Thanks to independent films, it is easier these days to free oneself from the fabricated grip of Hollywood cliches. Many offer voices unheard by the movie industry, such as the experience of being a first-generation American. The following films each offer inventive and honest depictions of the internal struggles of being young in a multicultural world.
Raising Victor Vargas
Rating: R (Strong language)
Set in Manhattan’s sweltering Lower East Side, Raising Victor Vargas tells the story of a swaggering teen named Victor and his conflicts with love, family and coming of age. After Victor (Victor Rasuk) was discovered fooling around with the neighborhood tramp, he devises a plan to save his reputation and sets his eyes on Judy (Judy Marte), the beauty of the block.
At home, Victor faces problems with his puritanical grandmother, who accuses him of imposing “bad influences” on his two younger siblings. Both Victor’s and his grandmother’s conflicting values ultimately leads to her desperate yet humorous attempt to give him up to social services.
His struggle to regain the trust of his grandmother and love of Judy pushes Victor to evaluate himself and his actions and how they affect others. Director Peter Sollett made a smart move choosing actual city kids and adults to form a fresh cast. The actors were allowed to improvise in certain scenes, allowing for the freedom of expression to let the actors draw from their own personal experiences, making the film all the more realistic.
The 2003 film won the Grand Prix award at the Deauville Film Festival and was an official selection for film festivals such as Toronto, Cannes, Philadelphia and Sundance.
Real Women Have Curves
Rating: PG-13 (Sexual content and some language)
Real Women Have Curves is a film about a young woman struggling between going to college and succumbing to the pressures of staying at home with her traditional Mexican parents.
Ana (America Ferrera) is a headstrong teen fresh out of high school and facing the rest of her life with uncertainty. She has received a full ride to Columbia University, but her traditional mother Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros) is determined to have Ana stay at home and help with her sister’s struggling sewing factory.
Throughout the movie, there is tension between the mother’s traditional Mexican values and the “radical” American values that Ana has grown up with.
The film is based on a play by Josefina Lopez, which is based on her own experience as a teen working with her mother and sister in a sewing factory.
The film premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Dramatic Audience Award. Both Ferrera and Ontiveros won the Special Jury Prize for Acting.
My American Girls: A Dominican Story
In this 2001 documentary, filmmaker Aaron Matthews follows the Ortiz family, a Dominican immigrant family living in Brooklyn. Sandra and Bautista Ortiz are the parents of three daughters, Monica, 21; Aida, 16; and Mayra, 14.
Sandra Ortiz moved to New York City from the Dominican Republic in pursuit of the American dream – little did she know, this pursuit has many costs as well as rewards. All three daughters are branching off in different directions in life: Mayra is the goof-off; Monica is a student at Columbia University and Aida is stuck in between.
Much goes on throughout the year, from Monica’s graduation from Columbia to Mayra failing classes and having to go to summer school.
This film shows how much a person’s culture can affect them and their choices in life. This film encompasses the essence of immigrant life in today’s world and how first-generation Americans struggle with their identity.
This film appeared in the 2001 Human Rights Watch, Chicago and New York Latino, and Taos Talking Picture Film Festivals.