Filmmaker Aurora Guerrera was at the Schwartz Center this week for the screening of her latest film Mosquita y Mari. She talks to Gina Cargas '14 about love, class and ethnicity.
If you’ve spent any time on Hulu recently, you might recognize Aurora Guerrero. Dressed in all white as she journeys from South East Los Angeles to Sundance, the emerging filmmaker is the face of the seemingly ubiquitous Bing commercials. But Guerrero — a recent Sundance alum who writes, directs and produces her own films — is much more than the thirty-second break in your 3 a.m. 30 Rock marathons. Last night, she brought her critically acclaimed film Mosquita y Mari to the Schwartz Center for a free screening and Q and A session.
Mosquita y Mari follows two young Chicanas as they traverse the difficult terrain of puberty. Yolanda, a straight-A student and archetypal good girl, encounters Mari for the first time when she watches her steal from a neighborhood market. Just 15 and already struggling with issues of class, immigration and their own sexual identities, Yolanda and Mari are drawn together in a tale of first love that Guerrero says is based on her own adolescence. “I was inspired largely by a friendship I had when I was young,” she said. “It had haunted me for many years because it was something that was never talked about between myself and my friend.”
Mosquita y Mari’s storyline could have easily turned cliché if not for its foundation in reality. The girls’ relationship is conveyed through prolonged glances, intimate caresses and all that goes unsaid. Guerrero steers clear of the trite conventions of her form, avoiding the dramatic confessions and too-perfect resolutions that plague first-love films. Instead, she offers a stunning portrait of two queer Chicanas coming of age together, a story she believes the world needs to hear.
“When I started sharing the story with people around me, I realized it was a relationship that a lot of people could relate to,” Guerrero said. “Especially because of that grey area we experience in our friendships, the invisible line between friendship and romance.”
Although Mosquita y Mari primarily deals with queer, Chicana and immigrant issues, the film’s message remains surprisingly universal. The film avoids making any sort of political statement, providing instead an evocative tale of young love to which any audience can relate.
“Because I didn’t focus on coming out, but rather on the transformation of the girls, I feel that the film became more universal,” Guerrero said. “A lot of people in my screenings have spoken to how the piece resonates with them and takes them back to a time of awkwardness and confusion. People lose sight of the fact that it’s between two girls.”
Yet in addressing the intersection of same-sex attraction, ethnicity and class, Mosquita y Mari tackles a major issue in contemporary film and entertainment: the exclusion of the queer brown female.
“I don’t think mainstream media has opened up the doors for queer people of color at all,” Guerrero said. “The only queer brown person I’ve seen on primetime television is the girl from Glee, Santana. That’s all we have and even then she’s riddled with a lot of stereotypes.”
Nevertheless, Guerrero believes we’re headed in the right direction. 2011 brought the release of two independent films that featured non-Caucasian LGBT women — Pariah and Circumstance. The fact that Santana exists at all is also a sign of progress. And now, following its triumph at Sundance, Mosquita y Mari is another leap forward on the path to success.
Set and filmed in Huntington Park, Los Angeles, Mosquita y Mari is very much a community film. Both its content and its production intimately engage with the East L.A. environment. Shots of vibrant local businesses and fuzzy SoCal sunlight hitting car windshields are sprinkled throughout the film, creating a sense of setting so thorough it’s nearly palpable. But this community, as well as Guerrero’s larger social network, provides much more than the film’s backdrop. They are also the source of its funding.
After fruitlessly seeking funding for over three years, Guerrero and her team turned to Kickstarter, a popular website that hosts fundraising campaigns for artists and community projects. Each project sets a monetary goal and solicits donations — which they only receive if their goal is met. At the time, most Kickstarter campaigns aimed for a couple thousand dollars, with the ambitious rarity seeking tens of thousands. The Mosquita y Mari team wanted $80,000. “We’d had little success with funding because I didn’t want to cast big stars and I didn’t want to compromise the story,” Guerrero said. “When we built the campaign, the head of Kickstarter thought we were crazy … but why aim for under $80,000 if we can’t make the movie with less?”
Miraculously, the campaign met its goal, with $35,000 coming in during the last 48 hours. Guerrero claims the key to the project’s success was her team’s outreach to the Latino community. Contacting a wide variety of Latino bloggers and Spanish-language newspapers, Guerrero also involved her friends with “access to middle class Latinos” who had money to donate, something her network of artists and educators did not have.
“Aside from the money, what we ended up having was a very enthusiastic community,” she said. “This movie is theirs. It’s not Hollywood’s and it’s not a big financer’s. It’s theirs.”
Really, this sense of community holds the key to Mosquita y Mari’s success. Realistic and expressive in every scene, Mosquita y Mari is a breath of fresh air from overproduced and whitewashed Hollywood films — and so is Aurora Guerrero.