According to mainstream press, the “sleeping giant,” Latinos, are awakening, inspiring the first Time magazine cover in Spanish. But, despite such validating nods, mainstream television and film are slow to inclusivity. Desperate Housewives’ creator Marc Cherry was asked to adapt a telenovela for American television and disregarding decades of Latinas being pigeonholed into roles of servitude in film and TV, Cherry chose “Devious Maids,” as his vehicle, without irony.
So, when Lionsgate Films asked Latinitas if they’d like to participate in an early screening of Girl in Progress starring Eva Mendes, releasing nationwide May 12th, the first digital magazine made for and by young Latinas and non-profit organization focused on empowering young Latinas using media and technology jumped at the opportunity to screen and review a smart and genuine rite of passage story about a young Latina.
Girl in Progress depicts some genuine challenges of American “Latinidad” including teen and single parenthood, but addresses that experience in later years, where mother is providing, flourishing and independent and while still growing up herself, ultimately wants her daughter to feel loved and provided for. The true focus of the film is break-out youth actress Cierra Ramirez, who plays Mendes’ daughter, “Ansiedad” (Anxiety) and her clever pursuit of a rite of passage as dictated by American literature. Though she gets in over her head in what begins as a game, Ansiedad is smart, cynical and mocks the typical American “geek to chic” rite of passage story. She’s a brainy Latina and Latinitas knows this will resonate with the hundreds of thousands of Latina girls in the U.S. starved for this kind of character in their entertainment.
The movie is directed by Patricia Riggen, whose 2007 film La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon) starring Kate Del Castillo and America Ferrara, gave the travails of immigrant children and their mothers a heart-warming narrative of their own. Girl in Progress is produced by Spy Kids franchisee Elizabeth Avellón, someone else who understands the importance of generating Latino youth protagonists in film and has demonstrated how successful the model can be. Both women get “it,” meaning they understand where viewership is inevitably going, that the increasing proportion of young Latinos in the United States now represents 20 percent of all primary and high school students. And, Riggen and Avellón are not churning out patronizing drivel that mainstream media so often excels at. Girl in Progress nuances Latino identity, struggles, even current immigration issues within the accessible context of your everyday American family drama.
Indy film enthusiasts will recognize Matthew Modine and Patricia Arquette in the cast, and the Spanish language sect will notice Riggen’s casting of Mexican cinema and television’s Eugenio Derbez as “Mission Impossible,” whose affection for Mendes drives some of mom’s esteem transformation and also continues a thread he started as the humble immigrant in La Misma Luna.
Media literacy points aside for casting strong Latina roles without character stereotypes, weird accents and tired storylines, Girl in Progress is just a good movie worth investing your heart and time and frankly, a rarity in Hollywood that continues to insist a monolithic representation of teen youth in film – usually White.
Laura Donnnelly Gonzalez is the COO and co-founder of Latinitas (www.latinitasmagazine.org), a nonprofit organization that enables young Latinas to achieve personal and academic success through media and technology outreach thereby addressing the critical state of Latinas girls today.
[Photo by Lionsgate]