Once a fledgling web series, ‘Gentefied’ returns to Sundance — Netflix in tow

‘Gentefied’ showrunner Monica Macer, left, executive producer America Ferrera and creators Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez are photographed at the corner of East Cesar E. Chavez and North Townsend avenues in Boyle Heights.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

It was around this time three years ago when “Gentefied,” a bilingual web series exploring gentrification in Boyle Heights, had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in the Short Form Episodic Showcase. But the series, which originally consisted of seven 10-minute episodes, never actually hit the Internet.

The team behind “Gentefied” — co-creators Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez, as well as executive producer America Ferrera — decided not to make it available via platforms like YouTube or Vimeo, one of the most common routes for web series.

Instead, they cobbled together a concept trailer, believing that it would improve their chances of finding distribution for the show, which is produced by multimedia company Macro. Lemus had previously worked on “Dear White People” and thought he’d follow the model of that film’s creator, Justin Simien, in using data from the trailer to entice potential distributors.

“We were like, ‘Let’s walk into these rooms with numbers,’” Lemus told The Times.

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There was interest. But over and over again, Lemus and the team found that executives wanted traditional TV pitches. After Sundance, they began expanding the series into a half-hour format.

Now “Gentefied” is returning to the festival to celebrate its reincarnation as a Netflix series. According to Lemus and Chávez, the team first met with Netflix about a week after premiering at Sundance, and “Gentefied” officially sold to Netflix and began development in the late spring of 2017.

“Ultimately, it was about, ‘Where are these young people going to get their vision on the screen?’” Ferrera said. “Netflix felt right for everyone. They’re open to letting it be Marvin and Linda’s vision that reaches the audience.”

When the streaming platform ordered “Gentefied” to series, it also bought the digital series.

In its original, slimmer format, the series hewed close to an anthology style: . Each episode focused on one of the seven major characters as he or she navigated the changes in their neighborhood. But as the series was adapted into a more traditional TV format, Lemus and Chávez wanted to create more of an arc that viewers could follow from start to finish.

The Morales primos love their culture, community and family. But what happens when you have to choose between them? “Gentefied” premieres February 21 on Netflix.

The rejiggered dramedy, which premieres Feb. 21, follows three Mexican American cousins and their immigrant grandfather who, in their individual quests for the American dream, find themselves trying to save the family’s taco shop as gentrification knocks on their neighborhood‘s door. Monica Macer (“Queen Sugar,” “Nashville”) serves as showrunner.

“We always called it this tapestry of the community,” Lemus said. “We wanted to put new types of Latino characters that we had never seen before. Because we only ever get to see the cholos or the prisoner or the maid.”

Added Chávez: “We’re wanted to put our tios (uncles and aunts), our primos (cousins), the old and the new immigrants, and the first gen[eration] kids. We wanted to see a fuller idea of who we are .... to write a love letter to the community and our culture.”

On Friday, Netflix is hosting a kickoff party at Sundance with Latinx House, an initiative that aims to highlight Latinx voices at major cultural events including SXSW and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. On Saturday, Ferrera will participate in a fireside chat at the space, and Eva Longoria will moderate a panel with the executive producers at the Macro Lodge.