immigration, and the people it affects, we never really hear about,” she said. “Now is a time where we’re seeing movements grow.”