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Why We Need More Frida in Our Lives

Because Venezuela and the US currently have no diplomatic relations and my mom’s American visa has expired, we decided to have our yearly reunion in Mexico this July. I had barely been back home for a few days and was still processing all the wonder I’d seen in Mexico when 21-year-old Patrick Crusius walked into an El Paso Walmart frequented by Latinxs and began shooting, taking 24 lives. Crusius is believed to have authored a white nationalist manifesto posted minutes before the shooting that regurgitates the alt-right’s fears that Latinxs are destroying White America.

As I tried to process the tragedy that had unfolded, I couldn’t stop thinking about the country I’d just visited and the vibrancy of culture and love that had been clear every time we walked down a new street. As I revisited those moments to try to understand how so much hatred could be directed at one group of people, I kept seeing the indelible face of Frida Kahlo in every one of my recollections. There she was, morphed into colorfully dressed unibrowed dolls sold on every corner or with her face beaming from tee-shirts, purses, bags, and a legion of shiny knickknacks.

Our friend Chris told us over lunch in the glorious town of San Miguel de Allende that Frida now rivaled the Virgin of Guadalupe as the country’s maternal savior. Frida could never have children because of a bus accident in her youth during which a pole ran through her torso. Yet now she is mothering a whole country, inspiring millions to turn pain into passion and art, to create stories and images out of our days’ colors and contrasts. She is, in many ways, the perfect model for our times, an unapologetically rebellious, leftist bisexual woman who had countless love affairs yet revered her decades-long turbulent relationship with Diego Rivera. Constantly tormented by pain from childhood polio and by the accident’s repercussions, Frida found her voice through paintings that tell stories of a heart that never gave up no matter how much misery life sent her way. Perhaps the way forward for us is to figure out how to get the Patrick Crusiuses of the world to see the humanity in those they hate and to find non-violent ways to express and work through their distress and fears. Not an easy or instantaneous solution, of course, but one worth exploring as we figure out how to foster a culture where going to Walmart to purchase back-to-school supplies for your children is not a death sentence.

We Are Finalists for the Spring 2019 Roy W. Dean Grant

We just found out that The Weeping Season has been selected as a finalist for the newest round of From the Heart’s Roy W. Dean Grant. The grant was started in 1992 by Studio Film & Tape founder Carole Dean to celebrate the memory of her father, who spent years helping filmmakers with worthy projects by providing them with free film stock behind his daughter’s back. With its origin story about honoring a father, this grant holds particular resonance with my film. Moreover, having taken Carole and Tom Malloy’s “Intentional Filmmaking” course last year, it is an unbelievable honor to have my film be considered for this grant. As I learned from the course, Carole and the Roy W. Dean Grant seek to mentor filmmakers through personal connection to foster films that make the world into a more compassionate place. It’s a philosophy that mirrors my own filmmaking process, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a win.

Unearthed Photo of the Month

After standing in line for two hours, my husband Nate, our boys, and I finally walked into the blue house where Frida Kahlo was born and where she died 47 years later. As we sauntered into the house’s crowded courtyard, I wondered if I’d feel anything in the home that is the most visited museum in Mexico. We’d climbed the Teotihuacán pyramids the day before, which were built in 200 CE. As we reached the top, I was certain I’d be carried away by the dreams these buildings have witnessed for almost two millennia. And yet, I felt nothing beyond awe at the architectural feat on which I stood. The following day, after visiting an exhibit featuring many of Frida’s objects, including some of the corsets she had to wear to keep her back straight after her bus accident, we entered the side of the museum that preserves her living space. As one does when visiting museums where luminaries once lived, we tried to imagine Frida and her husband Diego inhabiting the cordoned-off spaces we now gazed at while surrounded by countless strangers. I walked by her bed but could hardly see anything from behind my fellow visitors’ backs, so I moved on to a different room.

On the way back, a Mexican woman was explaining to two Americans that they’d laid Frida’s death mask on her pillow. I walked over and saw Frida’s face, wrapped in a striped scarf and facing the mirror her mother had installed above her bed during her recovery from the accident. She did it so her daughter would have something to see as she lay there for weeks. What Frida saw was her own reflection and she soon began to paint it as she would from that very bed for the rest of her life. Before dying, she asked to be cremated, explaining that she’d spent enough time lying down. And yet, there she was back in that bed and there we were, four women from different parts of the world joined by one artist’s legacy, mesmerized by the way in which she’d captured some of life’s deepest passions from that very spot. As I stared into the contours of Frida’s death mask, I was finally overcome by that unmistakable sense of boundless, earth-shattering connection to our fellow human beings that, to me, is what spiritual experiences feel like.

My film Teta screens in South Korea

My short documentary Teta: a nursing mother tells her story, screened in The 19th Seoul International Newmedia Festival in Seoul, South Korea this month. It is the film’s 25th film festival screening and its South Korean premiere.

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