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Counterpunch

Critics Shouldn't Dictate 'Loca's' Artistic Content

August 15, 1994|ALLISON ANDERS | Allison Anders, who wrote and directed "Mi Vida Loca," was often in trouble as a teen-age runaway from Kentucky and was a young, single mother when she enrolled in UCLA Film School, supporting herself as a waitress. At UCLA, she became a prize-winning screenwriter. In 1993, she was named best new director by the New York Film Critics Assn. for her film, "Gas Food Lodging." and

I would normally never write a response to a review of my work as a writer-director of films, because I respect and admire good, fair film criticism and, being a humanist, I realize film criticism is an opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own. Kevin Thomas' review of my new film, "Mi Vida Loca" ("The Road to 'Mi Vida Loca' Paved With Good Intentions," Calendar, July 22), was by no means the most vicious I've ever received as a director, but it is the one that has disturbed me the most deeply.

I have long feared a climate of liberal McCarthyism that would attempt to dictate the focus, characters, and tone of my work and the works of my friends and other filmmakers we admire. This climate I feared would masquerade as radicalism and political correctness, but would in fact be racist, sexist, classist, imperialist and reactionary. Thomas' shockingly unfair review of my film proves that day has come.

While posing as an indignant representative of Latino Power, he in fact will only accept a white middle-class male view of Latinos: He wants them to have ambition as he defines it, he wants them to seek love he considers worthy, he wants them to aspire to his ideals, he wants them to have his options. In effect, he would like to see a mirror of his own life projected onto this subculture that has defined itself against his very power structure, the one that repeatedly denies them access to his options.

Thomas was offended by the fact that my characters, Latina gang girls--some of whom are teen-age mothers--are welfare dependent. If PCs like Thomas were a bit more offended by men and boys abandoning pregnant women and their children, there would be no welfare dependency. And, speaking from experience as a teen-age welfare mother, I can assure everyone that the demoralization that comes with your AFDC check on the 1st and the 15th of every month is far more offensive than what he may consider an unfair onscreen representation. I would have given the moon to see a mother with food stamps on the screen when I was a teen-age kid with a baby to feed--instead, all I got to see were options available to him, not to me.

He didn't discuss my filmmaking in the least, which is his job as a critic, and he did not address my audience. Instead, he ranted. And his rant concluded that because I am white, I cannot and should not make films outside of my race. This is where his review becomes dangerous. Are we filmmakers going to be confined now by his fascistic code? Like the Hays Office, he seems to call for morality plays and solutions and "ways out." Must we also provide an upbeat ending?

Maybe the gang girls all buy property in the end, and become real estate whizzes and really own their barrios. Maybe they buy a pizza parlor--and the sequel could be a kind of "Mystic Pizza" in Echo Park: "La Pizza Loca."

I couldn't agree more with Thomas that there needs to be more diverse voices heard in the film community. But, unlike the vision he has of what films they'd produce might show (stories of their own people), I'd be thrilled to see a black man take on making a film about my life. No one, unfortunately, will get to see these movies, as long as film criticism is dominated by white males who insist every film conform to their experience of entitlement. And if I am to be confined to only make films about my own race, gender, and class, then I demand to be reviewed by white working-class gals from Kentucky who were raised by single mothers and were themselves single welfare mothers.

My job as a filmmaker is to present what I know and observe, imagine and intuit, not to moralize, judge or offer solutions. However, as a citizen and member of the community I can do my part to help encourage options. I lent my Los Angeles premiere of "Mi Vida Loca" as a benefit to set up an education fund for the gang kids in the Echo Park community through El Centro Del Pueblo and for IFP West's Project Involve, which offers a mentorship program for young women from racially diverse backgrounds to develop a filmmaking voice--the money from my benefit has solely financed their film project. I am also the very proud foster mother of a 4-year-old son (whom I'm in the process of adopting) who was orphaned when his 19-year-old mother, an Echo Park gang member and actress in "Mi Vida Loca," died from a drug overdose.

Thomas is wrong when he says I am a woman of good intentions. I am a woman of action.

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