Keep Breathing is Netflix’s latest limited series to quickly climb to the No. 1 spot on the streamer’s Top 10 Shows list.
The six-episode series stars Melissa Barrera as Liv, a no-nonsense attorney living in New York City. She embarks on a journey to find answers about her family’s past but finds herself stuck in the wilderness after her plane crashes on the Canadian frontier. The show is very much a survival thriller that finds Barrera in one of her most physically demanding roles yet, but those intense scenes are just a fraction of the story the show is telling. The grueling physical scenes are balanced out by the emotional breakthrough that Barrera’s character is going through as she has to face the turmoil and trauma from her childhood that she has buried for so long after being abandoned by her mother.
Her trip’s goal was to find her mom and get answers, but Liv has to face her demons by herself instead and the show depicts those moments by using flashbacks to tell the story. While finding ways to survive, Liv realizes she is the only person that can help her heal from her traumas and out of this wilderness. Some viewers are having trouble understanding the show’s ambiguous ending, but Keep Breathing creators Martin Gero and Brendan Gall have already clarified how things end for Liv in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. We won’t spoil the ending, but the survival aspect of the show is not nearly as important as the process of growth and discovery the main character goes through internally.
Before Gero and Gall cast Barrera for the role, Liv was not written as a Latina. Barrera says the creators rewrote the script with the help of writer Iturri Sosa to help add more authenticity to to the character and her family. Latinxs are not usually depicted like this in Hollywood; Liv is a lawyer, while her father is a college professor and her mom is an artist. They have internal issues, the way all families do, but they aren’t struggling financially, which is so unlike the usual scope and stereotypes that Latin characters are usually given in TV and movies.
“I love this kind of representation, it’s the kind that I seek out in the roles that I play. The representation that is subtle and at the same time powerful because we’re breaking barriers and we don’t have to justify our existence,” Barrera, who previously starred in Vida and In The Heights, tells Complex. “There’s a little bit of Spanish in the show, but not a lot, and there’s no mention of her being successful and a Latina and what that means—she just is.”
She added: “Latinos can be successful and they can have money in the United States and they can live well. And I feel like in Latinx shows, we’re always struggling. It’s a reality and there’s a lot of merits to people that come from the bottom and then come up, but also, that’s not all that we are.”
Netflix has had great success with women-led limited series like 2021’s Maid, and its star Margaret Qualley secured an Emmy nomination in the Best Actress category—and regardless of what critics have to say about Keep Breathing, Barrera deserves the same type of acknowledgment for her performance. Complex caught up with Barrera to talk about the real meaning of the show, the extensive physical preparation and training she underwent for this role, and how grateful she is that there are more opportunities for Latinxs in the industry. [Ed Note: This interview contains some spoilers for Keep Breathing.]