RIP Naya Rivera: Remembering her fierce character on ‘Glee’
Last Wednesday, 33-year-old actress Naya Rivera went missing during a boating trip with her 4-year-old son at Lake Piru in Southern California. While her son was found alone on the boat, Naya’s body wasn’t found until Monday. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death as an accidental drowning after a full autopsy.
Naya Rivera was widely known for her role as Santana Lopez on the hit TV show Glee. News of her disappearance prompted a huge outpouring of love & sympathy from former cast members and fans of Glee. Her role as Santana Lopez left a huge impact on many viewers growing up, for her representation of a lesbian teenager at a time when it wasn’t commonly seen on TV, much less on network.
In honor of Naya Rivera’s memory and the lives she touched through her work, here’s a look back at the iconic character known as Santana Lopez.
Evolution of Santana Lopez
Initially, Santana served as the antagonist for Glee’s first season, enlisted along with fellow cheerleaders Quinn & Brittany to destroy the glee club from the inside. Santana eventually grows attached to the other members of the glee club and actually stays because she enjoys participating.
While Santana started as a typical mean cheerleader, her unapologetic nature, comedic delivery, and realistic conflict quickly made her a fan favorite.
Respectful representation of LGBTQ characters
At the peak of the show’s popularity, Glee reached an average of 10.11 million viewers. The fact that a popular network TV show featured a gay character who steered away from the usual stereotypes was not as common as it is nowadays.
Throughout the years, LGBTQ characters have been relegated to stereotypes with no discernible qualities to make them stand out as individuals. Santana, on the other hand, was an interesting case in which the character’s sexuality evolves as the show goes along.
Santana represents a realistic depiction of a teenager struggling with her own sexuality. What starts off as a “friends with benefits” fling with her best friend and fellow cheerleader, Brittany, becomes a long-running storyline between the characters. And by the end of the series, the two actually end up getting married.
No one else could’ve played Santana
It’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role of Santana other than Naya Rivera. Her comedic timing mixed with witty one-liners were a huge part of the appeal of the character. Who else could’ve brought the blunt & sassy delivery of her insults without making it feel forced?
Naya’s natural sense of timing & delivery combined with just the right inflections to elevate the material to new heights were a revelation. Santana’s scenes come off genuine and true to the character thanks to Naya’s complete understanding & commitment to the role.
Santana gave hope to LGBTQ fans everywhere
As a queer woman of color, many fans related to the struggles of Santana and her fear of being ostracized for her sexuality. One of the key scenes of the show features Santana coming out to her grandmother with a monologue that perfectly expresses the state of mind of anyone who’s been in the same situation.
“I love girls,” Santana says to her grandmother, “the way I’m supposed to feel about boys . . . When I’m with Brittany, I finally understand what people are talking about when they talk about love.
“I’ve tried so hard to push this feeling away and keep it locked inside, but every day just feels like a war. And I walk around so mad at the world, but I’m really just fighting with myself. I don’t want to fight anymore. I’m just too tired. I have to just be me.”
This resonated with many LGBTQ youths who were fans of Glee. It’s hard to go through life hiding who you truly are to the people around you. And that’s why portrayals like these are so valuable – to give hope to those who need it.