Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Cesar Chavez Day”

Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers. — Cesar Chavez

My family’s activism has never wavered since those first steps towards civic awareness, which took shape at home and in our classrooms at South Ranchito Elementary in Pico Rivera, California. I will never forget that moment in 1977, when those first uncertain steps led me to an encounter with the person who envisioned the path many Latinos remain on today: Cesar Chavez. As we honor this great man today, following is a remembrance piece I wrote for Desde Hollywood in 2014, which was timed to the release of director Diego Luna’s underrated “Cesar Chavez” film.

If you were a Latino (or Chicano) child of the 1970s in southern California, chances are you were part of a bilingual education program that was a glorious but short-lived experiment. Today, I can see it as a powerful opportunity to build a bilingual cultural identity. That wasn’t quite the image I had several decades ago. My parents, both Mexican immigrants, were unusual in the sense that they gave their first generation American children a choice. We could either learn Spanish or not. Sadly, I did not take advantage of becoming bilingual until many years later. Yet, I never lost sight that I was part of something bigger. The question became not just about learning the language, but understanding the importance of preserving a multi-cultural identity. Today, many of us face an additional challenge in terms of what role we should assume as Latinos and as Americans with a voice.

As the rising power of Latinos continues to amass in our contemporary culture, it is thrilling to discover the community at a real crossroads. We will dictate the next election. Immigration reform has never been a more prominent and important issue. The national narrative is being re-written, but how do we make sure we get a chance to contribute to these next chapters in American history? It is about taking those first steps forward to achieve awareness, to educate ourselves on the issues that affect us all.

The arrival of “Cesar Chavez” was a significant achievement for many reasons. Some have to do with the hope of a changing film industry that remains in play, but others are decidedly personal. Hollywood loves telling the stories of ordinary people who stare down adversity to become extraordinary figures in history. We’ve witnessed the return of the Great Emancipator; a king’s struggle with speech, the rise and fall of an “iron lady” and the harrowing 12 years lived by an American slave. Yet, something unusual happened when I viewed “Cesar Chavez” for the first time. This time, it wasn’t a performance or scene that stirred an emotional response. To coin a much clichéd tag line, this time the movie was personal.

In 1977, my entire family marched with Chavez and the United Farm Workers on a sunny April day in the Coachella Valley against the lettuce growers. We all knew the importance of Chavez’s actions would remain far-reaching. By today’s standards of political correctness, the teachers at South Ranchito Elementary could have been charged with imposing their own political agenda on their nine and 10 year-old students. Yet, today hindsight reveals a different scenario. These educators were trying to instill in us the value of community and responsibility we shared in preserving its ideals. We were being taught the power of being connected, very much how Chavez himself went out to speak with individuals face to face. It was that connectivity that created the UFW and changed the political future for Latinos in this country.

I am ashamed to admit that the impact of that April day faded too soon. I was living a suburban life of relative comfort by comparison to the young field workers I met that afternoon in the Coachella Valley. They saw the world a lot differently, but they didn’t shame us for not understanding. We were interlopers from classrooms miles away; fulfilling a teacher’s hope the experience would change us in some way. My adult journey did allow for a sense of community awareness, overreacting to hot button issues, as do most of us. But none of this happened in the way my idealistic teachers hoped. I’m an average American who votes, adhering to moderate political views. As I reach middle age, however, I find I am now questioning much in our modern life. And it is spilling into the contributions I am making as a member of the media.

It would be easy to go off on a tangent about how the industry still cannot understand that a multi-cultural audience wants to see itself on screen in roles that aren’t stereotypes. It is no coincidence that instead of watching films about dead rock stars, films like Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included” are playing favorably with more than just a Latino audience. But the Latino community showed its strength and they were heard. Now, “Cesar Chavez” the film needs that same grassroots support to sustain what should be viewed as a cultural movement.

After watching the marches and rallies depicted in “Cesar Chavez,” my mind went straight to the details of that hot April afternoon. The dusty walk of the countless supporters who joined la causa, their strong voices unified into a choir of peaceful civil disobedience, the annoying splinter in my right hand from the wood of the sign I held straight up into the sky. Even the hideous tartan pants I wore that day seem to take on a “Braveheart” glow. But most of all, I remember the walk to meet Chavez himself at the post-march rally.

My dad was with me, encouraging me not to be shy. We had been waiting for a break in the crowd, all wanting a moment to speak to him. Finally, we had our chance. I walked with the same purpose of my father, my shorter stride valiantly trying to mirror Dad’s more confident steps. Jorge Sr. spoke first, of course. Then, he introduced me to el señor Chavez. I was shaking the man’s hand, receiving that welcoming smile and a kind word of appreciation for being there that day. He went from being a photo in a textbook or news item into something out of a movie. Cesar Chavez was real and he was a real hero.

In early February (of 2014), I had the opportunity to sit down with Luna to conduct the interview that would be used for the “Cesar Chavez” broadcast press materials. He had just flown into Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., where he presented the film prior to moving on to its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. What should have been an easy 20-minute on-camera exchange for the electronic press kit became a 90-minute conversation that covered more than just the making of the film. The candor and sincerity revealed by Luna could not be tempered by exhaustion. Much is riding on the film and he is fully aware of what its success will dictate to him as he evolves from actor to director.

We are taught as journalists to never become part of the story, but this was a unique situation. It is hard to not see this as a full circle experience. Many people will be introduced to Cesar Chavez for the first time after viewing Luna’s film. It is an artistic risk for the Mexican-born artist, particularly with taking on this most American of subjects.

Still, the possibility of this cinematic meeting between Chavez and today’s audiences having the same resounding effect as it did with the hundreds of thousands of men and women who stood by Chavez, his family and the UFW is tangible. Therein lies the power of film. The greatest lesson to be learned is not reserved for the immigrants or American-born Latinos who continue to revere him. All of us must understand the meaning and power of Sí Se Puede. It does not belong to any one era or people. Its purpose applies to all those seeking to make change happen.

To illustrate the point further, here are excerpts from my conversation with Diego Luna on “Cesar Chavez,” exclusive to Desde Hollywood:

JORGE CARREÓN: Cesar Chavez was a truly humble man. How would he have viewed this entire process of making and promoting the film about his life?

DIEGO LUNA: He never wanted a film to be made about him. When people got to him and said, “We want to make a film about you,” He said, “No, no, no. I have a lot of work to do. I cannot sit down with you to talk about what I’ve done. I still have a lot to do. So, no films.” He hated the idea of being recognized. If you wanted to give him recognition, an award, he would ask you to do in the name of the union. He hated to be on the front page.

CARREÓN: Even with the industry’s fascination with biographical films, does his reticence explain why a film about his life has taken such a long time?

LUNA: There’s a reason why there’s not been a biopic about Cesar like the ones normally done in this country. If I were going to come and do a film, why would I try to repeat something that also doesn’t belong to me? To the way I see the world, to the kind of films we want to do? I wanted to make a film that for a moment you could say; “Oh is this going to end right or wrong? Is this going to have a happy ending where they win or not?” I hate films that when they start and you know how they’re going to end it. I’m pretty sure that in the course of these 10 years we cover of his life, he woke up many times saying, “This is not going to work.” I wanted that to be part of the film. If I would have shown a perfect man, making just the right decisions all the time, then you know the end. Why would you pay a ticket to see that? The other answer I have, which is not as beautiful as this one, is because you guys never made it.

CARREÓN: How do you hope the impact of “Instructions Not Included” will increase the marketability of “Cesar Chavez” with a mainstream audience?

LUNA: I hope this film works in that way. Before “Instructions Not Included,” every huge success in Mexico was like a niche success here. But that one was unbelievable. Suddenly on both sides of the border people were saying, “I want to see the same film.” That means something. Things are changing. So it makes sense there’s a Mexican telling the story of Cesar Chavez.

CARREÓN: Hard to believe, but you can see how certain sectors of the Latino American and Mexican film communities may have a polarized view of what you’ve done as director of “Cesar Chavez.”

LUNA: We are two different communities and I have to say there’s a lot of prejudice about Mexican-Americans in Mexico. And there’s also a lot of prejudice about the Mexican experience today from the Mexican-American community. Things have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. This film is an attempt to bring that wall down. It’s ridiculous that we’re not connected. That we are not working for each other, feeding each other. I come here and I go to my favorite two places near my house. One is a restaurant. There’s a family from Nayarit that does the best pescado a la plancha that you can get in California. It’s unbelievable that they’re not in touch with those who cook the exact same dish every day on the other side of the border. Why do we allow this world to really separate us? It’s ridiculous. I think we would be strong, really strong if we would be connected, if we would feel as part of the same thing. It’s like what the film says, “You can think it’s all about you and your life is miserable or you can open the door and say, ‘He probably thinks the same and if he thinks the same, if we all get together we might be able to change things.’” It’s time that we see each other as part of the same people. We would be stronger. We would be able to say we want these films to be made. We want more films like “Cesar Chavez” that would represent us, films that are about people like us.

CARREÓN: The reality is many audience members will be introduced to Chavez’s life for the first time. It is a thrilling prospect to see what they will take from this introduction.

LUNA: I think Chavez showed something very simple, but very difficult to actually believe in, which is even though you think that person doesn’t care about you, he does. He does. We have to work that muscle so we don’t lose that ability to actually care about what’s going on with our neighbors. We’re learning to be around so much violence and injustice and we shouldn’t get used to that.

CARREÓN: With the film now being seen by a mass audience, what impact are you hoping the film is able to make? This is a bold move, away from how the industry views you as an artist.

LUNA: I want to inspire people to say, “Why is there not another Cesar Chavez today in this community? What’s going on? We could be that man.” His life was very difficult. Eight kids. Imagine convincing that amount of people to go back to live in the worst conditions in the fields to bring change for a community that you’re not part of anymore? We should be celebrating that this happened and hope this is the first of many films not just about Cesar Chavez but the farmworker experience and the Mexican-American experience. I truly think we just have one chance. If this film doesn’t succeed in the box office, if people don’t actually go watch it, I’m going to have to rethink what I’m going to do in life or where I’m going to do it. This one shot has taken four years of my life. My son was born here. I opened a company in the States. But my heart, my stories, my father and my friends are in Mexico and I need to be able to keep both things happening. The film is about that in a way. I really hope this shows that cinema should be representing this community today with respect. It’s a very complex community and the need of content is huge. Films like “Cesar Chavez” need to exist and it’s just not happening. So let’s hope it starts to happen.

#SiSePuede #VivaLaCausa

From the MediaJor Vault: Anne Rice

From the MediaJor Vault: Anne Rice

I have to credit Facebook for this profile on Anne Rice. Originally written in 2011 when I was the loftily named LA Personalities Examiner for Examiner.com, the interview was timed to the publication of “Of Love and Evil.” At the time, extraordinary events were unfolding in the Middle East as Egypt struggled with reform. We watched in amazement because it proved  both thrilling and disheartening to contemplate what it would mean for us all.

As we wade deeper into Trump infested waters, seeing this Rice profiler appear on my Facebook feed is almost too eerie. The original Examiner link is no longer working as I haven’t written for that site in several years. Most of my Examiner contributions have been claimed by the ether, to be frank. So, it was a nice discovery to find it exists. Because Ms. Rice had some really interesting things to say about our “eternal struggle between right and wrong.”

I hope you agree.

This eternal struggle between right and wrong is the identifying narrative of our time. Can change survive or will repression continue to get its way? For iconic author Anne Rice, exploring such themes has evolved into the hallmark of her current artistic life. With her latest novel, Of Love and Evil, Rice weighs in on the conflicts that continue to rage hard within us despite living in a modern age.

“What interests me is the war between good and evil inside each person,” Rice said, “and the capacity for good, and the way people fight to be good even when others are telling them to give up.”

Expressing any opinion on the meeting between faith and politics is grounds for certain damnation in today’s conservative media landscape. As regimes, democratic or otherwise, continue their desperate bid for control, the importance of love conquering evil will only increase. It comes down to a simple choice: Take a stand and voice your dissent. In the summer of 2010, Rice ignited a media firestorm when she announced she was excommunicating herself from the Catholic Church. It was a bold decision, one that garnered national headlines.

Later that year, Rice offered her own reflections on that turning point and more in a Personalities Interview via phone from her home in Rancho Mirage, CA. Conducted during her promotional tour for her latest novel in the Songs of the Seraphim series, Rice’s comments have taken on a timely resonance in light of the current political climate. Here’s more with Rice on where she chooses to stand in the battle between love and evil.

JORGE CARREON: Perhaps the most controversial F-word of late is “faith.” It is astounding how we have yet to reconcile the political nature of organized religions. You made a defiant statement to withdraw from the Catholic Church in 2010. How has that decision continue to reverberate for you today?

ANNE RICE: Well, I received thousands of emails in response to the news stories about that. I had no idea when I walked away that it was going to make news. I mean, I announced it on my Facebook page really to tell my readers that I was no longer part of organized religion, and I had no idea that it would be written about in the Washington Post, and there would be so many blog posts about it and so many stories. And thousands of emails did come in, and the vast majority was positive. They were all supportive. They were mostly from people who said that they, too, believed in God, and they too believed in Jesus Christ. But, they, too, did not go to church and would not go to church for various reasons. I found that just amazing. I did receive critical emails, very nasty, unpleasant emails from some people. And, many that simply invited me to a new kind of church that said, “Why don’t you come to the Unitarians? Why don’t you come to the Episcopalians? Why don’t you come to the United Church of Christ? We are inclusive. We accept gay people. We have married gay people. We have gay people who are clergy.” I was quite surprised at how positive the reaction was. I mean, it’s sad in a way. It’s very nice for people to support you in your decision, but it’s very sad that this many people are disillusioned with organized religion. They really feel let down by it, confused by it. And that’s the explanation why my statements struck a chord, because they struck a chord with people who felt the same way or had been hearing from people who felt the same way. It went on for about a month, stories and blogs and so forth. And I shared a lot of it with people on Facebook and got many more comments, and it was great. I can’t say I’m happy about it. I don’t think it’s a happy thing to walk away from Catholicism. It’s sad. I mean, you lose the group, you lose the rituals, and you lose the beauty. You lose all of that. And that had for 12 years been part of my life, just as it had for the first 18 years of my life. And it was very sad to once again step away and say “I can’t support this. I can’t believe it.” But I do feel liberated, and I feel that it was the only thing that I could do, and I guess I’m glad that I found the courage to do it, if courage is the right word.

CARREON: Do you believe religion may never relinquish its grip on global politics and our daily lives?

RICE: I never dreamed in the ‘60s or ‘70s or ‘80s that religion could be this much of our lives, that somebody during a presidential election would ask the candidates whether they believed in God or believed in evolution or believed in Creationism. I mean, I’m shocked that it became that important. I really believe in the separation of church and state. I think we had traditionally two different approaches to the law in Western culture. One approach is by reason. We reason with one another about the law and we evolve our laws based on reason. That’s what I believe in when it comes to politics and law. The other tradition is that law is revealed by a deity, and that one has to stand by those revelations. That’s what a great many religious Americans are trying to tell the rest of us, that the law is revealed and that we have to listen to them on the subject of revelations. I think it’s very dangerous. I think our country is founded on the principle that law is arrived at by reason. I think it’s dangerous, I think it’s bad, I think it’s alienated and upset many, many people, and it certainly contributed to why I walked away. I walked away from religion for theological reasons as much as social and political reasons, but it was all part of the picture. I mean, I simply could not support a religion that relentlessly persecutes gay people and women and children. I just won’t do it.

CARREON: Beauty can still be found in the message of faith. As you continue to write, that message looks to still play a huge part in the narratives you create.

RICE: It’s true.

CARREON: How do you reconcile the two halves of yourself, the narrative mind and your real self, so to speak?

RICE: I finished Of Love and Evil before I broke with the Church and a lot of what Toby (the novel’s lead protagonist) goes through in that book reflects what I was experiencing. He speaks of doubts, and fears, and how even though he’s seeing angels, even though he’s converted and he’s witnessed miracles, he still is subject to doubts and fears. That is something that I was coming to face, that the consolation you receive at the time of a conversion is not necessarily going to stay with you day in and day out. Doubt and fear are going to be part of your life and I was wrestling with it. I think when I get to the third book; I will be able to go into this ever more deeply. I feel a freedom to go into it ever more deeply.

CARREON: Love and evil are small words to look at, but they pack such extraordinary definitions. What do they mean for you?

RICE: Love, I think, can save the world. It can bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. It is the greatest thing that we are capable of, love. And it can save every single person on the planet in some way, psychologically and socially. It can bring peace on Earth. Love is everything. Evil for me is largely what we’re capable of when we behave in a selfish and greedy and destructive and vicious way. And of course I know many people who are believers of a personified Devil. I’m not sure I do. I think that comes out in Of Love and Evil. There’s a real question as to whether there’s a personified Devil and I’m wrestling with that. Because that’s what evil and love mean to me. Evil means what we are capable of doing when we hurt other people, when we kill them, are violent to them and really harm them.

CARREON: Can atonement still exist in today’s culture?

RICE: Oh yes. Sure. Just go to an AA meeting. Go to an open meeting and listen to people from all over talking about how they’ve made amends with the people around them, how they’ve changed their lives, how they’ve made amends to children and spouses they’ve hurt. And of course, there’s atonement there. You know, the word atonement is a funny word. It means “at one meant.” So, if you think of it as strictly suffering to pay a debt, no. Maybe that’s something we now reject in the 21st century. We don’t think you have to suffer agony to pay a debt. We think you have to do something good about what you did. You have to change your ways. You know, you just don’t go off and suffer for how badly you treated your children. You re-approach your children and try to show them love.

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Anne Rice’s latest novel, Of Love and Evil is currently available from Knopf at Amazon.com and all other booksellers. And, yes. That regal vampire of a generation, Lestat, may be coming back to the big screen sooner than later. Rice confirmed that she is fielding renewed interest in her Vampire Chronicles books.

“I don’t have anything firm yet to announce,” Rice said. “I hope that there will be movies soon and I hope that they will be productions that are true to the spirit of Lestat’s personality. That’s what the readers really want when they see the name Anne Rice and the name Lestat.”

As to who she would like to see take over the fabled role?

“When the rumor came out last year that Robert Downey, Jr. might do it, I thought that was terrifically exciting,” Rice added. “He has such depth. And he has such a mischievous spirit. I could really see him being a great Lestat. But there are many, many other people who could do it.”

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From the MediaJor Vault: Rosario Dawson

From the MediaJor Vault: Rosario Dawson

 

Oscar winning director Danny Boyle earned his master status by never making the same film twice. In recent years, he’s been engaged by decidedly human tales with an edge of romance (“Slumdog Millionaire”) or harrowing survival (“127 Hours”). But what would audiences make of “Trance?” One word: Underrated.

Revisiting the moral grit that made “Shallow Grave” and “Trainspotting” two of his best films, “Trance” emerged as its own entity. An unforgettable, old school psychological thriller that is beautifully sleek and modern, “Trance,” at least to me solidified Boyle’s position as a filmmaker of great muscle and nerve. And, if any actor was born to be part of a Boyle Ensemble, it is the fearless Rosario Dawson.

While Dawson has been firing up the Marvel Cinematic Universe of late as Claire Temple in the Netflix series “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and the new “Luke Cage,” the bigger heat has been reserved for this year’s presidential election. A fervent supporter of Bernie Sanders, Dawson has garnered headlines for her commitment to Sanders’s “party of the people” agenda during the DNC. Earlier this year, she was among the protesters arrested in April during Democracy Spring in Washington, D.C. It is exactly this fervent desire for change and to continue the conversation of creating a civil and honest society that makes Dawson one of my favorite people to interview.

Whether it was on the set of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” in Vancouver or in a hotel ballroom in Santa Monica for “Unstoppable,” she has never wavered in terms of her candor, sense of humor, authenticity or grace. In this edition of “From the MediaJor Vault,” Dawson proved “entrancing” when she spoke about her role in the film during this interview from March, 2013 in Los Angeles.

(Interview produced by Jorge Carreon and edited by Sara Gordon Hilton.)

 

From the MediaJor Vault: Sarah Paulson

From the MediaJor Vault: Sarah Paulson

The groundbreaking vision of AMERICAN HORROR STORY may not be to everyone’s taste, nor has it remained consistent. But AHS has its legion of fans for very specific reasons and that loyalty was cemented with its dark and unsettling second season, “Asylum.”

No one can deny that AHS features one of the strongest ensemble casts assembled for any screen — silver or otherwise. With careful precision, filmmaker and television powerhouse Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Crime Story”) gathered a cast of players that not only committed themselves to the challenging, genre-driven material at hand, they elevated it to vertiginous heights. Next to the legendary Jessica Lange, no other AHS player proved themselves as fearless than Sarah Paulson.

As intrepid reporter Lana Winters in “Asylum,” Paulson brought a humanity and soul to the often soul crushing abuse she endures at the infamous Briarcliff asylum. What made Winters such an unforgettable character was Murphy and the series writers never allowing her to become a horror victim stereotype. Winters always has a plan, keeping her wits about her no matter how dire the circumstances. She may look like Mary Richards, but she possesses an edge and a survivor’s mettle that makes her all the more unique.

The contrast between Paulson’s contribution to the first season of AHS, where she played a moony psychic, to her role as a lesbian journalist in “Asylum” is a testament to her versatility and strength. While she also went full witch mode for “Coven,” she hasn’t been put on such vivid display in the subsequent installments of AHS. But, no fan will ever forget her steely control in the “Asylum” finale, when the last act of Ms. Winters’s harrowing journey proved to be appropriately mindblowing, indeed.

Being part of the Ryan Murphy Players has been quite good for Paulson, nabbing two Emmy nominations this year alone for her work on “AHS: Hotel” and for her searing turn as attorney Marcia Clark in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” The Emmy voters may need to be sent to an “asylum” if they don’t finally award Paulson with one of those darned statues already. In the meantime, take a look back and out what Paulson had to say to me in January 2013, right before the infamous series finale aired in this edition of “From the MediaJor Vault.”

UPDATE: Congratulations on your long-deserved Emmy win for your leading role on “ACS!” Ms. Paulson!

(Interview produced by Jorge Carreón; edited by Sara Gordon Hilton for The MediaJor Channel.)

From the MediaJor Vault: Javier Bardem

From the MediaJor Vault: Javier Bardem

If Fridays are for flashbacks, why not open up the extensive MediaJor interview vault for a new “Confessions” feature? First out: Oscar winner Javier Bardem.

No Bond film is ever complete without a villain — and there has never been a villain like Javier Bardem’s Silva in SKYFALL. As this most venerable film franchise hits a creative peak in its 50th year, actor Daniel Craig (who solidified his position as the new Bond benchmark) was only one reason why audiences have turned SKYFALL into such a success. It was also Bardem’s wicked cool that generated an equal amount of heat with fans. And he may just become the first Bond film actor to ever be nominated for an Academy Award, too. (Well, that didn’t happen. But the film did win an Oscar for its Adele-powered theme song.)

Bardem was most recently seen in Sean Penn’s “The Last Face” and will next be seen in Darren Aronofsky’s untitled film, co-starring  Jennifer Lawrence. He’s also starring in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” which sets sail in 2017. And word is Bardem may be starring in a remake of “Frankenstein.”

In the meantime, watch me get shaken and stirred with Bardem as we “bond-ed” in this interview from 2012, which originally appeared on The MediaJor Channel.

Produced by Jorge Carreon. Edited by Sara Gordon Hilton.

Why I’m proud to be a Mexi-can in Hollywood

Why I’m proud to be a Mexi-can in Hollywood

While we dissect the Trumpian phenomenon ushering in the era of Idiocracy in America, the New York Times published a stellar think-piece on the struggle for diversity in Hollywood. Written by Melena Ryzik, the article was a welcome respite from a news feed clogged with Trump’s latest example of “hoof in mouth” rantings. We are living in serious times and we need to keep our focus on the issues that are seriously undermining our identity and modern culture.

I know I am not alone in thinking that America still leads the world by example. Imagine our disappointment in knowing we are now the biggest reality show ever produced, where racism, ignorance, vulgar excess and rampant egoism has been given a platform — and worse — validation. I refuse to allow this Age of Idiocracy to take further root. We all bear a responsibility to not just elevate the whole of society, not our specialized interest groups. That is why Ryzik’s article resonated so strongly with me. We ALL need to take the country back.

I can only speak from my small corner of the entertainment industry, but it is a powerful group with which to be associated. We are the ones charged with creating the narratives for the general public to enjoy. What we project on screen has impact and can shape popular thought. If we are to beat Trump at his own game, then we need to educate everyone as to why we need the media to curate a national image that is representative of the nation as a whole. As it stands, we are still woefully deficient in having the infrastructure to even contemplate such a shift in image. As Ryzik’s writes in her lead:

The statistics are unequivocal: Women and minorities are vastly underrepresented in front of and behind the camera. Here, 27 industry players reveal the stories behind the numbers — their personal experiences of not feeling seen, heard or accepted, and how they pushed forward. In Hollywood, exclusion goes far beyond#OscarsSoWhite.

Reading this article was empowering and frustrating at the same time. Frustrating because eliminating the racial/gender bias of Hollywood is still like chipping away at an endless wall of concrete.

I still have people assume I don’t speak English at junkets based on my name. Sometimes, these same people will address me in a slower or louder tone, even AFTER I’ve already spoken to them in what I think is a very educated, American English voice. Or, I’m referred to as “Jose” or “Javier,” even in a city like LA. I guess being “Jorge” is the most foreign name ever.

For a time, I would only be considered the “best” choice for certain projects because these films had an “ethnic” theme. It was a lot harder to get the “event” or “mainstream” films. That isn’t the case anymore. But it took the support and encouragement of a handful of studio executives that were my bosses in publicity to make this happen. They saw beyond my ethnicity and realized that I had a unique perspective as an interviewer that wasn’t just dictated by gender, orientation or cultural background.

Today, I can safely say I’ve interviewed some of the best and best-known figures in entertainment, as well as cultural and political figures that have shaped our modern world. (Take that, Oprah and Charlie Rose.) Few Latino (and even fewer bilingual) producer/interviewers exist in the studio content industry. I wish that wasn’t the case, but I think the advent of social media will refine this reality.

It is important to recognize the roles we all play in proving why the “norm” is not acceptable. As long as we continue to encourage and be part of the dialogue, we will be the designers of the solution, too. More, we need to encourage future generations that they have every right to dictate the narratives realized on screen. We need to inculcate in our children that they have no reason to fear not being seen, heard or accepted within industries like entertainment and media. Their face is the face of the new America.

No matter what Trump says, we don’t need any new walls. If anything, we need to bring them all down and end this Age of Idiocracy before it destroys the very things that make this country great.

Click the link below to read Ryzik’s article now:

 

 

Conversations about “The Clan” with the filmmakers and stars

Conversations about “The Clan” with the filmmakers and stars

When imagining Argentina, superficial references to the tango, polo playing and the pop culture legacy of Eva Perón may apply for some. But the reality is you cannot define Argentina in such limiting terms. Its place within Latin America is as complex and contradictory as its neighbors, existing as a country rife with history and invaluable contributions to world history. Yet, to take a closer look at Argentina is to gaze into a mirror that reflects the best and worst of human nature.

From award-winning director Pablo Trapero (“Carancho,” “White Elephant”), THE CLAN is an unflinching depiction of the consequences wrought by Argentina’s dictatorship through the prism of the incredible true story of the Puccio family. A narrative spun with equal parts suspense, action and intrigue, THE CLAN offers an unrelenting chronicle on the manner with which this seemingly normal middle class family afforded its comfortable lives through kidnapping, extortion and murder. With laser-like precision, Trapero carefully and without embellishment ensnares and provokes the audience to think about what they’ve witnessed long after the credits roll. At what point do we lose our sense of morality and ethics? How can people, especially those of a privileged status, allow themselves to be persuaded to commit such atrocious acts in the name of protecting the greater good, like a family’s well being?

Released in Argentina in August 2015 to great acclaim and record breaking box office success, THE CLAN not only reignited interest in the Puccios’ life story, it has been acclaimed for offering a potent cautionary tale for a new generation to process. For the second time in 30 years, the Puccio clan succeeded in rocking the nation with their secrets and lies.

Chronicling a series of abductions that occurred between 1982 and 1985, the film is at once a riveting drama to view in the present and a searing indictment of Argentina’s past. Viewing THE CLAN will lead many to ask the universal question asked whenever monsters are revealed to exist in the most unexpected sectors of society: Why?

It is not enough to say the family simply acted on the father’s wishes to protect their way of life. Sons, daughters, friends, all participated in these crimes willingly, despite the very real possibility of being caught. Even as their moral conscience would sometimes break through, they continued with these deeds without ever their neighbors’ awareness. The lack of a definitive answer as to why the Puccios’ resorted to such wicked deeds may frustrate those seeking a black and white closure to their narrative on screen. And, any clear answers remain with the late Arquímedes Puccio, who maintained his lack of culpability to the end.

Sometimes real life can truly be stranger than fiction. However, in the case of the infamous Puccios, the mind reels. In preparing for the North American release of THE CLAN, director Pablo Trapero, producer Matías Mosteirín, legendary Argentinian film star Guillermo Francella and rising star Peter Lanzani sat down to contemplate several questions about the legacy of the Puccio clan. It wasn’t enough to simply recreate the period details of the era. The filmmakers and cast were charged with a challenging task: to bring humanity and truth to the people and events that defy most sensibilities. In the conversation that follows, it is evident that the commitment shared by the entire production was resolute. EL CLAN may not be a documentary. However, if they learned one thing in bringing Trapero’s vision to life, it is that the reality of the Puccio family retains an all-too-tragic relevance to the time we are living today.

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JORGE CARREON: What do you remember of the Puccios’ era in Argentina? How did that color your efforts in creating THE CLAN? Did you start with wanting to make a statement about Argentina first or capture the essence of the Puccios’ extraordinary story?

PABLO TRAPERO: When I first heard the news of the Puccios, I was 13 or 14 years old. The Puccios were a family that seemed like any ordinary family. Even within their neighborhood, people could not believe they could have responsible for such crimes because the family seemed so normal. Many years later when I was preparing my film “Leonera” in 2007, I started thinking about making a film based on the actual Puccio case, but I only knew the superficial details about the family, nothing else. There wasn’t a lot of information, especially how it related to Arquímedes within the context of the time. During this research process, I began to realize this intimate story was absolutely universal. However, I would also be able to tell the story about an era in Argentina’s history that is not so well known. There have been many films about the dictatorship, those dark years that are part of Argentina, like “The Official Story,” which won an Academy Award® and spoke about the early years of the democracy. And there have been other films, too, that have depicted the years before and after, but not the transition. That step was very painful for the country. For many people, it represented the hope of something new, but also that hope was very weak. Because our past history was so hard, it felt like it was conspiring against it. That’s something I remember from when I was a kid. We felt so much euphoria over the arrival of democracy, but also the fear that it wouldn’t last. There’s even a line in the movie where a character is asked, “How long will this last?” and he responds, “Two years.” That best represents the era and the spirit of some people who were very skeptical about whether the democracy would work. At one point, late in the process, I decided to start with Alfonsín speaking about “Nunca Más,” a statement on how we as a country can never repeat the past again. The case of the Puccio family was a symptom of a sick society. The shift in government is also a symptom of that time. That shift is what brought the Puccios’ story to an end. Hence, there isn’t the role of an investigator in the film because it was not so much the will of someone in particular to catch the family. The political changes are what brought the era of the Puccios, and other people like them, to an end. They became known as “the hand of unemployed labor,” meaning they were individuals who worked for the military who lost their “jobs” once the democratic government was brought in. They began to improvise these privates businesses to continue what they had done for the previous regime. There were several cases like Puccio, but none so extreme because they did not involve their own family members. So, it all happened in reverse. I realized that the film could stand as a testimony to this era in Argentina’s history when I started to understand and investigate the intimate details of the family.

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CARREON: Given the fascinating psychology of the Puccio clan, why not make a documentary about the family? 

PT: I chose not to take the documentary route. The family’s story is incredible and it was tough even writing a script at that time. Would people even believe this story, much less accept them? They would have said, “Trapero has gone crazy and just wrote whatever he wanted.” It was something we talked a lot about with Matías. How much of this incredible story could be credible to the public. The simple truth is I’ve always believed in it as a narrative film and never as documentary. Still, to make this movie, we completed a lengthy period of investigation. The case was well known in niches, but it was not something that people talked about on the street. Those who would talk to you about the case were usually from the previous generations. A book has since been published, just before the premiere of the film. But we have a lot of research material, interviews, conversations, all of which had no place in fiction. Maybe some day we will use it for a documentary material again.

CARREON: Was it a challenge to distill the information you gathered to create a narrative script with impact, but without distorting the essence of the Puccios?

TRAPERO: It was a big challenge for me because it’s the first time I’ve made a film based on a true story. It’s the first time the characters in the film have the names of real people. That’s a major responsibility. The families of the victims will hear their real names. The question became how do we work with and process something that is based on their real lives? For most of the people who see this film, it may seem like a work of fiction but it is based on a true story. It was so helpful to speak with the families of the victims, especially with Rogelia Pozzi and Guillermo Manoukian. We also spoke to the judges on the case, journalists who investigated the story during that time. We also spoke to psychologists who could give us some idea as to the pathology of the case. We went to the neighbors that lived in the San Isidro district. Alejandro’s teammates at the rugby club gave us a perspective as to who he was. In reality and in the film, it was this group who remained the most skeptical that Alejandro could be guilty. They still think it was a gross error.

PETER LANZANI: It’s a really dark story. They did all of these things not only for money, but for power. I think the most sinister thing about them was that they would kidnap people they knew, their own friends or Alejandro’s friends that played rugby with him. It does reflect the decade that Argentina lived during the dictatorship. I didn’t live through it, but I studied it. I know too many people that lost family members or friends.

MATÍAS MOSTEIRÍN: Immediately after the Puccios were arrested and jailed, many people of their status felt they were falsely accused. It took a long time for people to accept that this family, which appeared to be a normal family, of good standing and social mobility, with great moral authority, could even be capable of creating this inferno of intimidation in their own home. Pablo is a very respected cineaste in Argentina and his films are greatly appreciated. Because no one had ever sought to review this story with a fresh perspective, I think his reputation helped in obtaining the cooperation of the people willing to offer their testimonies.

TRAPERO: They offered their most intimate knowledge, people who had been in the Puccios’ home for dinner while they had someone in captivity.

MOSTEIRÍN: The film then began to unfold for us. What usually happens with projects based on real stories, the adaptation process requires many changes. We clearly saw a visible pattern of what could be the movie. Pablo made the correct decision to respect the facts of the actual case and shape them naturally while building the narrative of the film. Because the script is based on court records and testimony from the relatives of victims, and the testimony of lawyers and judges, the film does not try to deny the truth. We did not have to resort to falsehoods.

TRAPERO: Of course we did not have transcripts of the conversations between Alejandro and his father. But we did have letters; we did have an idea as to how communicated. We did not have video, because these were the 80s, before we entered this culture of filming everything. However, we had access to lots of photographs, which were incredibly helpful, not only for the writing process but for the actors, too. They could study and analyze how they stood, how Arquímedes looked at his son. It was a great process, but in reconstructing these lives, we remained as respectful of the elements we had close to us.

CARREON: Why do you think the families and people involved in the research wanted to offer up such intimate details with you?

MOSTEIRÍN: I think for the pain, the need for this story to be recognized.

TRAPERO: They’ve carried many years of great loneliness. Behind this story are many people who sought justice in very difficult circumstances and it cost a lot to be heard. This is a case that eventually proved the criminal responsibility of these people. It was important to have this testimonial. Some people were very uncomfortable with the film being made, which speaks to how difficult it remains for many people, like the rugby club and the San Isidro neighborhood, to face the facts.

CARREON: The Puccio family dynamic is frighteningly normal to view on screen. It certainly magnifies the intensity with how the characters of Arquímedes and Alejandro interact with each other on screen. If one was the monster of the family, the other is depicted as something decided more human, certainly conflicted, but possessing a conscience.

MOSTEIRÍN: The kids had no real future, but Alejandro had a great future ahead. He had a great talent and the prospect of a successful career in the world of rugby. He was also an attractive guy, seductive, greatly loved by his peers. He was someone who had plenty of opportunities in life to develop, which made him privileged in that sense. Yet, instead of taking all these options before him, he chose or could not remove himself from the criminal path traced by his father. We were very interested in why he decided to be a part of what ultimately condemned him to ruining his life.

LANZANI: I think Alejandro knew what he was doing was wrong. No one with common sense would think that kidnapping your friends is a good idea. He was really ambitious. I think it was his decision to make. He was 24, 25 years old, which means he could make his own decision. He couldn’t stand up to his father. He didn’t have the ability to tell him that he didn’t want to continue. Alejandro carried this baggage for the rest of his life. When he tried look back at his past, he was really upset by the fact he betrayed what he wanted for himself.

MOSTEIRÍN: Despite all the information we had at our disposal, we were never going to know the minute-by-minute, day-to-day aspects of their family life. But they had a life of routine like any other, with the same relationships and feelings and moral commandments like all families. It was very important to Pablo to establish that the Puccios’ family dynamic was identifiable to any other. Another important character was the mother, Epifanía. The level of psychological manipulation, emotional and moral subjugation imposed by Arquímedes on his children is evident. However, the mother was much more subtle. She allowed for her children to fall under the mandate of the father. There is a sacrifice here, which makes the mother such a tragic figure in the classic sense. However, if one wants to think today as to how this story is inevitable, you need to think about the double standards of this family. How far can we sustain appearances while living with a secret? All societies create monsters, which appear from one day to the other. And we will always say, “How could this happen?”

TRAPERO: There is a saying in Argentina, “You can not cover the sun with your hands.” There is a time when reality is so strong it is very difficult to pretend that things do not happen.

MOSTEIRÍN: Or maintain all is normal.

TRAPERO: I think the film allows the general public, both inside and outside Argentina, to attend an allegory. When a society does not face or covers up the problem, the problem goes somewhere else. Audiences in other countries will confront a shared reality it depicts that has nothing to do with the Argentina of 30 years ago or the Argentina of today. But there is something in the relationship between the context and this phenomenon that generates these events, which unfortunately keep repeating in various societies.

CARREON: Once THE CLAN went before cameras, how did the knowledge of having the survivors of the Puccio clan’s abductions relive such painful events affect the manner in which the film was crafted? The film has a noir-ish aesthetic, but remains quite emotionally charged as an intimate family drama. And many already know the outcome.

TRAPERO: It was a great challenge, because at times the narrative was very extreme. However, if that intimacy is achieved on the scene, you accept it. Every family has a story it wants to hide. Stories exist behind closed doors. I think that also helps the audience feel a connection to the family because it is something we all share. Still, it was a challenge to make a thriller into a melodrama, or maybe it is a melodrama inside of a thriller. I only know that creating just a melodrama was not what I wanted. And there have been plenty of thrillers that are just about kidnappings. The challenge was this crossing of genres. Even at some point there are elements that might be identified as being from a horror film.  There is a lot at play here in relation to what the audience will feel. From getting the audience excited, to being entertained, to feeling anxiety and reflection. All of these things happen when you see a film and that is what motivates me to make them. When it came to THE CLAN, I did think about how I could surprise people start to finish, but not feel so disconnected from the family that they are not emotionally involved because what they do is so extreme. Finding that proximity was really a challenge, but I am glad people are having a strong emotional reaction to the film while being terrified by the history. People do identify with the victims and feel fear towards people who come across as real on screen. These are not actors simply acting. I wasn’t sure if the film would land right or not because of these contrasts, like seeing Arquímedes in an act of violence or being a dutiful father teaching mathematics to his daughter. These are very extreme situations that work to create these shocks of emotion contained throughout the film.

MOSTEIRÍN: It’s a proposition built for the senses. The film has staged scenes. Decisions were made on lighting and what type of lens to use. The production design, the sound, the specific style of editing was also a bit extreme in terms of what we’ve done before. However, I want to emphasize that when we started to make ​​the film, although it is about a very specific case, which happened during a very specific political context relating to our country, we always wanted the film to mean something to viewers around the world.  That was always a goal, and one of the things we had clear was that the narrative had to be as universal as possible. Audiences are able to have an emotional relationship with the film that goes beyond Argentina’s history, beyond the real case, so that people could feel like they are inside this family.  After seeing the finished film, the viewer is inside the home, in the car, they are very close to them. That was a nice challenge to meet.

CARREON: Actor Guillermo Francella delivers an unforgettable performance as Arquímedes Puccio. Audiences have seen him in dramatic turns, but he’s also one of the revered comedic talents of his generation. How did you gain his trust and confidence?

TRAPERO: Before I had a finished the script I needed to have confirmed actor. We had a meeting with Guillermo and I told him, “I want you to do this character. I do not have the finished script, but I want you to tell me if you want to do it. Not only will it be a dramatic character, but your first villain, a guy who terrifies people. Your fans will hate you.” Not all actors have that sort of relationship with the public because it is a difficult one. But that trust and bond with an actor is important to me. My wife is an actress and we have made ​​several films together. That relationship of trust and risk shared by an actor and director in creating a character is one thing I enjoy most about making a film. I knew I wanted Guillermo for the film and from there we established a bond. It was very demanding and very intense.

GUILLERMO FRANCELLA: I have a strong opinion because I also have lived during the time of the Puccios. I was very informed about their story. When Trapero offered me the role, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I lived in that area of San Isidro, I walked by their door of the hundreds of times, never knowing what was happening in there. We were able to construct bit by bit who Arquímedes was with all the information gathered from people who knew him, how we behaved, how he conducted himself, his manner of speaking, his posture, his physical being. It was a very interesting process.

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CARREON: Guillermo, what proved the main catalyst for your being able to inhabit the skin of such this polarizing father figure?

FRANCELLA: The rehearsal process was extremely useful. During pre-production, once the cast was in place, we had many meetings. It was very helpful to get to know each other because were had to generate a sense of chemistry beyond what was written in the script. The rehearsals were essential because there wasn’t much video research material on Arquímedes or the family to properly observe their behavior together. Still, once we were all together, it became very clear what each of us had to do. I worked closely with Trapero on Arquímedes’ calm manner, his cold stare. We tried to make sure he never blinked during a conversation. He had an intimidating stare. We crafted a certain attitude that was affable, sociable, educated and respectable. There wasn’t much in his transition from being the man who helped his daughters with their homework, helping them with their tasks to executing the most atrocious kidnappings. He was a very relaxed person. To find that contrast when he lost his composure, like the shooting in the car because Alejandro would not complete his task? Grabbing him by the collar and slamming him against the dressing room wall at his shop, as well as the argument in jail were the two hardest scenes to complete.

LANZANI: Guillermo had a look that was like from the Devil itself. Pablo understood Arquímedes as being the Devil, not the patriarch of a family.

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CARREON: Peter, this is your first major film role. What proved essential for you in building your understanding of Alejandro?

LANZANI: It wasn’t easy, but I really wanted to try. I love movies and this is my first one and it was difficult, but Guillermo and Pablo helped me a lot. I think the harder the challenge, the better for me so I can learn more. The psychology of Alejandro was the most difficult thing to create, you know? He’s must have been pre-occupied with so many things. The guilt he carried, of having his father always telling him what he had to do and never having the courage to stand up to him. He exposed his soul to do these terrible things and lost himself forever. The intensity this generates in some of the scenes was difficult. It’s a story with a lot of impact. We tried to do our best and work from the details we had at hand. These were clues we needed so people could see the movie like a documentary about the Puccio family.

CARREON: The final minutes of THE CLAN may surpass the violent crimes depicted earlier in the film in terms of impact. What proved the bigger challenge? Was it the climax of the final scene in court or the recreation of the Puccios’ crimes?

TRAPERO: The ending. But it was a challenge to write and it was also a challenge to stage. I worked again with (Julián Apezteguia) my director of photographer on “Carancho.” I proposed to the entire crew that we create a physical sensation for the audience, to bring them as close to the characters as possible. That is why when the camera is inside the car, you are also sitting in the car. When someone is in the bathroom one, you’re positioned right there next to them. In the script there were several long sequences written, like the kidnapping of Manoukian. All of kidnappings were envisioned as sequences that turn you into the victim. The film is primarily told from the perspective of either Alejandro or Arquímedes, except during the abduction scenes. But the final scene is about deciding who is the victim here? Is it Alejandro or Arquímedes?  It plays with that sensation, because you’ve seen the two sides of Alejandro. It was always written this way in the script, but it was a very difficult shot to create. It took many days of filming to complete and some FX work, too.

CARREON: Music plays a key element in THE CLAN, often functioning as a counterpoint to the action on the screen. In some moments, it even provides a layer of dark comedy. How were these classic rock songs of the era chosen?

TRAPERO: Many are songs are of the time, but not others, like Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Kinks. It was all music that was banned in Argentina during the period of the military. Interestingly, from the time of the Falklands, music in English was banned. But families of the middle class did not listen to music in Spanish. It was trendy to listen to music in English, so that speaks a lot of the time. Some tracks were chosen to represent the era, like David Lee Roth was big in 1985 and Serú Girán was a well-known band in Argentina around 1982. Virus was another Argentinian band that represents 1983. We also have Ella Fitzgerald, Creedence, The Kinks, especially with “Sunny Afternoon” (1966), because the lyrics were ironic.

CARREON: No one likes to have their dirty laundry aired, particularly within a fiercely protective community. Yet, THE CLAN was a massive hit in Argentina. Why do you think the film struck such a chord with audiences?

FRANCELLA: We are experiencing “Pucciomania” in Argentina at the moment. Everyone is talking about them. In the media, police investigators, everyone.

TRAPERO: It was great to see the film do so well in Argentina. This can mean that the public will accept movies that do not follow certain formulas. I am very pleased that the public is encouraged to look at these types of stories, to reflect and to leave the theater and discuss with their families what they’ve just seen, to talk about the history of Argentina. The film allows people to reflect on the present, on the internal lives of every family. It was heartening to see in Argentina that the public had the maturity to deal with issues that are disturbing. We all know that Argentina is known for the tango and its constant reflecting on the past. Interestingly, the country has one of the highest amounts of therapists per inhabitant, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. For me, the success of THE CLAN is a good sign for these types of films, because it means we can continue making more of this kind.

LANZANI: I think our movies should show the things that happened in our country. The dictatorship was the worst thing. We have moved on away from that period. At least, I hope so. I only want my country to be happy, to be at peace and for the world to be at peace. It’s not so easy, but we will try.

CARREON: What can be said of the surviving Puccio family members today? Were they part of the process? How have they reacted to THE CLAN?

TRAPERO: We tried to reach out to Epifanía, but she would not speak to us. We also tried to speak with Maguila via Skype because we were able to speak to friends of his and Alejandro’s. However, we were unsuccessful. An interesting thing did happen with Arquímedes. THE CLAN was first announced in 2012. I was working on another project at the time, but after the film was released, Arquímedes reached out to the media said he wanted to meet “Trapero because I’m going to tell him the real truth.” When I returned to Argentina to begin THE CLAN, he had died. If I could have spoken with him, I imagine he would have said what he said until the day he died: He was not guilty, that he had nothing to do with these crimes and that he was a victim. But the real question that I would have liked to have asked is why did he do this to his family? Because when you see the movie or even when we were doing research, one can understand that he loved his family in a very special and very crazy way. Everything he did was for his family. But at one point he makes a decision, as you see in the film, that affects them all.

CARREON: Guillermo, do you think you have a greater understanding of Arquímedes Puccio today?

FRANCELLA: No, I’ll never understand him. Never. Even after seeing his testimony. Before his death as an old man, he was already free and living in La Pampa, a province in Argentina. He remained with that arrogance, denying his role in the crimes without any remorse. I hate him more as a result. I’m sure if I were given a chance to speak with him, it would have been a very sterile conversation, without emotion because there is nothing that would make him want to reflect on the past. He worked for the secret service; he fought against progress. When the democracy came, he continued his “line of work” for personal ambition. These kidnappers were shitty people, if you pardon the expression. He spoke of divine justice, but he was already old and crazy. I don’t think I would want to cross paths with him today.

CARREON: How have the families of the victims reacted to THE CLAN?

MOSTEIRÍN: Several have come to the premiere.

TRAPERO: Matías insisted that many of them came to the premiere. A few said things that shocked me, like they felt they “saw” the real Arquímedes on film. That impacted me. But they also felt the film exists, in a silent way, as a tribute to the families and the victims. It is a different way of doing justice. The Puccios preyed on people, denying all reality in their behavior. There was never a moment to apologize to the families, which sometimes happens in these cases. So I think it helped the victims to have a sense of moral compensation, beyond the court. Everyone in Argentina, and throughout the world, can now speak of the cruelty of this family and how the victims suffered the madness of these people.

From 2oth Century Fox International, THE CLAN is now playing in select theaters.