In a year when women in Hollywood and beyond are taking a united stand against abuse, the gender wage gap, and the casting couch, actress-singer Thalia Sodi says the new HBO documentary she co-directed about five teen Latinas reaching milestone birthdays is one way to look at the real America from an empowering female perspective.
“We started working on ‘Quinceañera’ more than two years ago and never expected the political climate to be where it’s at right now for the country,” says the Mexican-born entertainer, who created the project with husband Tommy Mottola, an executive producer on the film. “These stories illustrate the reality of America through five young girls about to turn 15. They are the future and it’s important to show these stories.”
The documentary, which debuts Tuesday night, follows five teenagers including Zoey Luna, who was assigned male at birth; Rosi Alvarez, who decides to travel to Cuba for her celebration; Ashley Lopez (pictured above), an amateur boxer from East Las Angeles; and best friends Jackie Ayala and Nina Parafina from San Antonio, who have a joint quinceañera.
For Sodi, the coming-of-age stories highlight a very important tradition that many Latinas and their families spend years preparing for, as they save money and plan the event that symbolizes the growth from girl to woman. But the hope, the actress adds, is that the documentary inspires women everywhere to feel that their voices can and should be heard at any juncture of their lives.
“It’s time to take action, to grow and to say things without a filter,” said Sodi about supporting anybody who decides come forward with their truth. “There have been many years where there was too much negativity, abuse, and darkness. That’s why creating a window of light, dreams, hope, family, tradition, and love through ‘Quinceañera’ was important.”
At a recent screening of the documentary in East Los Angeles at Casa 0101, the Boyle Heights theater founded by “Real Women Have Curves” screenwriter-playwright Josefina Lopez, Luna and Lopez saw the film with their families and participated in a Q&A with the audience. For both teens, the experience of being featured in the documentary was liberating.
“I want girls everywhere to know that hard work and persistence pays off,” said Lopez, a boxer who gets straight As. “I want people to know that there may be bumps in the road, but nothing is impossible.”
Luna, who is considering a career in media and possibly screenwriting, echoes those sentiments. “I want people to know that they are not alone,” she said. “It’s about connecting with family, community, and celebrating together. We are strong and independent women. I’m honored and proud to have been in this film.”
The documentary was directed by Matthew O’Neill and produced by Xochitl Dorsey, a team that Mottola was already familiar with because they worked together on HBO’s “The Latin Explosion: A New America” in 2015.
“The ‘Quinceañera’ stories show the will, desire and passion to survive, overcome and progress,” Mottola says. “That’s empowerment you can’t buy.”
O’Neill adds that the documentary ultimately looks at themes that are very current and shed light on everything from the rights of trans children to immigration.
“These girls and the stories celebrate the America that I am proud of,” O’Neill says. “All the themes in the film in many ways can be seen as under attack (in the U.S.). The conversation has changed especially when you listen to some of the rhetoric coming from Washington.”
For Mottola, known for working with some of the most iconic recording artists in history such as Diana Ross, Gloria Estefan and Shakira, the featured stories are universal and demonstrate that, no matter what anyone wants to achieve in life, it all comes down to some basic principals.
His advice to to realize your dreams? “There are always opportunities and you either work for them or you lose,” Mottola says. “I was the guy who worked 24/7 his whole career so I don’t have that part in me that feels bad for someone who does not work hard. Tough shit, get it done.”