Filipinx American Spotlight: Interview with Mara De La Rosa
Mara De La Rosa (Writer/Actor) is a QPOC writer, director, producer and actor. She co-created and co-starred in the queer web series, BAES Welcome! Her short films include I Don't Love You (Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival), BASTARD (LAAPF) and I Like Femme Lesbians (Outfest). She is also the producer of the award winning short film Called Home (NewFest). Mara is also the co-founder of the production company, Becky and Baldwin! They have produced films and plays, which include Other Plays (Collective Arts Incubator), Real Love (Fountain Theatre) and the web series A Day In the Life.
As of 2017, Mara co-established Queenfest, an International Women’s Day variety show, benefiting local organizations supporting women. Past proceeds have gone to the Planned Parenthood, Los Angeles LGBT Center, and Alexandria House. Mara also co-created and co-starred in the sketch team One Outta Three, which features sketches written and acted by women of color. Mara completed fellowships with the Incubator Lab through Loyola Marymount University at Film Independent; as well as her fellowship with OutSet through Outfest.
Mara has received diversity scholarships at prestigious comedy schools such as The Groundlings & Upright Citizens Brigade, where she continues to hone her craft as a comedian and writer. She is currently in development of making her short film BASTARD into a feature, while creating and coordinating various projects.
Mara is an artist who is not afraid to push boundaries and make the world think in ways never thought of before. She believes in the importance of fighting for what you believe in, and raising awareness to world issues. She's received The Presidential Citation Award for her work in theatre while raising awareness on world issues. She's received other accolades for outstanding work in directing, playwriting, lighting design, and more.
You are a writer, producer, director and producer. Can you tell us, how do you nourish all of these professions?
I started off as a writer in college because I experienced a lot racism from my drama teacher back in high school. I realized that I needed to create opportunities for myself. It wasn’t that I lacked talent, it was that I lacked privilege. Therefore, I started writing plays, applying to film fellowships, collaborating with fellow filmmakers and theater makers. When I did theater, I learned everything from writing, directing, acting, designing and stage managing. Learning all those mediums helped create opportunities that lead to producing shows and festivals; and more so helped me become a better writer. In film, I was able to create relationships with fellow filmmakers who have the same drive and goals; and produced work that was ready for an audience. Long story short, I start by creating my own opportunity for myself, while I looked for available opportunities, and collaborated with others.
You are doing remarkable short films that were awarded and showed on festivals. Can you tell us about your production process?
My first short film was called BASTARD, and I had written it for my film fellowship at OutSet, the Young Filmmakers Program at Outfest. While it wasn’t chosen to be one of the five films made that year, I was able to push through and produce it on my own. At the same time, I was also part of Incubator Lab at Film Independent, where I was able to apply and received a grant. Using that money and finding crew through OutSet, I was able to make my short within 2-3 months. As most creators will tell you, and as you probably know, money ain’t easy so it was a very fortunate circumstance that I was able to acquire funding; that with sheer determination, a solid production schedule, a great producer, professional actors and a strong crew, we were able to shoot everything in one day for 12 hours. Since I come from a world of theater, directing my first film was a completely wild ride, and the experience is something I will cherish and appreciate because I learned a lot. It was a lot of trial and error and crying; but to be honest probably a lot more crying.
What was your best moment in a film festival?
I had a short film that I directed which went up at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and it was well-received by the audience. It felt wonderful that it resonated so well with the audience, and that we made people laugh. It was a simple moment, but as a writer and director, my goal is to a be storyteller so anytime I get to do that is wonderful; but seeing the audiences’ reaction is just the cherry on top of that shake.
How is your relationship with English, Filipino and other languages when writing? How do you connect the languages, or should I ask, how do you feel them?
I write mainly in English, but I have used Tagalog in quite a few scripts! It's easy for me to connect the languages because I grew up in a household that would speak both English and Tagalog, I think that’s the case even with people who live in the Philippines. I have recently started working with a production company in the Philippines and while I was consulting on a script, I realized that my reading skills in Tagalog aren’t as great as my writing skills. Considering I was only 8 years old when I left the Philippines, I tried not to be too hard on myself for not being able to breeze through the reading. It was a strange experience because it felt like I ‘wasn’t Filipino enough.’ It felt like I failed my country, when the truth was, I had a 3rd grade level education in Tagalog, but I'm still able to speak and write fluently; so all is good in the hood.
When did you first realize your affinity for cinema? What is your “origin” story?
Thinking of an answer to this question was a WILD ride. At first, I thought it was when I started dancing in grade school in the Philippines, but honestly, I think it was from watching telenovelas. In the Philippines, Thalia was a HUGE star in the late 1990s, and we used to watch this telenovela called Rosalinda. I immediately fell in love, was hooked and grew an affinity for it. I think that was when I took interest in film and characters, because looking back I think my scripts are always over the top and extraordinary. While they’re not quite as wild as telenovelas, I see how it could have influenced me along the way.
Which is your favorite genre to read? Which is your favorite to write?
My favorite genre to read and write is dark comedy, mystery and true crime!! I'm a sucker for a good plot that reels you in and throws a bunch of twists and turns but also makes you laugh, a fine fine fine balance.
Do you feel like your movies falls under a certain category, such as experimental, contemporary, etc.? If you could have your work associated with another director, who would it be and why?
I feel that my brand is very much dark comedy. Most of my material can be considered experimental, because while my themes and messages are simple, the way I tell them is way way heightened! If I could have my work associated with another (writer) I would say that I am the love child of Ryan Murphy, Charlie Brooker and Jenji Kohan. They are the writers that have influenced me the most, and I do feel that my genre of writing fall under theirs, but I don’t quite fit in ‘one’ umbrella hence I self-proclaimed myself as their child. I write unapologetically, bluntly and I like to influence people in a way that makes them view the world differently (not necessarily in a good or bad way) just from watching my work.
How do you define being Filipinx American for yourself?
Being Filipinx American is being able to be myself out loud and proud. When I first moved to America in 2000, I was only 8 years old and there was so much pressure to speak good English and be perfect. Now I openly embrace my flaws and proudly declare my background.
What would you change about the mainstream perception of Filipinx Americans?
I would like to change the perception that Filipinx Americans can only write RomComs/Telenovelas and Poverty stories. We’re more than that and we have more stories to share, we just need the platform to share it.
How would you encourage more involvement of Filipinx American with politics/events in the Philippines?
My Grandmas always have our TV on TFC so I’m able to see and hear some of the things that’s going on back home. I think our generation (millennials/gen z), and not just the Fipinx Americans, need to read more. There are plenty of communities we can reach out to to learn more about what’s going on in our world.
Being Filipinx enough is a concern shared with many Filipinx Americans. Do you feel this? If so, how do you combat this feeling of inadequacy?
Ever since moving to LA I have felt that I’m not enough of ‘something.’ As I joined a Filipinx American film community I did feel like I wasn’t Filipinx enough. I didn’t feel like I looked/appeared Filipinx enough nor did I think that my stories were Filipinx enough. But as I’ve grown and learned as a writer and performer, I feel that I am enough. A lot of my plays and films do highlight my heritage and it comes through within my stories. I think it’s a matter of not letting my insecurities and other people’s judgements get in my head.
Did you always embrace your culture? If so, who taught you? If not, what inspired this change?
I have always embraced my culture. I grew up in Las Pinas and moved to America when I was 8, but my Mom and the Filipinx side of my family are really close so I’ve never felt far away from it. Sure growing up in America has made me question certain things (mainly about religion/superstition) but it’s something that I know is part of me and our history.
What do you know about your family history?
My mother is Filipinx and my birth father is Arab. I know nothing about my Arab side, as it was the side that abandoned me (lol), but I do know that there’s a lot of Spanish mixed in with the Filipinx side. My Lola’s family is from San Juan, then my mother and her siblings grew up in the Quezon province. Now my family is spread throughout, some still in Quezon, Las Pinas, San Juan, Quezon City, Cavite, Pasay City, etc. My grandmother, along with her sisters, did help the guerilla army fight against the Japanese during World War 2. I'm currently writing a TV pilot about their time during the war.
Do you speak a Filipinx language? If so, which one? Does this knowledge influence your work?
I speak Tagalog! It does and it doesn’t. I use it whenever I need to; especially when I’m commissioned to do some story developments and the scripts happen to be in Tagalog! Other than that I use my Tagalog to talk more about food or my girl crushes with other speakers :)
What are your thoughts on learning a Filipinx language as a Filipinx American? Is it necessary to you? Why or why not?
I know one (Tagalog) and I think it’s important and can really help one to learn more about one’s ancestry and gain a better understanding of where they’ve come from.
Do you feel obligated to talk about the Filipinx American experience because you are Fil-Am? Why or why not?
Sometimes I feel obligated. Actually, just kidding, a lot of the time I do. Especially when I write. I want to see more Filipinx Americans out on the screen and on the stage. We need to make our presence known more and I like helping make that happen.
How in your writing do you express being Filipinx, whether implicitly or explicitly? Being American?
When I write certain scripts and create some of my characters as Filipinx, sometimes I don’t explain more than that in the character description. It depends on what the story is about. When I wrote a queer web series called BAES WELCOME, one fo the characters is Filipinx and she talks about her family a lot so I wrote specifically about a Filipinx family. I used my own experiences as a Filipinx American.
What parts of your identity do you feel conflict? How do you reconcile these differences?
I think my queerness and being Filipinx can still sometimes conflict. While my mother, family and friends do support me and don’t judge me, I still feel a certain guilt from within. Why am I not a nurse or a doctor? Why am I still not married? Where’s my man? Why don’t I go to church every Sunday? It’s all this guilt that I have conflict with, but I know these are old ideals that no one really follows or cares about anymore. I think the guilt is just embedded in me, so it’s pretty easy to take myself out and reason that my thoughts are crazy and that I’m fine and normal and fine!
Who are you, and how do you want the Filipinx American community to know you?
My name is Mara De La Rosa and I’m a queer Filipinx writer, actor and producer of film and live performances! I have so many stories to share, and have been! I love collaborating with fellow artists from marginalized backgrounds. I’m here to not only make my voice heard but that of our community! I have funny, emotional, dark, sad, and uplifting stories to share. I’m just a good ole storyteller and hope you’d listen :)
Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.