Sunday, July 23, 2017

"Amigas With Benefits" -- Adelina Anthony on Film Making, Musica, y Mas!

Adelina Anthony (photo courtesy of AdeRisa Productions)
La Bloga is honored to have with us today, award-winning writer, actor, director, producer, Adelina Anthony, a fierce queer-multi-disciplinary-artista presence on stage and in film.  It’s been three years since Adelina was with us, talking about her film Bruising for Besos. (Click here for that interview.) Today she is here to tell us about her new film, Amigas with Benefits. 

Amelia Montes: Saludos Adelina!  First—tell us all about the reception for Bruising for Besos.  And for those who never saw the film, how can they still see it (if possible?)? 

Adelina Anthony:  Hola Amelia!  Yes, we’ve been blessed with a beautiful reception across the nation and internationally from our intended viewing communities for Bruising for Besos.  We feel very blessed and affirmed in the making of this cinematic offering to our communities. And although we had some distribution and sales agent offers during this first year on the film festival circuit—after some deep reflection and research—we decided it was better for us in the long run to begin building our indie distribution arm as AdeRisa Productions. 

So the GREAT news for La Bloga readers is that we will be releasing our film, Amigas with Benefits,  online through our company’s Vimeo account this coming October after we have our official theatrical release on Sunday, October 1, 2017 in Austin, Texas, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – Mueller.  We’re collaborating with allgo (a statewide Queer People of Color Organization)—in Austin they are our biggest supporters and champions of our work (as we are of theirs).   Plus, they’re helping us create a post screening community event for this launch, which is purposefully being released on day one of National Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Amelia Montes: Fabulous.  So, Amigas with Benefits is produced by your own company:  AdeRisa Productions.  This isn’t the first film you’ve done through your own production company.  You produced Gold Star which won the “People’s Choice Award” at last year’s PBS Online Film Festival.  I'd like to backtrack and ask what was the impetus for AdeRisa Productions?

Adelina Anthony:  Well, AdeRisa Productions was co-founded with my esposa, Marisa Becerra.  To be clear, it wouldn’t have happened without her support—financially, emotionally, and artistically.  She’s my first audience and her feedback is always critical in how I develop my work.  She’s a brilliant writer herself, and I can’t wait until we produce her short film in the near future.

Scene from Amigas with Benefits (photo courtesy of AdeRisa Productions)

We co-founded AdeRisa Productions because we wanted to create films on sovereign artistic ground with content and form that served our stories.  Our working production model is also spiritually focused and artist/crew centered as a production company.  We keep a spiritual elder/or intention on the sets that we fully produce.  We’ve been fortunate to have nancy Chargualaf martin hold this kind of energy and space for us, as well as utilize her visual artist skills as a Production Designer.   This summer marks the fifth year of our production company as an LLC in California.  In 2012 we went into production with the very first short film I wrote and directed, Forgiving Heart. 

That same year we Executive Produced Ofelia Yánez’s short film, The Good Kind, and in 2015 we Executive Produced Karla Legaspy’s Gold Star, which won the 2014 LatinoPublic Broadcasting Public Media Content Fund Award and later the 2016 People’s Choice Award for the PBS Online Film Festival. We also co-produced the first three of D’Lo’s comedic webseries, Private Dick.  It was very important for us during the first five years of building our company to support the artist closest to us who had invested in our vision.  We plan to continue as Consulting Producers as we move forward in this new chapter of our company.

So, we’ve been busy!  But every audition, every project, every experience in this journey (even the difficult times), have been bolstered by our communities and the immense talent they possess and contribute to this collaborative art form.  We also know, on a profound level, that our ancestors have our backs.   The work is also for them.  Remembering this always keeps us grounded.

Amelia Montes: Felicidades on these very vibrant and important projects.  AdeRisa Productions has also been working with the Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) program. Tell us about your collaboration with LPB.

Adelina Anthony: First, we love LPB and would not have been able to produce these works without their generous funding and their belief in our stories.  They are visionary!  And I would encourage any and all Latinx filmmakers to apply to their annual Public Media Content Fund (PMCF).  The more we can populate the world with our stories, made through our perspective and experiences—the better we can communicate who we are to the world as an extremely diverse and heterogeneous population.  We think this is more critical than ever, especially as we find ourselves under the toxic rhetoric of the current political regime. 

My relationship actually began with LPB when I was participating in Film Independent’s Project Involve (PI).  I was a screenwriter in their program and my short screenplay, You’re Dead to Me, was produced by a talented 2013 PI cohort.  LPB was the main funder behind that story and it went on to receive huge critical acclaim and awards on the festival circuit, and eventually won the prestigious 2014 Imagen Award.  So that’s how they came to know me as a writer.  When the short film screened at the Project Involve Showcase in 2014 I attended the event with AdeRisa Production’s company co-producer, Karla Legaspy.  We had a chance to meet the LPB staff at that time and they were so kind and told us about the annual PMCF award.  I was in the midst of fundraising and pre-production that summer, but Karla jumped on it.  She developed and submitted her short script and a year later we were in production for her debut short film, Gold Star.

GoldStar is the first project LPB funded that was Executive Produced by AdeRisaProductions.  It’s a beautiful, sweet and necessary story that centers our queer children.  I had the great pleasure of acting in it too and watching Karla realize one of her dreams.  She’s a fantastic multi-talented artist and one of the hardest working producers I know.  And with Amigas with Benefits, audiences get to see her acting talents (again).

Scene from Amigas with Benefits (photo courtesy of AdeRisa Productions)
Part of the joy of collaborating with LPB is that they trust their artists.  Both times that AdeRisa Productions was funded to Executive Produce these short films they gave us artistic freedom to execute the projects.  They provided support throughout the process, including incredible feedback during the post-production process.  Again, we do not know of any other organization that is so committed to producing Latina/o/x films.  They are actively changing the landscape. 

To be honest, I’m much more experienced as a theater maker, but grants to develop and produce my solo/ensemble plays just haven’t been coming my way the last few years.  Like many of my artists of color peers, I make the final rounds, but it stops there.  At the very least, it’s always encouraging because of the number of applicants.  But my Two Spirit Xicana lesbian voice is in the world right now in such an impactful way because of LPB.  In this day and age, I really recommend that as writers we develop our flexibility to adapt stories to the screen or other platforms. 

Amelia Montes: Agreed!  And speaking of “stories,” in Amigas with Benefits, you are providing us with a very different story from Bruising for Besos.  Tell us about how Amigas with Benefits came about and what this film means to you.

Adelina Anthony: Amigas with Benefits came about because I always ask myself—what story and characters do I want to experience with my communities?  I looked at what we had accomplished as AdeRisa Productions, and even though we have a Spiritual Elder on set, we hadn’t produced any work with our lesbian of color elders at the forefront.  Once I knew I was going to create a Latina Lesbian elder, Lupita, as my protagonist, and that I planned to apply to LPB for funding, I let the story germinate over a couple of months, imagining various scenarios with her.  Once the story came, it was in a flash, I wrote the first draft in half a day.  The rewrites happened over six months and Marisa sent me articles on our LGBTQ elders that she would find in the news.  That information also helped to shape the kind of story I wanted to tell.  I also thought about story in the ways I had been trained by Ruth Atkinson for film and Cherrie Moraga for playwriting.  These former mentors have given me some immense writing tools.  Each work is an opportunity to work with what I know and with what I don’t know.  I’m a creative risk taker, so I’m also always trying to create story in ways that resonate for us as Xicanx/Latinx peoples—be it in content, form, or as is usually the case for me, both.

For me, Amigas with Benefits is a way to center a community that figures prominently in my life, and I believe in the lives of most Xicanx because we come from a culture of respecting elders.  I’m aware of how our queer elders of color are practically non-existent in cultural productions, especially film.  So this small offering is a way to open conversation up about their experiences and needs.  By no means does it represent all queer elders of color, but I think it will touch mam=any of us for different reasons, queer or nonqueer. 
Scene from Amigas with Benefits (photo courtesy of AdeRisa Productions)
Amelia Montes: This film brings us into the world of the Senior Center.  According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), “Americans ages 65 and older [are] projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060 . . . [and] the older populations is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.”  These statistics don’t include LGBTQ individuals.  In the film, it seems that this Senior Center is quite ahead of the norm:  (a) respecting elder consenting adults which allows for intimacy, (b) a community that respects and protects each other.  Your comment---

Adelina Anthony: Yes, those are the stats (including what’s missing)… all of the articles we read during the development of the script pointed to the “norm” of QTPOC/LGBT elders suffering abuse either at the hands of Senior Resident staff, nurses, and/or other residents.  It’s heartbreaking to know that our Queer elders have to contend with homophobia or transphobia in their supposed golden years.  Sometimes, we tell stories as we know them to be…. And sometimes, we tell them as we hope them to be.  They both can provide medicine for us as viewers.

I took the initiative to imagine a progressive Senior Resident home, where the viewer had the sense that the work in social equity had been done.  It also is clear that the elders are seen as complex human beings, with their sexuality in tact.  Sexuality is alive and well in Senior Residences.  But, even though I imagined a more hopeful and progressive space, I tried to also keep the reality of homophobia for Queer Elders present. 

In my artist mind, I equated this imagined progressive Senior Residence to the niche spaces we learn to build for our survival as intersectional two spirit/queer/trans people of color/womyn of color/people of color communities.  But even when we have these “safe spaces” we still have to contend with the rest of the world.  The character that disrupts the harmony of the day represents this constant intrusion of “isms” we have to fight. 

Amelia Montes: Another topic this film brings up is elder rights. How is this film opening up dialogues in this area? 

Adelina Anthony: Elders have agency and I wanted to show this in the story through the characters. There’s so much to write and explore in this age range, and, the longer version of this story allows for that to be fleshed out more.  In the longer version, Lupita, and her lover, Ramona, mobilize the change in their residency.  So we actually experience what they had to endure to create a safe space among their fellow residents.  For now, the story is focused on two Latina lesbians who clearly love each other and already have a supportive community.  In fact, they have one that will stand up for them because they understand their collective elder rights.

Again, this isn’t the norm in most Senior Residencies.  Elder abuse actually occurs more often than people suspect or care to know.  So I hope it makes us think about how we can advocate for our elders and give them the respect and care they deserve.  I hope it makes us open up dialogue in multiple ways about elder rights and needs, especially for QTPOC.

Amelia Montes: Yet another topic in this richly complex film is having to do with “coming out” and the consequences of not doing that.  In a recent film by Nancy Kates, Regarding Susan Sontag, the same issue comes up about earlier generations of women.  In the film, New York author and public speaker, Fran Lebowitz appears and says that because women had to be and became comfortable with being discreet, they didn’t see the point of coming out later—and that such a decision should be respected.  That seems to be questioned in this film. Why? 

Adelina Anthony:  I haven’t seen Nancy Kates’s film yet, but I agree that such a decision should be respected.  I think it still holds true for today, regardless of age or gender.  I would never judge any queer person for whether they choose to come out or not.  It’s still life and death for many people.  I only reserve judgment if such persons were to hypocritically participate in the oppression of their fellow queer family that is living out and proud.  It takes great courage to be out in this world.  It’s a powerful experience to live our lives freely.  And I do believe coming out publicly, especially to our loved ones, changes the world for the better. 

And for me, in writing Lupita and allowing her to express remorse about her decision not to come out holds true with many queer people I’ve met throughout my life from older generations.  We can still respect Lupita as a visibly brown, indigenous looking mujer, and understand the multiple reasons she chose to live her life to survive and allow her the space to grieve choices she made under oppressive structures that still exist today; structures that are operating today in more nefarious ways with the current policies being made against us, and that not only silence our sexuality, but how we choose to identify and express ourselves in myriad cultural ways. 

Scene from Amigas with Benefits (photo courtesy of AdeRisa Productions)
Regret is something we usually feel when we realize that our choices impact our lives in profound ways.  I love the character of Lupita enough to allow her this moment of grief because ultimately it empowers her.  Also, because the theme of freedom is critical to this story, she has to recognize what she has given up in her particular scenario.  My hope is that even non-queer people recognize how we fail our collective humanity when we don’t allow others to live in their truths.    

Amelia Montes: That comes through in the film!  I also want to ask about your film score.  Tell me your process in choosing the music.  Each piece seamlessly works to either introduce or accompany a scene and would also make an excellent soundtrack.

Adelina Anthony:  I’m so glad you made mention of the music and score!  Yes, this is my third time collaborating with our composer, Alex Valenzy, and my second time with Marlene Beltran Cuauhtin, a talented singer/songwriter.  They both made my job as music supervisor bien easy because they are such gifted artists. 

Alex is a self-taught music genius who has this immense range of musical genres.   He creates, feels and thinks about music through an organic process, always invested in honoring the story.  His work comes from a deep and emotional place.  He always approaches each film on its own terms.  He always reads the script a few months before we go into production.  Then we discuss story and characters because he always wants to honor the vision, but he just gets the work and comes back with great ideas to support a scene.  I really love how he supported Yuny Parada’s emotional work as Lupita with a delicate harp.

For Amigas with Benefits, because it was a short dramedy, we both agreed that we would have him compose once I could deliver a rough cut to him.  We were on a quick turn around, so he actually designed the score within a few weeks.  He composed several openings for us, and, actually, Marisa as a producer gave great feedback about capturing a trio feel for the one composition that was nearly perfect and ended up becoming our opening score.  The beginning and ending compositions are actually fusions of traditional trio and norteño with Alex’s gift for giving them musical twists that reflect his style as a young Xicano.

And as for Marlene, she’s another wonder!  Everyone fell in love with her original song, “Dáme,” that she composed and performed as the character Ixchel in Bruising for Besos.   The beauty of working with Xicana/o/x artists is that you don’t have to do any cultural translations.  She knew we needed a bolero to capture that long ago era of our abuelas.  I sent Marlene the first rough cut and she came back with “Querida Mia.”  Again, here’s a musical artist who is also very sensitive to story, and in Marlene’s case because she’s an actor and writer… she also culls her work from a deep place of knowing and she never fails to deliver something that feels like it always existed in the world of the film. 

One last person I need to mention is Nicolas Osorio, our production and post sound mixer and sound designer.  He’s so critical in how everything gets balanced.  I usually have a clear sense of where I want music to enter/exit a scene and at what volume levels.  But Nicolos, Alex and Marisa are always my most critical collaborators when it comes to the final mix.   
Amelia Montes: It all works seamlessly, and it’s obvious that this is due to having a great team.  Do you have anything you would like to add? 

Adelina Anthony:  Yes, gracias to you and La Bloga for consistently supporting my/our work by sharing it with your readership. 

And I only want to add that this project could not have been made without the incredible team that is AdeRisa Productions, which has always put Xicana/Latina lesbians and queer womyn of color/womyn/people of color in leadership roles and as the majority on the set.  After five years of doing this kind of film work, we’ve been blessed to develop a production team and acting pool of immensely gifted and generous collaborators.  Many of them have been working with us since the inception of AdeRisa Productions, including Jean Kim who is our cinematographer in this project. 

Our collaborators lift us and the work up.  I/we hope our communities will do the same by voting for us daily during this last week of the competition.  Órale, let’s show the mundo we want to see ourselves reflected in nuanced ways.

Amelia Montes: And now, La Bloga Readers, it's your turn! You are warmly invited to view the film and VOTE.  Just click here: Amigas with Benefits - watch and vote!  Enjoy, y gracias to Adelina Anthony and AdeRisa Productions!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Hard-Boned White Boys

The following is a chapter from my novel, King of the Chicanos (Wings Press, 2010).  This was the final piece I read at this month's FBomb Reading Series here in Denver.  I think the reading went well. 

©Manuel Ramos, all rights reserved

1943 - Stockton, CA


“Órale, Chato. ¿Qué hubo? ¿Qué pasa?”

He nodded his head at the other boy, who pointed his chin at him in response.

“Aquí nomás,Tino. ¿Ya sabes,no?”

They eyed one another at the street corner where they had inconveniently met. They had to act out the established routines, the accepted norm for what passed as civility between two young migrant workers on an early Saturday evening in a small, inconspicuous town. Their loitering was tolerated only because they were needed to gather the asparagus from the farms that surrounded the town, and there was no one else for that work.

The tall, dark boy with Hollywood Latin Lover good looks stood with his hands in his pockets, a slouch in his posture. He shuffled rather than took steps, swayed rather than walked. The web of his left hand framed a homemade tattoo of a small cross with radiating lines.

The rugged-looking second boy had a broad, flat nose. No one would think of him as handsome but he carried himself with respect and strength.

They wore crisply ironed, pleated slacks tied to their bony hips by thin white belts. The pointed collars of bright colored shirts caressed their scrawny necks. The slender, vicious weapons of their youth, switchblades, rested in their pockets. Each boy waited for any sign from the other that this would be the day for the reckoning, for balancing the score, for the righting of wrongs that never existed.

Their wariness did not come from fear. How they acted reflected much more than their individual situations, yet they were unaware of their roles in a drama created by forces that moved around them like the dust devils that stirred the rich farmland dirt. If they strutted and talked cheaply, swaggered and dared anyone to knock the chips off their shoulders, they also remembered the nights they whimpered in dirty bunks, exhausted from the sun, hands and feet blistered and bleeding, looking forward only to the next camp, the next crop, the next long highway.

They craved to be part of the group they defined by their insolent greetings, the hybrid slang, the swing music, the dangerous attitudes and the smooth smiles. They were young Mexican Americans, adrift on the streets of a North American farm town. They lived in a time that had no space for them, that neglected their existence and denied their spirit, and instead courted them for failure.

One of them ventured a gesture. He took a chance on the soothing coolness of the night after the swelter of the day, gambled that the beautiful sky with the glow of the dying sun would not allow itself to frame an ugly event, not that night.

“How’s your primo, Freddy?” Tino asked in the soft voice that always surprised his listeners. “Heard anything from him?” 

Several of the cousins were in the military, soldiers and sailors in the various theaters of war that had sprung up around the world in places that they had not known existed, with names they could not pronounce, with other men whose only connection was their mutual terror of indiscriminate death at the hands of the strange, unknown enemy.

“Freddy’s missing, just like Juan.” Chato answered with some hesitation, a bit of resistance to having a conversation with another who could be a threat. “At least he’s not dead yet, not like Tomás, not yet anyway. That we know of, that we’ve been told about.”

Tino nodded. “Must be real tough on your aunt.” His concern sounded genuine. “So many kids and so many in the war.” He paused and the bravado came back. “I can’t wait until I can go. Stick me some Japs. They won’t know what hit them, not when this crazy Chicano hits the beach.”

Chato had never heard the word Chicano before that minute, but he knew exactly what Tino meant as soon as he said it. Like so many other words that floated between Spanish and English, that tried to convey the dimension of living in two different worlds, the slang term for Mexicans in the United States made immediate sense to him. In Colorado, down around Pueblo, the word was skaj. In Southern California, he was just a pocho. Up in Michigan, an old Indian from Albuquerque who worked with them in the fields said that they were Spanish Americans, and that kind of made sense to Chato. In Crystal City, children at the migrant school he had attended for a few weeks had chided him about being a pachuco. Everywhere he went, la raza stood for all of them together, the people, the race, the Mexicans.

Chicano. He wondered where that one had come from.

“Hey, greasers!”


“Dirty Mexicans!”

“Go back to Mexico!”

Hard-boned white boys in overalls, flannel shirts and floppy cowboy hats packed the bed of a pre-war Chevy pickup. From the truck’s cab, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys loudly sang about a woman named Rose from old San Antone, on the moonlit path beside the Alamo.

Chato and Tino flinched, tensed their muscles, and drew closer together. They kept the circling truck in their eyesight, watched it cruise up the street, stop at the corner, turn around and come back at them. The curses flung from the bed of the truck reached the boys before the dusty pickup stopped.

Tino drew the knife from his pocket and said a few words to Chato. His soft voice had grown even softer, the words almost lost in the gear-grinding jumble of the old truck loaded down with the alcohol-fueled farm boys. “These gabachos want to rumble. You ready, Chato?”

When Ramón Hidalgo remembered that fight, when he looked back at the outburst of violence that forever marked the type of man he had to be, he did not necessarily recall the angry epithets, nor did he always imagine the dull thump of the blows from the blistered, rock-hard fists or the clod-hopper-covered feet. He pointedly ignored the red, gushing line that creased Tino’s jaw where a fishing knife slashed open the skin. He never spoke about the boot heel that smashed his already flat nose and left him a thin ridge of scabbed, lighter skin that horizontally split his nose in two. More often than not, his mind first saw the background of cloud layers tinged orange and pink by the setting sun. There was silence just before the first punch landed, and as he would later tell the story, the country boys moved as though they trudged in a quagmire of fields flooded by the overflowing ditches of a wet spring. Against the postcard image of the sunset, young men’s hatred filled the silence, washed out the watercolor hues of the fading sky, and blotted away the calm evening that briefly had existed for Chato Hidalgo and Tino García.



Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir was published by Arte Público Press in 2016 and is a finalist for the Shamus Award in the Original Paperback category sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chicanonautica: Diego and Pablo in 20th Century

The Frida and Diego exhibit at the Heard Museum left my mind reeling. I also came away with some books. That got the ideas percolating . . . Ah, the creative process!

With Frida dominating the show, I feel the need to talk about Diego, one of the giants of 20th century art. It can be argued that he is responsible for the Latinoid/Chicanoid identity as we know it, and any genre of futurism it is spawning. I also couldn’t resist his My Art, My Life, especially with La Catrina from his mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park on the cover.

In her, Diego created her most magnificent manifestation--beautiful as she is monstrous, and wearing Quetzalcoatl as an accessory, pointing the way for her evolution from caricature of middle class pretension to the goddess of La Cultura to whom artists and writers must make sacrifices.

The autobiography is based on interviews with Gladys March, and gives an idea of his voice, and a taste of his mythomania--a strange word that often comes up concerning Diego. As it was with Frida, his public image and myth are just as important as his art. If you don’t create your own myths, someone else will do it for you. An important survival lesson for the age of social media.

Personally, I prefer the term mythotech.

The book reads like a fantastic novel--dare I say magic realism? Someday the story of Frida and Diego, and the way it twines through history, will probably be made into the greatest telenovela of them all.

At one point Diego calls Frida “a Mexican artist of European extraction looking to the native traditions for her inspiration.” Please allow me to throw that monkey wrench into the controversies over cultural appropriation.

Diego is a chingón of 20th century art. He has gained stature as time has gone by. When I was an art student during the Ford administration, my teachers would not have considered him any where near as important as Picasso--yet also in the museum bookstore was a catalog from another recent exhibition, Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time, edited by Diana Magaloni and Michael Govan.

Sometimes I write like comic books. Sometimes I try to write like Rivera murals, or Picasso paintings. The book is also brimming over with great art. I had to have it.

A lot of the la gente these days don't like to recognize our Spanish heritage--as in Spain, the conquistadors, and the whole hijo de la chingada. They tend to know more Español than any native language. I identify with El Quijote and artists like Picasso more than I do with all the BBC stuff that Americanoids think is so damn civilized, and Spain is a bridge through Europe to Africa and the Middle East in my global barrio.

Like Rivera, Picasso had classical training. Picasso remained rooted in Europe's Greco-Roman past, providing a foundation of postwar Anglo/America-centric modernism. Rivera built off of pre-Columbian civilization. And mythology. Don't forget the mythoteching. And the mythomania.

As modernism and the 20th century cool down in living memory, who knows which artist will be seen as the biggest influence on the World Wide Latinoid Continuum of the new millennium.

Ernest Hogan is the author of High Aztech. His latest works are in Altermundos, Latin@ Rising, and Five to the Future.