A fictional narrative inspired by community history, Millie and the Lords is an upcoming film about a young Puerto Rican woman whose life changes after meeting a former Young Lord. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview director/writer Jennica Carmona, lead actor Jessica Carmona, and production assistant Christy Yanis for La Respuesta magazine about the project.
Almost 10 years ago, an aspiring actor just out of college, Jennica Carmona was working part-time at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies when she encountered the history of the Young Lords Party. “I was very inspired by the story of what they did for Puerto Ricans, and I just started writing a story about them and thought that it would be a great film,” Jennica said. “I continued to research them, watched the documentaries, and got inspired to make this film about them. That’s basically how it all got started.”
“Art is a very powerful medium,” Jennica added. “You can raise consciousness around issues, and I really feel this movie does that. It raises awareness of Latinos who are not in touch with their culture or history, and it raises awareness of non-Latinos as well. It speaks to some of the issues young Latinos are facing today, such as gang violence, racism, and unequal access to higher education. I do hope this film will inspire young people to promote social change.”
“I knew two documentaries had already been done,” she began when discussing her decision to produce a fictional narrative. “I love documentaries, but I always had the idea of doing something from a current day perspective, something that would speak to young Latinos of today and the millennial generation who are children of Puerto Rican immigrants, but who are not necessarily in touch with their culture. So it’s a fictional story that tells the story of the Young Lords through the eyes of a current day young woman who discovers their story, learns about their history, and begins to make changes in her own life.”
The role of former Young Lords members was a key element of the movie’s development as well. “It was very important,” Jennica said. “These people are still alive, they’re doing good things. Luis Garden Acosta is still running El Puente. Felipe Luciano is still active in the movement. To hear them talk first-hand about what it was like was very important and I think it adds to the impact of the film.”
“This film is definitely targeted towards English-speaking millennials,” Jennica ended our conversation saying. “We’re hoping they will see it, and be moved and affected by it. We want to run the movie at film festivals as much as we can in 2015, and then ideally get it in theaters so that people in Brooklyn, San Antonio, or wherever, can go out and see it.”
Jessica, her sister and the lead actor of the film, also highlighted the significance of the film in terms of its impact. “Doing this film, meeting the original founding members of the Young Lords, and researching more about them for this role,” she asserted, “gave me such a sense of respect for this group of people and what they did, and gave me a sense of pride as a Puerto Rican. It opened my eyes to the sacrifices that these people made for the betterment of their community.”
A wish of Jessica’s is for the film to reach a young audience so that, through her portrayal of Millie, youth can be exposed to the story of the Young Lords. “It’s so important,” she declared. “I would like to be a role model to young Latinas the way that the Young Lords were a role model to me. Right now through the immigration rights movement more and more young Latinos are being radicalized and politicized, and I want them to be able to know about this organization that fought for their rights, that fought for respect and dignity, and I want them to be inspired the way I was inspired.”
After Jessica related her experience in anti-police brutality, anti-death penalty, and anti-war protest movements, I asked for her thoughts on her role as an artist whose work can inspire social awareness. “For me it’s a dream come true,” she quickly responded. “I’ve always had this internal debate about being a professional actress, which is really a full-time profession, and being an activist, which also requires your heart and soul, time and energy. Being able to work on this film has reinvigorated my love and passion for the arts, and made me see how possible it is to put the two together. I don’t have to make a choice, arts or activism — I can do both. It was a wonderful experience.”
My next question related to the impact the scene locations had. “A lot of the filming was done in Spanish Harlem and the Bronx,” Jessica said. “In between takes we would be surrounded by fellow Latinos from the neighborhood. Some of them were curious, asking what the film was about. It was meaningful filming in these locations because these are the communities the film was made for.”
Christy Yanis, a production assistant on the film that I spoke with, also commented on the project. “Many Puerto Ricans don’t know about the Young Lords,” she said. “Being a part of the film helped me connect with my Puerto Rican heritage.”
Hopefully this film will indeed raise awareness about the important history and legacy of the Young Lords. When it becomes available for release sometime in the near future, it may very well become a tool used by educators in classrooms. That it is a fictional narrative may even promote its wider educational use than documentaries of the past. I, and we at La Respuesta, look forward to the release of this and other creative projects highlighting our community history and struggles as Boricuas.
View the trailer here.