Colorism is no stranger to the Latinx community. Whether embedded within one’s own family or found in media consumed, this form of discrimination based on skin color, has very real effects. It’s a topic Puerto Rican director and artist Marisol Gómez-Mouakad tackles in her latest film, Angélica. Set on the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico, the film follows Angélica, played by Michelle Nonó Rodriguez, an Afro-descendent woman, as she navigates colorism and sexism while coming to terms with her own identity. The daughter of an Afro-Latino father and a white Latina mother, Ángeles, the aspiring fashion designer returns to the island and faces her mother’s harmful comments on her dark skin, natural hair and career choice.
Gómez-Mouakad was inspired to create Angélica from seeing colorism play out in front of her. “Growing up with it, seeing it, witnessing it, living through it,” the director shared with HipLatina in a phone interview. “The frustration is something that’s not often talked about. Besides it not being something that is often talked about, it is often not talked about from the perspective of a woman. To me that was important.”
Angélica has been screened at the International Film Festival of Panama’s Primera Mirada, the Curaçao Film Festival and the Bentonville Film Festival in Arkansas, among others. It’s during those screenings that Gómez-Mouakad receives loads of feedback and affirmations that her work resonates with viewers within and outside of the Latinx community. Angélica is a reminder that racial discrimination exists within our homes and takes place among family members, inviting you to sit with the issue.
“I think what the film has done is that it exposes the problem, so it has allowed, like when we’ve had Q&As people start talking about it, so I think it just creates awareness, which is the first step,” she shared. “You have to create awareness before any change can happen.”
The film holds a mirror up to the community and our lack of self-acceptance, according to Gómez-Mouakad. As an ethnic group, Latinx includes various races and identities. That’s something she addresses within her work.
The producer, screenwriter and owner of Hormiga Cinema Inc., an independent film production company, has a passion for centering the narrative of women. Her 2006 short film, Lazos, speaks to intergenerational relationships, gender norms and identity among a mother-daughter Boricua duo. While writing and creating films, The New School graduate has also uncovered a challenge for many diverse filmmakers: funding.
“There are stories, quite a few stories, with filmmakers that have made one film and then they just have such a hard time getting funding that they haven’t made many other films…that’s a big challenge, getting the money, because the distribution; it’s so hard. Many people just don’t want to invest or are afraid to invest in Caribbean films,” she says.
While there are no shortage of Caribbean and Diaspora filmmakers, the road to funding is filled with twists and turns, and Gómez-Mouakad believes support must come from within the community.
“It’s going to have to come from us organizing or coming together to help each other out because I don’t know how much we can expect others to contribute,” the filmmaker shared candidly. “Not that they can’t but the way I’ve seen it there’s this resistance, especially with the Caribbean. The idea that we’re just a place to go take a vacation. We’re much more than that! We have culture, we have history—there’s a lot. We have made a big difference in the world; it’s just not recognized the way it should be.”
Gómez-Mouakad wants to create opportunities for filmmakers like herself and she’s confident that creative, diverse storytelling can generate money and sustain economic growth.She provides two tips for aspiring filmmakers: be persistent and study your craft. Both equally important to the process. As for what’s next for the Puerto Rican creative, she’s working on a documentary and on the verge of writing her next script.
Angélica will be shown on Saturday, July 14, during the Afro-Latino Fest NYC’s Liberation Film Festival. Her plans to showcase the film in Puerto Rico last October were derailed due to Hurricane Maria, but Gómez-Mouakad still plans to have it shown in the future. “I don’t want this to be a one-shot deal,” urged the director.