By: Gabrielle Bohrman
Anthony Rojas, a senior cinema studies major, confronts Hollywood’s misportrayal of Latinx people through his thesis paper and film.
As a cinema studies major, you had the option to write a 40-page paper on a cinema topic, or make a film and write a 20-page reflection. What made you voluntarily choose to do both?
I just think the paper and the film are so important that I needed to put 100 percent effort into both. Writing just a 20-page paper on the film felt like a cop-out. I'm just trying to make the best work I can, especially because there are no papers about the topic of Latinx filmic-representation yet.
So I'm starting a whole new dialogue and conversation surrounding that.
Your senior advisor, Paula Halperin, said that you were committed to writing your paper on the 1994 film, “I Like it Like That”. How does this relate to your thesis?
I fell in love with this movie because it embodied not just everything going on today, but everything going on in the ‘90s with police brutality. It’s about a single Latina mother living in the Bronx, raising three children, and her boss being a white guy who takes advantage of her. But it’s vibrant and fun. The studio, in terms of advertising and distribution, labeled it as a ‘black film’ and focused on the black female director; they didn’t focus on the cast, including Rita Moreno, who is amazing. My paper explores how “I Like It Like That” demonstrates Hollywood’s ‘invisible-hand’ in the marginalization of Latinx people on screen.
How did your family react when you said you wanted to go into filmmaking as a career, knowing this lack of Latinx representation in the film industry?
I was fortunate enough that they supported me off the jump, which is not the case for most Latinx families. I feel like most parents would like you to go into a job that's more financially stable. My parents and my whole family were like ‘If that’s what you love, then go for it. If it's your passion, you'll find a job.’
This past summer you designed the main poster for the New York Latino Film Festival. Did working with this organization inspire your senior project in any way?
For sure! That opportunity was crazy. They contacted me to photograph a commercial they were shooting because they love giving local Latinx artists opportunities. I felt like the graphic designer’s ads didn’t really reflect the vibrancy and the love of the festival. So I made my own and said, ‘I don’t mean to step on anyone’s toes, but if you like it you can contact me,’ and I became the senior graphic designer of the festival’s advertising campaign.
That opened up a whole world for me, because I was at a point where I felt distant from my culture, and now I was thrown into this community where the filmmakers were 95% Latinx. I want to be a part of this, and I want to be someone who gives other people a platform to do this. Now one of my goals is to have a film in the festival.
Can you tell me a little about your film “7 Minutes?”
It’s about a Latinx kid named Andrew. He’s on a subway platform contemplating taking his own life. This guy notices the kid freaking out and he basically convinces him not to do it. Later on, it’s revealed that this guy came there to end his life too, so in a way they’re saving each other. It’s supposed to be an empowering story about vulnerability, masculinity, mental health, and taking up space.
Who does Andrew symbolize?
Andrew symbolizes myself. I am someone who has also gone through mental health issues and been in a very dark place. But I also wrote the other character Jayden, who is just as important. He symbolizes a person that I wish I had to talk to about my feelings because mental health isn’t discussed in Latinx homes. I based Jayden’s character on Kalief Browder, who was incarcerated at 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack. There was no trial and he was in solitary confinement for three years. When he got out, he was so broken down mentally that he killed himself. So we have Andrew, who is in the same position mentally, and we have Jayden, who is broken, much like Kalief was, and about to do what Kalief did in real life. But through their connection that doesn’t happen.
You started another film in the fall, “Strange Fruit,” which had a different plot but a similar theme. Why the new plot?
I really wanted to make a film that addressed the experiences of a person of color on a predominantly white campus. I tried doing a bunch of different things in the film, but I found myself not making it for the right reasons. I was overwhelmed because I wanted to make it really good to submit it to festivals. But that’s the one thing you shouldn’t be worried about. When making a film you have to be honest to yourself and authentic.
Speaking of plot changes, how are you adjusting your senior project with the COVID-19 pandemic?
I’m still going to hand in my paper and I was literally about to shoot this month and shit just hit the fan. If I would have just shot earlier I would have had the movie, but you never know what's gonna happen. In filmmaking there’s a saying; ‘the worst thing that could possibly happen on set will always happen,’ so you have to be prepared. And this is literally the worst possible thing.
How do you plan to use this time now that you can’t film?
I'm definitely going to keep on writing and working on “7 Minutes.” There's always room for improvement, so this just gives me more time to make a better movie. This film needs to be made for me. With everything that’s happened with my earlier movie idea, I feel like I keep on getting knocked down. It’s gonna happen, it’s just not gonna happen right now.