Opening a window on racism and sexism
PANAMA – Puerto Rican filmmaker and artist Marisol Gómez-Mouakad expects and hopes to touch a raw nerve with Latin American and Caribbean audiences when she releases her first feature, “Angelica.” The film — one of five chosen from 55 for Primera Mirada — addresses the denial of racism and sexism that can be experienced across the region.
After her black father suffers a heart attack, Angelica, played by newcomer Michelle Nonó Rodriguez, returns to Puerto Rico from New York after a long absence from the island.
The unexpected return to the house where she grew up, plus her father’s illness, forces the young woman to re-evaluate her relationship with her white mother, who has always looked down on her because of her color. Family members, especially her uncle, are blatantly racist, but label Angelica as simply being overly sensitive. To complicate matters, her partner in New York is sexist. When he travels to Puerto Rico to take his “pretty black girl” back to New York, Angelica is forced to recognize that she is really not sure who she is or what she wants to be.
With the death of her father, Angelica must finally decide if she should return to the comfort of her previous life, be it with her lover or her mother, in which she is dissatisfied but secure, or set out on an a more adventurous path and hope to rediscover herself and find a place where she can live and develop as an independent, modern, woman.
“People talk about racism and sexism in the U.S.,” Gómez-Mouakad explains. “They may not do much, but in talking about it they are at least addressing the problem. In Puerto Rico — and across the Caribbean and Latin America — there is a lot of denial. If you do talk about the issues, you are accused of being over sensitive. But words have power and words can hurt.”
Asked if racism and sexism are more dangerous for the region than the religious disputes that dominate the news in other parts of the world, Gómez-Mouakad smiles: “Is it not religion that has justified racism and sexism since Colonial times? You only have to look at the images used by the church.”
Although more films are now being produced in Puerto Rico, Gómez-Mouakad explains that the economic situation in the island is bad, and that has complicated the life of producers and filmmakers, as did the election in 2012. Plus the support the Puerto Rico Film Commission gives to filmmakers is a loan arrangement rather than a straight grant, and this has to be factored into the budget.
“The challenge is not only finding the money to make the actual film, but also to find a marketing budget to launch the film and then find the screen space to show the film,” says the director. “In Puerto Rico local films have to build an audience, often through word of mouth, but that requires screen time.”
Mouakad hopes to premier the finished cut of “Angelica” at a suitable film festival before its release in Puerto Rico. Only then will the director know if the people of her island are indeed ready to talk about and address the issues raised by her film.