I’ve been stalling in writing a post-mortem on Steven Spielberg’s emotionally resonant and superbly crafted adaptation of West Side Story. Not only is it Spielberg’s best film in years, but it is also exactly the kind of moviegoing experience that deserves to be championed. Yes, it is THAT good.
It seems trite in the face of the pandemic news cycle and the growing storm clouds of war in Ukraine to offer any analysis. Yet, I’m oddly compelled to weigh in anyway because it is hard not to feel that audiences and studio culture let this movie down.
Revivals on Broadway remain part of its lifeblood in art and commerce. When they connect, they can usher in new generations of theater fans. Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s 1993 production of Cabaret remains a marvel of reinterpretation. Susan Stroman’s take on The Music Man in 2000 and Jerry Zaks’s 2017 production of Hello, Dolly! brought out new colors and injected vivid spirit with its star power and inventive theatricality blend. This year, Marianne Elliott’s gender-switched production of Stephen Sondheim’s seminal Company earned love letters from a theatrical community eager to return to the business of entertaining audiences. So why can’t this phenomenon happen for film versions? More, why didn’t it happen for West Side Story?
Were adults afraid to return to cinemas in a pandemic? Sure. But that didn’t stop the recent spate of Marvel films, Dune,No Time to Die, and House of Gucci, from filling seats, which included many adults in the demo mix. Did the post-Glee generation lose interest in musical film? Maybe. Despite its being explicitly marketed to them, audiences avoided Dear Evan Hansen, but that didn’t dissuade releasing studio Universal from greenlighting the international juggernaut Wicked for the screen. Is it a dying or dead genre? Explain that to Bill Condon’s sparkling take on Dreamgirls, or Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, the Mamma Mia! franchise, and The Greatest Showman, all of which were fueled by big names and turned out to be major box office in a world before the lockdowns shuttered cinemas brought the moviegoing cultural experience into an uncertain future.
Looking at the recent soft openings of Jon Chu’s stellar adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda & Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Tony-winning hit In the Heights and Spielberg’s West Side Story is perplexing as both films earned some of the year’s best reviews. Neither lived on as museum exhibits, something that plagued Clint Eastwood’s disappointing treatment of Jersey Boys in 2014. Heights and WSS both possess a vitality and freshness that makes going to the movies an absolute joy again, transcending their theatrical roots but not abandoning them. More, seeing real people express themselves beyond the blasts of special effects and neo-classic heroism is true magic. The expert craftsmanship fills every inch of the big screen along with casts, dance teams, design aesthetics, and musical scores overflowing with enthusiasm and possessing an even greater cultural purpose. However, here’s where things get a little complicated, though. Is spotlighting the effort to embrace cultural authenticity and diversity in the filmed arts turning off audiences on both sides?
As a Latino, it did my heart good to see the talent, sounds, and complex cultural realities of what it is to be from all parts of Latin America. We cannot always see such shows on the stage thanks to economics and the appearance of these works being solely made by and for “gringos” and “wannabe white” gente. That is not a gross generalization, either. While Fiddler on the Roof can pack them in regardless of the year of the production, Latinos are hard-pressed to partake in the Broadway or touring productions of shows that focus on their narratives. The reality is shows like West Side Story and In the Heights will endure in schools, colleges, and amateur productions for a very long time. Yet, you can’t deny that they still feel like niche audience caviar when blown up for the silver screen. Worse, they are now targets for the woke political machine seeking to eradicate the “whitewash” in terms of representation.
The colorism debate that side-swiped In the Heights was devastating and demoralizing to watch happen in the weeks leading to its release last June, a situation made worse by apologies from its creators and supporters for not trying hard enough. They had no reason to apologize. The works speak positive volumes that cannot and should not be ignored or diminished.
Months later, notice the campaign mounted for West Side Story, which opted to render the entire cast with the same beige skin tone with an artfully placed red, white, blue, and star flag. Subtle politicking from the liberal elite? Perhaps. But telegraphing “We are making a HUGE effort to tell ALL stories” is not the same as just letting the stories speak for themselves or weaving their cinematic spells without seeking approval or validation for promoting positive cultural representation.
Watching the studios patting their backs for their efforts is insulting enough. Knowing the executive suites do not include our voices in their mix is worse. How can they even begin to gauge how Latino audiences will react without someone from the community in their team to highlight the sensitivity minefields? More, what happens when you take the time to cull materials in Spanish, only to see the footage languish in the can, utterly ignored? This is something that I’ve experienced as a content producer several times, a symptom of tone-deafness that still permeates the marketing offices in Hollywood.
Heights and WSS feature extraordinary Latino talent in front of and behind the cameras. The sights and sounds ring true because we see and hear them from the people who look like and sound like us. Is it a perfect rendering? No. Is it a crime they should exist? Hell no. It is easier for some to process a Coco, for example. Yet, why did Encanto have a more challenging time reaching the same heights, despite its reviews and being a beautiful film for all audiences? Did it play its cultural card too hard? Or maybe its message was too foreign compared to the celebratory nature of Coco? The grey areas are endless here.
What saddens me most about the problems faced at the box office by In the Heights and West Side Story is that the appearance of failure of these high-profile titles will make it harder for other Latino-focused stories to be made or given the big-screen treatment. Director Eva Longoria’s Flamin’ Hot, due in 2022, will be yet another litmus test to raise these issues all over again, adding further pressure to la causa.
It is a curious thing. Thanks to streaming, Latin America is exploding with talent and fresh inspiration, with such boundary-smashing series and films as La Casa de la Flores, El Baile de Los 41, El Juego de las Llaves, Luis Miguel: La Serie, Acapulco, and the upcoming Señorita 89. Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s company Fabula and Pantaya, Apple, and Amazon Prime Video are crafting slates of original films and series that rival the best of what the American studios and streamers are offering. Why can’t some of these stories make their way up to el norte, too? We have the talent and the narratives that go way beyond dead rock stars and cholos. We need more faith in their realization and trust from the community beyond The Fast and the Furious-type IP.
Perhaps the disconnect between audiences and critics is the real culprit, a chasm that is as wide as it’s ever been and growing. Maybe the marketing efforts of leaning into diversity and inclusivity feel too much like moralizing, prompting audiences to ignore the “message” titles to just be “entertained.”
Reasons exist why the Marvel tent poles play to all demos. We know what they are before we take our seats in the cinema. Maybe it is time to stop leading the audience with the obvious or safe messages and let the intrinsic quality of a good story and singular artistry lead the way again. One way or another, audiences will find a reason to watch again in a way that makes them comfortable, secure, and inspired by what remains the greatest of art forms.
Writer’s Note: It is important to disclose that as a content producer, I am part of the team involved with the campaign for “In the Heights” and the upcoming “Flamin’ Hot.”
Disney’s holiday gift of ENCANTO is a charmer, weaving a vivid spell of music, emotion, and family positivity. Thanks to its ebullient voice cast and tuneful score, you’d be hard pressed not to have a better time at the movies this year with this gorgeous swirl of cultural enrichment and entertainment magic. Súper chevere, mi gente. #music #entertainment #encanto #disney #movies
To serve and protect HIS own interests makes Alex Villanueva more dangerous than COVID. If these officers refuse to work, that’s on them. The public’s health is being threatened, which is an even bigger safety issue.
Villanueva is crafting a political future on the backs of his officers. Los Angeles doesn’t need a machista blowhard who dares to MAGA his way to the job of mayor and beyond.
Greetings, mi gente. Nice to see you all again. As we continue our slog through 2021, I found myself inspired by the idea of scandals and controversy. Sex, religion, racism, we seem not to be able to resolve any of our isms. Instead, we keep weaponizing them to devastating effect. At least we still have art to illuminate the darkest corners of our psyche to question and, hopefully, impact how we choose to view each other once we strip away the idea of “The Other.” That’s why I’m recommending this next group of film titles for the Carreón Cinema Club: The “It’s A Scandal” Edition.
Each movie listed here courted a wave of controversy when initially released. Audiences were either titillated, appalled, or couldn’t be bothered. Some of these films were not significant hits in their original years of release. More, they haven’t aged well or find themselves mired in more robust controversy in this era of political awakenings. Context is key when viewing these titles, which is why I think they are worthy of not being dismissed with nary a reason beyond, “It makes me uncomfortable” or “That’s wrong!” The Club is now in session.
Directed by Roy Rowland
Written by Jerome Weidman
Starring: Van Johnson, Ann Blyth
Streaming: TCM (until July 28)
If you think TMZ is a media scourge, your delicate sensibilities couldn’t survive the likes of Confidential Magazine. Considered a “pioneer in scandal, gossip, and exposé journalism,” as labeled by Wikipedia, Confidential made its yellow-hued debut in 1952. At its most popular, the magazine earned a circulation of five million copies per issue, surpassing Reader’s Digest, the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, and other leading, respectable publications of the decade. Scandals would eventually topple this dreadful rag, but its audience’s voracious appetite for its “stories” about Hollywood’s leading players at their weakest and most vulnerable, true or not, were devoured with bloodlust.
You’ll only need to read between the lines when watching Slander, which chronicles the life of a kids’ TV Show star Scott Martin, portrayed by Van Johnson. When the fictional periodical “The Real Truth” wreaks awful havoc on his life after refusing to corroborate an incendiary story on a popular actress, the collateral damage is swift. Outed for being a felon at the age of 19, the resulting judgment on Martin by the public breaks up his marriage and torpedoes his career. Here’s a clip featuring the great Ann Blyth as Martin’s beleaguered wife Connie and Steve Cochran as “The Real Truth’s” self-righteous and arrogant editor H.R. Manley.
Subtlety is not director-for-hire Roy Rowland’s strongest suit, with the melodrama and rather cliched dialogue marooning most of the cast, save for Cochran, who excels as the film’s villain. Slander rarely rises above its TV movie treatment, but it makes its point like a sledgehammer when Martin’s young son is struck and killed by a passing car after being bullied by his classmates about his dad’s criminal past.
Slander’s bravado finish with Johnson’s “on the nose” plea to a voracious public to stop consuming “The Real Truth” seems too good to be true, and it is. Imagine anyone saying on Jimmy Kimmel or CNN to the public, “Now that they’ve seen the extent of its power to destroy the innocent and not-so-innocent, stop your intake of gossip and reality garbage.” People would switch it off or swipe it away.
Although the outcome for editor Manley is too fantastic to spoil, it’s almost worth the entire movie. Almost. As for how Slander fared in its day. Well, audiences seemed to have preferred the pages of Confidential, with Slander proving to be a box office bomb for MGM. Johnson himself would be at the center of a scandal when a tell-all book written by his son revealed he’d left his wife for another man. Only in Hollywood, kids, only in Hollywood.
Directed and written by William Friedkin
Starring: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen
Rent: Amazon Prime, Apple TV+
The scorched earth of the 1970s left plenty of burning embers to ignite the start of the 1980s. With gender and sexual equality, rising conservatism, and extreme violence impacting mainstream entertainment, it is no coincidence that two erotic thrillers would reach cinemas with a resounding wail of controversy upon release in 1980. And both dealt with the LGBTQ+ communities, an evolving and powerful voice determined to right the wrongs perpetrated in society.
While it possesses considerable artistic and thematic strengths, Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill earned hackles for its depiction of cross-dressing. His turning a trans character into a vicious slasher movie trope offered little context or catharsis, only lurid violence. William Friedkin’s Cruising delivered that film year was something akin to a cultural firebomb, even before the production wrapped principal photography.
Within the confines of its standard-issue “serial killer on the loose in the big city” plot is an unflinching look at New York’s gay subcultures. Without question, the film is most urgent at night, where Al Pacino, as an undercover cop, roams the Leather/BDSM bars in the Meatpacking district in search of a murderer.
Thanks to Friedkin’s direction and Pacino’s controlled performance, Cruising rises above its cliched plot of crooked cops and an overburdened detective force bullied into solving the crimes before they ignite a political firestorm, just like in real life. The neighborhood where Cruising filmed did not take kindly to the project, with locals and activist groups disrupting production. Once finished, due to its candid depiction of gay sexuality, the MPAA demanded 40-minutes of cuts to reverse its original X-rating. The controversies endure with film historians and gay leaders lambasting Cruising’s linking violence with illicit sexuality, a gross judgment on queer life.
Seeking to counter the protests, Friedkin offered the following disclaimer at the film’s opening, “This film is not intended as an indictment of the homosexual world. It is set in one small segment of that world, which is not meant to be representative of the whole.”
It did little to mollify the objections to the film, which remain justified. The equation of gay sex with isolation, brutality, and murder permeates the movie because it does little to understand any of the motivations involved with the crimes. Few positive images materialize, and even those meet destruction by the film’s end. More, Pacino’s character seems to establish a connection with his gay self, but it is merely hinted at and not explored further.
We can argue the artistic merits of Cruising, but you cannot deny that the cameras did not shy away from the black and blue aesthetic of leather and BDSM culture. The result is a fearless time capsule of a culture embraced by many practitioners of this form of sexual expression. The film may focus on a youthful Pacino and the ensemble cast. Still, the background is where subversion exists, depicting queer culture and sexuality, breathtakingly and unexpectedly.
So why champion the film at all?
It’s a film history lesson that retains its power to illuminate and inspire a more explicit, honest discussion on how not to relegate sex and sexuality into something negative. Again, how else can we begin to improve the future without looking at the past? Cancel culture vultures need not apply.
SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946)
Directed by Harve Foster, Wilfred Jackson
Screenplay by Dalton Raymond, Maurice Rapf, and Morton Grant
Starring: Luana Patten, Bobby Driscoll, Ruth Warrick, James Baskett, and Hattie McDaniel
Finally, let’s talk about the nadir of Disney’s sometimes color-blind and tone-deaf oeuvre, perhaps the one film that may never see the light again by an audience outside academia. Based on the equally controversial Uncle Remus stories compiled by Joel Chandler Harris, you can see what inspired Disney to turn these moral fables into a major film. Unfortunately, the Mouse House decided to keep their animated musical in Harris’s chosen dialect for African-Americans featured in his work. The sounds are shocking, even by today’s standards.
Southern author Harris did not escape criticism with the original text, so why did Disney keep the same framing devices without contemplating the consequences? Several writers were part of the project, some recognizing and seeking to remedy the issues with the property, but the inherent problem remains. Despite its tuneful soundtrack and candy-hued visuals, the racial stereotyping depicted in the film is still difficult to accept today. The film industry, seeking a means to appease a justifiably angry NAACP, bestowed an honorary Oscar to actor James Baskett, who played Uncle Remus in the film. While Baskett may have been the first black male actor to win an Academy Award, it is essential to note that he couldn’t attend the 1946 premiere in segregated Atlanta.
If it is so venal, why should Song of the South even be viewed again? Quite frankly, it exemplifies what cancel culture does to our collective past. This lobotomy or erasure of art representing our worst selves does not magically clear our name as a flawed species. We are missing a chance to educate ourselves on how to make things better. What is missing in today’s “woke” discourse about art in the past is context. To understand where we want to go as a society, we must look back to see where we’ve been first. We need to give these examples their due and proper context as to WHY they are not images we need to repeat or reimagine.
It is your decision as to what you can accept in terms of the topics raised by the films. Have an open mind and question how these films can still fit in our worlds. Either way, I welcome your opinions. Until the Club meets again, stay safe and healthy, mis amigos.
Hola, mi gente! Feliz Día de los Muertos from the Carreón Cinema Club.
One of Latin America’s most revered cultural traditions, the Day of the Dead, has infiltrated el norte with gusto. Even Target gets into it these days! However, what thrills me more is how a particular group of filmmakers endeavored to craft two fantastic animated films that have broadened the reach and power of these special days celebrating the dead.
First up, Jorge R. Gutierrez’s gorgeous and inventive 2014 adventure, THE BOOK OF LIFE, produced by Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro, nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Animated Feature Film.
If that wasn’t enough, Disney/Pixar wasn’t going to be left out of the ofrenda, creating the 2017 family classic COCO, directed by Lee Unkrich. But something tells me you already know a little something about that not-so little blockbuster. (Hint: It received two Academy Awards, including Best Animated Feature Film.)
Both films remain heartfelt and poignant to me, but I have a special place for THE BOOK OF LIFE. The visual artistry devised by Gutierrez and team is so original, emulating the love and passion of Latino artisans in several mediums and multiple generations. The textures, the colors, and Mexicaness of it all live in the myriad details that populate the screen. If you haven’t seen it, please make an effort to add it to your family viewing choices.
Until next time, amigos! And por Dios, subscribe to the Carreón Cinema Club already!
My sister Nancy coined the name “Poppadoodles” way back when. I instantly loved the sound of it, both frivolous and absurd, two words you’d never use when you wanted to describe Dad. He was Big George, Jorge Sr., Tío Jorge, but never Don Jorge, or Jefe. He represented many things to many people.
Dad passed away the morning of Tuesday, February 26 at the age of 94 at our home in Pico Rivera. It didn’t rain that day. The sun was out. He was surrounded by family and our closest friends. Alzheimer’s was also his nefarious companion during the last 12 years of his life. It finally left us alone, but it never fully took Dad away. Jorge Sr. knew where he was and who was the source of the love in that living room space that day.
Writing about him in the past tense makes me want to scream. Thinking about him in the past tense makes me want to cry. That is why I choose to focus my emotion on words these days. Words were my best friend as a chubby, eccentric kid. Words were what kept Dad entertained as he shuttled us all over Los Angeles to meet rock bands at record signings, shows, musicals, sports, everything. A carefully folded newspaper or magazine was also with him when he played chauffeur to the exciteable brood that was us.
I never did ask what he read about or what he even thought about what he read. I just know that when it was time to take us home, he carefully folded the material back up and we’d begin the journey. That slice of peace and quiet was always obliterated by our breathless stories about who or what we saw. He’d smile and listen as we cut through the city with caution because his precious cargo was aboard.
God, I wish I did ask him about those articles in the Herald-Examiner or Newsweek. One time, he even stood in line with my brother and me at Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. We wanted to meet the legendary child known as Boy George. Talk about your culture club. (Boom.) When we got up to meet George, we told him our Dad was a George, too. A huge smile stretched across the Brit crooner’s tastefully made-up face. Wouldn’t you know they launched into a nice little chat? Like neighbors stopping for tea. It was something George did not have time for with any of gallery of nightcrawlers and club kids that were desperate for a similar audience? Dad had no idea who Boy George even was, saying “That’s a nice young man” as we walked away. I wish Steve Jobs had already conquered the world for an iPhone! Imagine the photo, heck, the footage! Still, the memory remains a treasure, regardless, and unfiltered all these years later.
It is fitting that Dad made his living as a textile engineer. The yarn spun on the daily at the factory was no less important and as strong as the family ties he weaved at home. It never frayed. Even when it was pulled to maximum tautness, we didn’t break. Sometimes the words I exchanged with Dad were in anger, punctuated by the slam of a door or the start of a car engine. Even our silences carried the weight and text of our thoughts. That wasn’t the case once he began his travels with Alzheimer’s. I’d be damned if I’d let that bastard of a disease rob me of my time with Dad. I fought against the ALZ hard with smiles, laughter, and talks, real talks. It started out in English and then transferred to Dad’s native Spanish when his mind placed me in that category of awareness.
I have no regrets. I only possess this incredible want to have him here for a little while longer. I was able to say what I carried in my heart to him way before he left us. It is my most treasured moment with Dad. It happened at the Arboretum in Arcadia early last fall. Walking was tough for him, so I got him a wheelchair. We ventured around the gardens. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful day. In fact, it was grey and humid. The grounds were going through some pruning and renovations. The only added color that day was the famed peacocks, which were plentiful. I chose to tell Dad that I loved him and that he was right about so much. That I was sorry for all the hell I put him through. He was quiet for a moment, then, he asked if it was alright if he pushed me around the gardens, that I’d done enough. I said, “I don’t mind.” He answered, “Okay.” Then he started to comment on the peacocks, saying they don’t do anything. Just walk around and show off. I laughed. “Dad,” I said. I can’t believe you’re arguing with a peacock.” He just smiled and folded his hands on his lap. “I want to go home,” he said. So, we did.
Dad’s burial services were on a sunny Tuesday morning in Pico Rivera. I had the task of speaking, along with my brother. Writing his eulogy wasn’t easy, but when I started to write it, the words didn’t fail me. As my dear friend Ann said to me as my grief was in its upswing:
“He may be gone, but please know, as someone said to me when I lost my Dad, “The conversation continues.”
And it does…
A Eulogy for Dad by Jorge Carreón, Jr.
When you’ve been blessed to live a life as long, rich and vivid as Dad’s, the brevity of a eulogy seems cruel and unfair. Six paragraphs and out. I couldn’t do that. You only have to stop, pause, take a breath and take a look around a room like this and see the emotion and extent of the impact one life can make. You take comfort in knowing that this speaks volumes to the character and respect generated by Jorge Ramirez Carreón. Words were his power, and words are the inherited power we wield today.
I remember the day after my big performance in a high school play when I asked Dad what he thought of my “star” turn. He said, “Mijo, you’re a lot of things, but you’re not an actor. Write. It is what you do best.” He was “right,” for lack of a better word. He was pretty much always right about things.
I’ve been staring at a blank screen for days, crafting this message of remembrance and goodbye for Dad. All I could hear in my head are messages like, “Is this going to be enough?” followed by “I can’t do this.” When I finally sat down to put these words up on a laptop screen, it was surrounded by his spirit at our family home in Pico Rivera. Flowers, his favorite slice of nature, were everywhere. Music, the songs inspired by his varied tastes, provided the underscore. It made sense to me here. He made sense to me here, the house that raised my siblings and me.
My brother has composed a fitting testimony to his life, the details and achievements of a life less ordinary, but extraordinary. He ventured from the security of his home and living in Mexico to venture into the unknown territory of the US. He met Mom, married, had four children; he built the life of their dreams. The palm tree that graces the center of our home in Pico is that perfect symbol of our family history. It stands taller than ever before. It has bent with strong winds, never breaking, even when it felt like life was too much. It is the summation of who we are as his people, his family. You find a piece of who we are with each frond. Lil’s maturity and leadership as the firstborn. Nancy’s devotion and selfless protection of us all. Ernesto’s poetry and introspection. Mom’s love of life and strength. It is resilience incarnate.
With Dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s 12 years ago, the first impulse was to think life was over, that he’d forget us all quickly, that the damage to his mind and body would be relentless. We were scared he’d never be able to partake in our lives most crucial moments as adults. We were cursed and doomed. Yet, in the end, it was a gift. My father getting lost in the haze of this infernal disease allowed me to find him again. It is a personal detail that I will never let go.
My family mobilized upon the Doctor’s word. Nancy and Ernesto led the charge in researching every facet of treatment programs, medications, insurance allowances, anything, and everything to make sure Dad would live his best life with us beside him. That he was with us for as long as he was, glowing with color and filled with energy, is a testament to everyone’s role in keeping Dad healthy and alive. We involved him in all aspects of our lives. He wasn’t “sick” Dad. He was chingón Dad for us, for everyone he’d offer a smile. That’s the lesson of his life. Don’t fear the illness; make it fear YOU.
Like many Latino men, we like to live in our memories, tasked with the preservation of our family lore. Being Jorge is not just sharing the same name. Being Jorge means living as the chief chronicler of my family. You should see the epic collection of slides that remain encased and boxed, dutifully scanned by my sister Nancy with Smithsonian-like care. That is why I was compelled to record all that is Us before Dad’s mental files were purged entirely of data. My family and I will never forget the outpouring of emotion felt by many of you who never had a chance to meet Dad in person but were witnesses to his life in other manners.
My name now carries a stronger aura of poetry and romance. Yet, Dad is singular, the original creation. My task is never to let his memory fade, preserving that beautiful handprint in my heart, in all of our hearts.
Back to the power of words. Dad era creyente, a devout believer. He was a voracious reader, informed, an elegant debater who loved a good match of wits. I ask you all to take a moment at some point today to think of a word that personifies what Dad means to you. Share it with us today, tomorrow, whenever inspiration strikes.
As for us? Let me tell you: Dad is adventurous, sage, loyal, devoted, humorous, strict, careful, silly funny, lover of the song “Guantanamera,” classical music and Lerner & Lowe showtunes, Howard Stern-listener, admirer of Trini Lopez, Willie Nelson & Glen Campbell, damn good long haul driver, world-traveler, Christmas card address monitor, abstract pancake maker, mistaker of wasabi for guacamole, Nescafe drinker, eater of canned tuna fish in Italy, church leader, Eagle Scout motivator, industrious, a textile engineer, cultivated, Catholic, mustached, bald, native son of Celaya, Caballero, Mexicano, husband, father, tío, hero. He is forever our Poppadoodles.
We love you, Dad. Te queremos mucho, Pa.
**This is a video produced by my brother Ernesto for his Mateo & 8th line of home decor. We played it during the rosary services in honor of Dad. Hearing his voice sound so confident was shocking for a moment, then, restorative and calming. I hope you give it a view.
***Please consider making a donation to one of the following charities:
“I’m glad I cleaned the house today,” she thought in her best Lady Macbeth fashion. “Too many damn cobwebs. Out damn memories.”
She’d contemplated burning some sage but settled on removing old totems from the past as being enough. Finding the photos of “that other family” triggered this latest “limpiada,” a lesson taught by her mother.
“The best way to get rid of the past,” her Mamá Coraje once said, “is to believe it never happened at all.”
Rewriting history was a family skill so well-honed, even Orwell would blanch out of shame. For the Coraje women, lies were irradiated truths. Truths were best regarded as lies told by those who only wanted to destroy their gossamer veneer of perfection. The singular male Coraje — the son or brother — seemed to lack the focus required. He was a man-boy with feet of clay, desperate to be liked and loved, lacking integrity and grit.
Adept at creating her own reality since youth, this particular Coraje sister didn’t even break a sweat at the effort anymore. Ignoring events, people, the color of her skin, her family’s lower-middle-class reality, it didn’t faze her in the least. She chose to dance on the jagged edge, to remain a beautiful liar en pointe. Yet, the years were now revealing their own subtle truths, manifested in her stick-thin figure and the frozen look of bitter disappointment on her face. Whatever beauty or character was erased now.
It was seeing a photo of her mother with her American-born cousins that triggered this bolt of divine inspiration as she finished cleaning. She’d send the found photos to their original owners. It would be easier to simply place them in the trash.
“La basura se junta,” Mamá Coraje would say about people who had lost their use to her.
Another pair of trembling hands would soon hold the plain manila envelope she’d carefully filled with photos covering several years from what was now a different lifetime. The note? Benign in its phrasing, but packing a wallop that would reverberate beyond several area codes: “I thought you could use these.” Its simplicity was almost too perfect! Minimum effort for maximum damage, this bread & butter note written with the same intent as a “Thank you” card or a grocery list.
Would she know that sending this package would elicit feelings of anger and rage? Would she know that emptying her house of what was once treasure would be deemed callous and heartless? That the question of “Who does this?” would be muttered via texts and phone calls and several lunchtime conversations? The frozen smiles captured in these wrinkled black & whites and torn color images belied something she would never allow herself to acknowledge: her own feelings of malignant envy.
As la Hermana Coraje transported the sealed envelope to the post office, she reflected on the scorched earth demeanor of the Corajes. It was a cold feeling, cold and lonely and terrifying in its power. Was this too much? Had she gone too far? But she caught herself before any rationality or humanity could take root. Gripping the steering wheel of her sensible Japanese car, a trace of a smile revealed itself as she accelerating on the gas.
The rise of Trumpism has torn the veil off of 21st century America and what lies beneath is a roiling sea of hatred towards all non-white groups. It seems no one is immune from this cancer. Just view any of the iPhone videos of unbridled rage shot on location at hotel pools to Starbucks to any grocery store of late.
I can’t help but shake in rage when I think how mainstream media was complicit in giving Trump and his minions a platform that is part-revival tent and part- propaganda machine. By reporting and repeating his often wildly untrue statements designed for maximum collateral damage, the effect is not to inform the masses, but to give the Trump machine more steam and crucial validation.
Before the election, I found it unfathomable that we’d live in an era where a U.S. President would turn to social media to handle world affairs in the manner of an unhinged youth suffering from Twitter Tourette’s. The very thought of such a political figure leading the greatest nation on Earth as if he’s the oligarch of the Troll Nation churned my stomach. It couldn’t possibly happen here, right Sinclair Lewis?
Now we have the children of the undocumented living in detainment camps on American soil.
What we decide to do about Trump and his rabid fan base will define the next generations of our nation. But we have to start paying attention. We can’t turn away or tune it out, people. We can’t distract ourselves with cat videos, endless phone swiping through the digital swamps of clickbait nonsense, Beyoncé & Jay-Z’s new album or whatever it is we do to pretend our lives are hunky dory.
We are at war for the soul of this great nation. To avoid service is to call yourself a deserter. You do not warrant a place in this nation once we put down our arms to vanquish the Orange menace, the entitled, rich white men who’d rather see us corralled up like animals and treated like garbage. You are no better than them in thinking it is someone else’s problem.
We cannot be complicit in our silence. You see, it won’t stop here, this flouting of human and civil rights. If we allow these camps to continue, Trump will allow for them to grow in numbers and the parameters can only be broadened from here. Citizens may find themselves behind those gates just because they fit a government profile that can change at any given moment.
Camps have happened here before. Like all the evil that men do, a precedent exists. We have the power to look back in anger and do something with that emotion to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s the beauty of history. The clues. The answers. The best-laid plans are present for us to make our futures better. Yet, we are the fly in the ointment. Our apathy and divisiveness make us so.
Walls. Chainlink fences. Camps. These are devices engaged by the weak and cowardly to keep control and power. But these are also man-made constructs. And it is men and women of great courage and faith in the goodness of humankind that will take them down. Change cannot be contained. This is our chance. Make your voice heard. Speak your truth.
Here’s mine: I am the gay son of Mexican immigrants, people who chose to become citizens of this great nation. To witness the children of other Latinos in camps is a slap in the face of all immigrants who created America. We must become the change we want to see in the world before we are all on the other side of that fence wondering what the hell happened.
After you’ve taught the world how to be a Latin lover, what do you do for a follow up? If you’re an international comedy star, you offer the world an unexpected new twist on one of the most beloved romantic comedies of the 1980s and go… “Overboard.”
Since his groundbreaking American film debut in 2013 with “Instructions Not Included,” Mexican actor and filmmaker Eugenio Derbez broadened his audience further with the 2017 box office hit “How to Be a Latin Lover.” Seeking a new challenge, Derbez and production partner Benjamin Odell knew they set the right course in taking on the famed 1987 romantic comedy “Overboard.”
Several industry heavy hitters had already tried to find the right combination that would take the film from being a mere remake to a filmed entertainment that spoke to a generation that, incredibly, may not be familiar with the original. Recasting the roles played by powerhouse duo Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell would not be enough. The basic premise of sweet, vengeful justice that happened to blossom into an unexpected romance also would need an update.
After much planning and discussion, this bold, new “Overboard” was ultimately set forth on a journey that would reflect the diversifying image of mainstream American cinema. Genders would be reversed, giving Derbez and blonde comic dynamo Anna Faris a chance to put their mark on the characters essayed by Hawn and Russell. More, the identity of the film would take on a multi-cultural one, mirroring the audience that continues to impact more than box office revenue. The end result can only create a splash of its own. Find out how this “Overboard” set sail in the following Q&A with stars Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris, and Eva Longoria.
“Overboard” opens citywide on Friday, May 4th.
JORGE CARREÓN: What is it about the original that makes people smile, even today?
EUGENIO DERBEZ: Goldie Hawn. I love her. She’s amazing. She’s adorable. She’s charming. She’s funny. She’s everything. And the story is interesting, you know? This clash of cultures is funny when you see the rich against the poor and then they switch, and they torture her.
ANNA FARIS: I love the original so much. I grew up watching “Overboard.” It was my sick day movie! It feels like I watched it every day. It was the movie that my friends and I could all quote.
EVA LONGORIA: It is such a classic film! I love the original. I love Goldie Hawn. I love their love story!
CARREÓN: What makes this take on “Overboard” special to you?
DERBEZ: Flipping the genders was fresh because we wanted to break stereotypes. The normal thing to do is I would play the carpenter and Anna (Faris) would play the billionaire in the yacht. But it’s a different world. When you want to do a remake, you do it because you love the movie. If you start changing too much it becomes another movie. We were careful in not losing the core of the original story.
FARIS: I’m thrilled to be a part of it. it’s also terrifying because When I was approached with the project, I was incredibly flattered but I also felt like these were huge shoes to fill. But, I couldn’t resist it, so we’ve reimagined it. The Kurt Russell character is played by my me and Goldie Hawn’s character is played by Eugenio. I think we’ve updated it and I hope that it satisfies fans of the original.
LONGORIA: There are movies that you go, “You cannot touch that!” I thought this was one of them. When I first read the script, I wanted to not like it. [LAUGHTER] It’s a reinvention more than a remake. The role reversal makes more sense now if you think back to the original. This role reversal is a little more accepting because it’s the guy who is going to do hard labor in the house. He should. [LAUGHTER]
CARREÓN: The gender reversal of roles is just one layer of this new imagining of “Overboard.” Eugenio, what did it mean for you to take on the role played by Goldie Hawn?
DERBEZ: It’s typical that in Hollywood you always see the Mexicans playing the gardener, the immigrant. But there are other kinds of Mexicans. Many Americans don’t know that one of the richest men in the world is Carlos Slim. That’s why I decided to play this Mexican billionaire as if he were a Carlos Slim type. What I loved the most is I got to play two Leonardos. The Leonardo who’s rich and the Leonardo who’s poor later. But, it was a real challenge playing the billionaire. When I watched the original movie, one of the things that I really loved from Goldie Hawn was that even though she portraying a mean and terrible human being, she was always charming. And I was like, “God, I need to find the way to do the same thing!”
I wanted this guy to be, even though he’s a jerk and he’s always mistreating people, I wanted him to be charming and lovable. That was the challenge. Although, I did love being the billionaire more than the other Leo because it had more room to play.
CARREÓN: How about you, Anna? How did you want to make your role as Kate resonate in this new context? Is she an extension of your real self?
FARIS: I think that every character that I play of course has a degree of me in it because I think that’s how you sort of attempt to embody a character. I love Kate because I could recognize her sort of desperation. She wanted to be able to do the right thing. And yet, there’s this temptation. She succumbs to it and takes Eugenio’s character out the local hospital when he’s suffering from amnesia and convinces him that he’s her husband and that he also has three jobs and must now support her family. [LAUGHTER] That sounds pretty horrendous! But, I like that Kate was very real to me. She’s funny and gritty and she’s working her ass off to raise these kids and to try to make ends meet. It makes me feel like a lot of the people that I grew up with. Hopefully, it’s honoring the idea of how just hard it is for working single women and people.
CARREÓN: It is important to be able to trade comedic dialogue with an actor who’s also adept at bringing the funny. How was it creating a bond as Leo and Kate?
DERBEZ: Anna and I clicked from the moment we met. There’s nothing better than having chemistry with your co-star. Anna was exactly as I imagined. She’s funny, she’s amazing, she’s full of energy, she’s always making jokes. It was easy to work with her because she’s always feeding you with funny stuff. During takes, I’d be enjoying her performance as if I was watching a film! I’m like, Sorry I wasn’t reacting! I was watching Anna!”[LAUGHTER] Besides it is a little bit freaky because she looks like Goldie Hawn. You can’t imagine how similar she is. There were a lot of takes where I was watching her and thinking, “Oh my God, it’s exactly like Goldie Hawn!” I loved that.
FARIS: I couldn’t adore Eugenio Derbez more. He’s got these big eyes. He’s innately charming. He’s hysterical. Our first day of shooting we were stuck in a car on a trailer together. And we hadn’t spent that much time together except for a couple of rehearsals and a couple of meetings before. And I was just like chatting his ear off. And I remember him looking over at me with like sort of this look of confusion. I’d like to think also he was charmed by my chatty Cathy business I was doing. [LAUGHTER] We both come from this comedic background. We both have though dramatic undercurrents in ourselves. We talked a lot about acting throughout the course of the movie. I admire him so much.
CARREÓN: One of the revelations from these interviews is that Eugenio admitted he and Anna are both insecure when it comes to performing. Why?
DERBEZ: Well, she’s so humble. Anna is one of the funniest comedians in Hollywood. English is not my first language. It’s hard for me to perform in English. I was always curious about whether I could be funny in English? People say I’m funny in Spanish, but I’m not so sure I’m going to be able to crossover in English. Every day I would ask Anna, “Was I funny?” She would say, “What are you talking about? You were really funny!” Then she’d be the opposite, “I think I wasn’t funny.” And then I’d say, “What are you talking about? You’re really funny! You’re Anna Faris!” I think all actors in the world are insecure, but probably more so if they’re comedians. [LAUGHTER]
FARIS: I don’t know how Eugenio does it. We were just talking about that just a sec ago. Like, I was like how do you do this. How do you, how do you, it’s just incredible to be able to speak and act in a language that’s not your first!
CARREÓN: Do you think a cross-cultural romance experienced by Leo and Kate is a risky move for a mainstream film today?
DERBEZ: Yes and no at the same time. We’re going through rough, tough times. But it’s time to make a statement. I think America is a great country and it’s built by many groups of people, not just one. I’m Latino and Latinos have been doing great things here in the U.S. In a certain way, we’re telling people that anything can happen. This is America. That’s life in America.
FARIS: I loved the idea. I hope that this movie can touch different cultures, different generations. It feels progressive in that way. I love it that we have these incredible Mexican actors in our movie. I love it that we speak Spanish. It feels like next generation as well and I feel to be a part of that. I think that is something that makes this movie stand out.
CARREÓN: The new “Overboard” also has a secret weapon that wasn’t part of the original film, which is the scene-stealing Eva Longoria as Kate’s best friend, Theresa.
FARIS: The first day Eva came to set she ran up to me, and mind you, I had never met her before. She gives me this massive bear hug and she’s just like, “You and I are going to be best friends.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh! You are a dream!” I loved acting with her. She’s just an incredible person and an amazing actress. I think that there can be a sense of competitiveness sometimes, which many of us have experienced in the past. It’s wonderful to be at a place in life where no one is bringing any of that to the table. I just love her so much. We should definitely play buddy cops or something in another movie! [LAUGHTER]
LONGORIA: It is just so fun being able to play off Anna. I’ve been such a huge fan of hers my entire life, from “The House Bunny” to the “Scary Movie” franchise to “Mom.” She’s just such a talented comedian. She has this natural instinct for comedy. She’s really great with physical comedy, so doing scenes with her has been a lot of fun. And to play her confidant and to be able to play off each other has been a dream for me.
CARREÓN: How important was it to have all roles not depict a cultural or gender stereotype?
FARIS: There’s been this wonderful sort of awakening, where we have brilliant writers and our directors and screenwriters creating material that’s multi-dimensional and doesn’t fall into a particular category. I love that Kate, my character, had dialogue could have easily been played by a guy. It feels great to have anything that sort of fits into a box that’s conforming in any way. Hopefully, we’ll see more roles played by all different kinds of people.
LONGORIA: We’re taking steps forward in the right direction with diversity in film. We have to do more and it starts behind the camera. Eugenio’s directing and producing. I’m directing and producing. When you have the viewpoint of a diverse person, what’s in front of the camera is bound to be diverse. We are taking small strides, day by day. The landscape of America is changing, and changing in a Latin way, I think that will eventually be reflected in television and film.
CARREÓN: What’s been the most compelling aspect of having creative control over a film project? A great example with “Overboard” is its diverse ensemble, particularly with the talents of such acclaimed Mexican actors as Cecilia Suárez, Mariana Treviño, and the great Fernando Luján as Leo’s family.
DERBEZ: I’m basically hiring myself for every project. And I like that because I have a voice. It’s important to have a voice nowadays. I wanted to introduce some of our great Mexican actors to a new audience. They’re amazing! I loved doing that. And if I can be a bridge for all this great talent we have in Mexico, then I’m happy.
LONGORIA: I applaud what Eugenio’s been doing with his films in Hollywood as a Mexican actor. What’s been so wonderful to see is that he brings his culture with him. He brings the actors from Mexico with him. He’s never turned his back on his origins. He’s doing these bi-cultural films really well. They’re funny. They have general themes. Universal themes that a general market can enjoy and I think that’s the key. That’s why “Desperate Housewives” was so successful worldwide because you deal with universal themes that everybody can relate to. If you do movies about love and romance and divorce and heartache and jobs and child raising and death. I mean, those are things everybody can relate to. And then you make it a comedy? [LAUGHTER] It’s enjoyable to watch. I’ve had these moments where I look around the set and I get chills because there are so many talented actors on the set, but there are also so many diverse talented actors on set. It’s very rare that you go onto a movie set and you see actors from Mexico City doing an American film. And that’s really what I applaud Eugenio for.
CARREÓN: Expectations versus reality. Which did you all enjoy more? The scenes on the yacht or the ones on land?
DERBEZ: We were all so happy the day they told us were going out into the open sea on a luxurious yacht. Then we had to reduce the crew because we all couldn’t go onboard for weight purposes. In the end, we couldn’t wait to finish shooting on the yacht. [LAUGHTER] It was so hard! The interiors of the yacht were covered in plastic to protect the walls, the furniture. We were standing up most of the time. We’re sitting on the floor. It was packed. You couldn’t walk around. You couldn’t bring food inside or drinks. All of us had to have lunch outside. It’s Vancouver. It’s Canada. It was freezing. It was so windy! The scenes on the jet with the beautiful women in bikinis? We were all shouting and yelling and laughing. When I came back to the yacht, and the crew said, “You all looked like you were having a lot of fun!” I said, “No! We were freezing. The water was cold! Those were shouts, not laughs!”
FARIS: I loved making “Overboard.” Just the thrill of getting to be a part of it is amazing to me, one I could never have imagined as a child. I also loved that our directors and Eugenio gave me a sense of freedom. There was a lot of improvisation, plus the idea that we’re telling a romantic journey in an unconventional way.
LONGORIA: We had a funny scene, Eugenio and I with the condoms. That’s all I’m going to say. I’m going to say is Eugenio Derbez, Eva Longoria, and condoms. Watch the movie. [LAUGHTER] I loved anything with Anna. I loved my screen husband Mel Rodriguez [who portrays Bobby]. You have no idea. Mel and I have known each other for 18 years. Every time we had a scene together, the director was like, “More of that!” Now we have to go do a show together. We’re that good together. It feels like we’ve been married 20 years. We’ve all had a lot of fun, but the water scenes were rough. It was raining, it was freezing. It’s probably some of the funniest stuff we’ve shot, the end of the movie, the little boat chasing the big boat. I think people are really going to enjoy it.
CARREÓN: What do you hope audiences take away from watching “Overboard?”
FARIS: It ultimately becomes a love story. What Kate and Leo bring out in each other is eventually the best in each other. Leo becomes a version of himself that he didn’t know he had in him. And I think Kate’s walls get broken down. There’s something really interesting in the idea that this man who has everything that the world could offer and he somehow finds reward in having a family and a simpler life. It’s the idea of what money can’t buy.
LONGORIA: People can expect a lot of fun out of this movie. They’re going to want to go on this journey with these characters, between Kate and Leo and their families. I feel like there’s a desire for a movie like this right now, especially in the world we’re living in. We want to escape into a beautiful place, a happy place. You want to experience someone else’s journey and not think about your own problems. [LAUGHTER] This movie’s going to do that for you.
DERBEZ: It was a challenge and a great responsibility to do a remake of this great film. When we hired writers Rob Greenberg and Bob Fisher and we read the final script, we were thrilled. We first talked to MGM about flipping roles and they were like, “No! This is an iconic movie. We don’t want to go that far!” They read the script, and they were like, “Oh my God. We love it!” We have a great movie. I think we have an amazing movie. Funny, interesting, and with a lot of heart. It has everything and it’s a roller coaster. It’s a family movie, too, which is a plus. I like doing movies for everyone.
**The interviews with Eugenio Derbez and Eva Longoria were completed on location in Vancouver during production in June 2018. The Anna Faris interview was completed in Los Angeles in January 2018. The transcripts have been edited for this piece.
The “Overboard” English and Spanish featurettes were produced by Jorge Carreón at Monkey Deux, Inc. for Pantelion Films.
Edited by Kate Ryan (English) and Steve Schmidt (Spanish), the featurettes are included courtesy of Pantelion Films.
I’ve come to discover that a visit to the doctor with an Alzheimer’s patient is a mini-documentary in itself. I’ve only been to the emergency room with my Dad one time. The bulk of these responsibilities have been with my mom and siblings. It does feel weird to say I was glad I was able to be there for Dad that weekend. It meant not completing interviews at a junket, but he had fallen and hit his head. The urgency in my Mom’s voice was enough of a motivator.
The entire time we were together, I found moments to hold his hand. I modulated my voice to be the sound of reassurance as nurses checked his vitals and, especially when he had a CT scan. That machine was loud and scary enough for us both. In between was a round-robin of the same questions in Spanish, “Where’s Mom? and “How far are we from home?” He rarely if ever speaks to me in English. I loved witnessing his gallantry with his sincere “Thank you’s” as we went from urgent care to the hospital. Funny, he never asked, “Who are you?” I consider that a small blessing and miracle.
In the end, Dad was pronounced healthy and fine. No damage, although the doctor did find evidence of a previous fall that had healed.
A year and a half later, Dad’s visits of late have been a little more challenging. After a struggling with pneumonia in early January of this year, the effects have taken on the dynamics of a luge run during the Olympics. As of late March:
He’s still fighting pneumonia.
He’s having trouble walking.
He may or may not have new spots on his lungs.
His pancreas is swollen.
He is having physical therapy, but he still reluctant to stand tall because it hurts.
He is silent for long stretches.
He sleeps a lot more.
He is a bit more irascible.
He needs a haircut.
He doesn’t want to eat, choosing instead to spit his food out.
He struggles to swallow.
He’s lost seven pounds.
He weighs around 122 lbs.
*He thinks he’s 32 years of age.
*That means my mom is a cougar!
It is comforting to know we aren’t the only family trying to balance all of the emotions and realities of having a parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Maintaining a sense of normalcy is our priority. Yes, he lacks control of his bodily functions. He is still Dad in whatever state or phase of the disease he endures. This isn’t the time to mourn him yet.
However, that doesn’t mean frustration is non-existent. I bristle every time I hear my Mom or sibling raise their voice to him. I know what it masks and it isn’t denial. We are adults with ailing parents. The narrative that awaits us all is already scripted. As my mother said to me recently, “I just want to make sure he’s comfortable.”
Oh, and don’t pat Dad’s tummy. He will slap your hand away.
That’s all we can do. That’s all any of us can do. Now, what can you do if you find yourself in a similar situation? Unlike previous generations, we have so many more resources to understand Alzheimer’s and its effects. It is important to be informed and proactive in keeping our loved ones healthy and safe.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s website, Latinos are “1.5 more times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than whites. Now, we may be living longer, but too many of us are still succumbing to health risks like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which may all be triggers for Alzheimer’s and stroke-related dementia.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Part of the Latino culture is the propensity to say, “No pasa nada” when it comes to “serious” matters as personal issues like our health. Is it a sense of shame of having things be imperfect in our family? Is it the fear of appearing weak? Is it ordinary pride or vanity? Maybe it is all the above.
My father, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes years before developing Alzheimer’s, owes his extended lifespan because of my mother’s tireless efforts. The woman mobilized into action like Diana Prince and she made a point to include my siblings and me in the process. Mom was prepared in terms of the many questions she asked of his doctors, My younger brother took over the research. My older sister discussed support groups. My younger sister became a caregiver, too. As we now know, two or more lift, feed, carry, wheel, and, fight better than one.
Mom changed the way he ate, removing the foods that were the cause of his diabetes and her high blood pressure. The result? He is now 93 and it wasn’t until this year that the effects of some fantastic medications that slowed down Alzheimer’s to give him 14 more years of quality life. My family did its part to understand this disease, benefiting him and all of us. We have no regrets here. None.
Latinos remain the fasting growing population in this country. Yet, we may see as many as 1.3 million of our people afflicted by Alzheimer’s by 2050. That’s too many. I encourage you all to study, learn, pay attention to all of the signs that could indicate the illnesses that can lead to being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or enduring stroke-related dementia. Be part of the fight. Be part of finding the cure. Remember everything you can for them. It is what keeps our loved ones on this mortal space.
I made a promise to my Dad to remember it all, his journey and ours, for him. And to provide others with a view from within this difficult space. Until a cure is found, more families will be affected by its ravaging effects. No one should feel alone or without recourse! Resources do exist to help and answer the myriad of questions as to how to better control this disease. Be informed!
I have written before that Dad was the keeper of our family lore. To be able to write down these chapters is an honor and privilege. And when the time is right, I will read them to him. I think he’ll approve.