We met our goal!
Thank you all so much for your generosity and amazing dedication in seeing this project to fruition!
You will soon be getting an email from Kickstarter requesting your mailing address. If you're anything like me, you will immediately become incredibly paranoid and question why anybody needs your address, and possibly ponder whether you should move to the Amazon just to make sure nobody finds you. Fret not, however: they are only asking for the address so I can send you all the rewards you have chosen for your contributions. None of your personal information will ever be shared.
Now that our Kickstarter campaign has finished, we are working hard to raise the remaining funds needed so that we can start production as soon as possible. White Alligator will most likely be shot this fall, and I will certainly keep everyone abreast of our milestones. If you'd like, for more updated information, you can sign up to "like" the Facebook page that we started specifically for this project (note: this is separate from the page Kickstarter started for us that you all have already liked). Not only will your "like" help us with eventual distribution, but it's a great way to stay connected with the White Alligator message forum. (I will continue posting interesting articles on relevant topics, as I have done with my Kickstarter updates.)
We have also revamped the film's website, www.whitealligatorthemovie.com
, and have included all your names as our backers. Yes, I drew those alligators by myself on Microsoft Paint. And yes, I'm currently looking for higher meaning in my life.
And on that note...
In the news this week: Jane White, Broadway and film actress, daughter of Walter White, the founder of the NAACP, died July 24. She had a nice little write up in the NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/08/arts/jane-white-actress-and-singer-who-rebelled-against-racial-straitjacketing-dies-at-88.html?_r=2&hpw
A quote that caught my eye was: "I've just always been too 'white' to be 'black' and too 'black' to be 'white,' which, you know, gets to you after a while, particularly when the roles keep passing you by," taken from an interview in 1968. I guess this struck a cord, because it is my own story, except replace 'latino' with 'black', and you have White Alligator
in a nutshell. I would have never known who Jane White was if my husband hadn't sent me this article. But everyone knew who Paul Newman was when he died and he was on the cover of many magazines and mourned for years after. What was the difference, other than one was allowed to have a career because he didn't stradle two racial worlds and "confuse" people?
Another noteworthy article our director sent my way (subject of her email to me: The Help needs our help...): http://www.indiewire.com/article/2011/08/10/critics_notebook_how_movies_like_the_help_reinforce_hollywoods_race_problem
I read this book one boring Summer when I was temping. My thoughts: emotionally sucks you in and fun to read, but we've heard it all before. I was a bit shocked (but not really) to see it become a film so soon after the book's publishing. And it's funny, but one of my first thoughts when I saw the film's poster was, "what if Viola Davis wants to wear the pretty dress for a change?" (...and stop being the maid). I mean, honestly, it's a period piece being shot in 2011, we can all suspend our disbelief. Emma Stone's character could have easily been played by Zoe Saldana, and we all would have gotten what was going on.
And finally, for the hat trick: http://www.examiner.com/soap-opera-in-riverside/former-young-and-the-restless-star-francesco-quinn-dead-at-48
Now, not to be morbose and include another death in this email, but this news of Francesco Quinn's early death caught my eye for one reason: the article states that he was nominated for an ALMA award (American Latino Media Arts Award), the "Latino Oscars." The thing is, though, Mr. Quinn was actually Italian. Pause for dramatic effect. So, should we then rename these awards, GDMA (Generally Darker-Skinned-Than-Others Media Awards), if that's really what they're going for? When has Italian been considered Latino? Should we include Greeks in that grouping? And while we're at it, let's throw in Turkish people, why not, it's geographically close enough. Is Japan too far?
There is indeed a point to all these articles. I say, if the media has had trouble in the past with actors' ethnicities, and Hollywood has had trouble following its own rules on this front, let's just forget the whole thing. Why don't we take ethnicity out of the casting picture, shall we?
(Originally published on Kickstarter on August 4
Aliens have been spotted.
I'm just kidding! The miracle is that thanks to 148 backers - plus Angel Mercado's enthusiasm and generosity in increasing his pledge - we've reached our goal!
We're currently at $10,010, which is just so beautiful and almost perfectly symmetrical, that it makes me giggle. Thank you, all of you!
"But we still have 10 days to go until the end of the campaign," you may say. "What will we do now?"
We'll figure it out. But for now, we celebrate!
And on that note, I leave you with quite the interesting interview with Modern Family's Sofia Vergara:http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/07/29/sofia-vergara-on-david-beckham-tom-cruise-the-smurfs-modern-family-emmys.html
For our purposes, I've cut down the chit-chat and gotten to what I felt was at the heart of the interview. I've included my own responses to the interview as if I were sitting with Sofia and Marlow (the interviewer). I am notated by VL, for Viviana Leo.MS: Upon researching you for this interview, I read that you're actually a natural blonde. Why did you make the switch to brunette?
(VL: Oh, Marlow, you're terrible! I know where you're going with this, and I commend you. Let's see how this shakes out...)SV: Yes, I'm blonde. When I started as an actor, because of the accent and my body and my personality, it was not what the stereotype of the Latina woman in Hollywood is, so they didn't know where to put me. The blonde hair wasn't matching. The moment I put my hair dark, it was better for my work. I think I changed it five or six years ago, but I got used to it. It toned me down a little bit. Before, I was the blonde with big boobs and a big mouth. [Laughs] It toned me down and I really like it.
(VL: Interesting. Yes, we all face this question of whether to stick to our guns and not work, or sell out and become a household name. And we, the audience, allows this to happen! I myself had to take a stage name, and Ms. Vergara, I don't blame you in the least. No, I know what you're thinking, Marlow, I really don't. Had I been given that choice, who knows what may have been. For dyeing her hair, Ms. Vergara is now working often; whereas I, the white Latina, am writing and producing my own work, which truly is much harder and less cost effective. Thankfully, I have a cushy day-job and no children. But who's to say what the future brings. I do a killer Puerto Rican accent, and there's always darker foundation...)MS: Has being loud ever gotten you into hot water?
(VL: Wait a minute, I'm not finished. I'd like to address Ms. Vergara's statement, "they didn't know where to put me." How about the leading lady in a major Hollywood romantic comedy? How about the leading lady in pretty much anything?! Why's it gotta be about what piece of land we happen to be born on?!)
(Ms. Leo is now belligerent and has to be calmed down by security.
)MS: [As I was saying...] Has being loud ever gotten you into hot water?SV: It is what it is. Latins, we're like that! We're very passionate and very loud and we scream and shout, but then we forget.
(VL: Really? (silence
) Hmm. (a contemplative moment
) Well, I have always been quiet and shy myself. But what we're saying is that I'm actually supposed to be loud, and what else? Scream. Yes. Well, I do scream on the inside when I see injustice, but I tend to keep a level head at all times. Though I always assumed that was from my own unique personality. But maybe I'm wrong, maybe to be intelligent, level-headed and studious is actually a trait that all Latinos carry...oh wait, is that what you meant to say?)MS: Casting agents love to stereotype actresses in Hollywood, but you've really spun that around and made it work to your advantage.SV: I think I'm going to be stereotyped forever, but I'm not scared of being stereotyped. I'm Latin. I have this accent. I'm lucky that I got this role and showed people that I can be funny. I would never go and read for Schindler's List 2 because I know I'm not going to get the part. It's just a matter of finding the right roles for me. I'm never going to play a scientist or something crazy.
(VL: Indeed, science is crazy, isn't it? And it's just so insane to think of a Latino performing difficult scientific tasks! Oh my. It's just so beyond us. It's interesting, a great uncle comes to mind. According to my parents' stories, he worked on the Manhattan Project back in the '40s. Oh wait, my memory is also recalling my mother's cousin, Nestor, who is himself a backer for this project. He's a chemist who works in Washington. But seriously, other than those two individuals, I highly doubt a Latino could be believable as an actual scientist. Oh wait, my father also comes to mind. Weird. He's an anesthesiologist. And my cousin the neurologist. Gosh. Now I've got Latin scientists on the brain, and the names just keep coming! But what I really meant to address before is that I heard there will in fact be a Schindler's List 2
, because one really isn't enough. And guess what? I'll be there auditioning. Cause I do a phenomenal German accent, thanks to an accent coach, and that's really all it takes, isn't it? Did I mention I was a finalist for a role in Irena's Vow
on Broadway with Tovah Feldshuh, thanks to a Polish accent I perfected and killer acting skills? Let's all start dwelling in the possibilities, now, shall we?)
(Originally published on Kickstarter on July 29)
Since my last update a couple of days ago, we've gone up by 5%. We're over 75% funded now! Thanks for the help in spreading the word!
I'm writing to share something very personal that happened to me recently. For several months, my day job has been supporting a group of scientists at a research facility. A couple of weeks ago, some managers decided my (sometimes) cheerful disposition might be more of an asset in their corporate offices, separate from the research facility...a much more stressful environment. I fought the good fight (and by fight, I mean I mostly avoided eye contact with my managers in a desperate attempt that they would forget I was alive), but yesterday I lost the battle.
When I announced my defeat to a scientist, he expressed his disappointment and said, "You've been so good for everyone here." I was taken aback. I had known my life had been changed by working here, but I was unaware that I had helped others too.
I've hinted at it before, but I was a bit of a lonely child. I didn't really have friends until I ran off to college and joined the circus (re: moved to NYC), and even then... I was shy, awkward, nerdy, didn't fit in, and there was even more: from a young age, I'd been plagued by a debilitating anxiety disorder, hypochondria. This has always been my biggest secret, the reason why I never let anyone get too close, lest they should find out.
When I started here a few months ago, I found myself fitting right in. People started coming up to my desk and staying for a long chat, or they'd take their coffee break around my desk area and stay for an hour. I learned about their lives, their wives, their projects. They asked me about filmmaking and acting, and were actually interested. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was making friends. This had never happened to me in a work environment.
In time, I even started being open about my anxiety, something that I would never have done in a million years a few months ago. Eventually, a new friend at work recommended a book, The Power of Now. I'd tried reading it before, but something made me promise him that I would read it again. At the same time, he also recommended to a mutual work friend another book about physical health. We both set on our journey to improve our health, he his physical health, me my emotional health. Of course, I'd tried to confront it before, but without much success. This time it felt different. I felt stronger, like I could finally confront it. I was inspired watching my friend take this book everywhere with him, and I began to do the same.
I only realize now, after my coworker said that to me yesterday, why I felt powerful enough to finally confront something that had been terrorizing me for most of my life. I had the support of a community. I had friends. And in turn, everyone here had a friend in me, which is why I was good for this place. We were a multi-racial community of individuals from all walks of life with one common cause: we're all nerds who need friends.
It's been said a million times that a community can change the world by coming together. I just experienced that first-hand. And that's what films try to do (at least my films): inspire a community in order to change the world. These few months here have made me a better human being, and in turn, a better filmmaker.
Incidentally, nobody here has ever asked me why my skin is so white. Because at a molecular level, we're all the same, aren't we?
(Originally published on Kickstarter on July 27)
A huge shout-out to the Tirado/Rodriguez/Morano/Ahearn family! They've really come through and helped us get to 69%! Thanks for everyone's generosity and hard work to help us get this far. Keep spreading the word!
I was recently getting a snack at one of my favorite vegetarian stands, and while I was waiting for my order, I strike up a conversation with a lady who was waiting in line. She complimented me on my dress in English, and I responded in Spanish since I had heard her speaking it before. Her reaction was like I had stripped myself of my human costume, and a giant cockroach was staring at her speaking Spanish. She couldn't believe it. I told her I was from Puerto Rico, just like her, and she starts going on and on about how white I am. I told her that I had an aunt named Maritza, which was her name, and she wanted to know if there were others like me. At the time, I wish I had my Korean friend with me who grew up in the Dominican Republic, just for sheer theatricality.
We eventually got to the point where we could have a conversation, but it took a while for the shock to wear off. Truth be told, I could've been telling her I had the secret to counting cards, she couldn't have taken it in because of the shock from my being white. I wonder if my parents reacted the same way when I was born: "You have a daughter.", "Whaaaat? She's whiiiite?", "Do you want to hold her?", "But...we're Puerto Rican...", "Should I just lay her down then?". I'll have to ask them, though somehow I doubt it.
But who knows, maybe it's my fault. Maybe when I meet new people, I should just become accustomed to having to wait about five minutes before we can get off the subject of my skin color. But truthfully? I haven't the time. Which is why I'm making this movie.
Thanks for your support everyone!!
(Originally published on Kickstarter on July 19
We're $53 away from reaching 50%! Whoever helps us reach 50%, I'll name a character after them (assuming you're comfortable with me using your name).
So, during a production meeting last night, I was chatting with Maitely Weismann
, The Most Fabulous Producer Ever, and we were talking a bit about growing up, and the stereotypes that plague us as kids. Maitely and I kind of grew up together near Albany where I went to boarding school, and we recently found each other again in the city after all these years.
Before I met Maitely in Albany, I moved around a lot. No, my father wasn't in the military, at least not actively (he was in the Reserves). I think it was a combination of job opportunities and my mother getting bored of one place. So, come September, I was often the new kid with no friends (which was awful because my birthday is September 10).
Now, for some reason, the teacher's roll book only allowed for 6 letters in a child's first name. With a name like Jennifer, we can fill in the blank when we see Jennif. However, with Viviana, it always cut off the A and left me with Vivian. Which is lovely in its own right, but ultimately not my name. So I would sit there in a new school and about seven times a day (different classes) for about a week (till teachers remembered my name) I would politely correct my new teacher and say, "it's Viviana". Suffice it to say, I didn't have any friends. Which was sad, but it later led to my independence and ability to go to the movies by myself, so...
Later on, when it got a lot worse due to braces and glasses, but then it got better due to my going to college in NYC, a lot of friends (yes, I finally made some) would say to me, "I really didn't like you when I first met you, you seemed stuck up". I would say, "yes, that's because I'm shy and I have an extra A on my name." But really? I'm a fun-loving gal. And it's a shame that lots of kids never found that out. And some kids grew up and are still judging others based on a name, based on whether they're quiet, based on what they wear. Look, I'm no saint, I flinch every time I see Birkenstocks. But I wouldn't not
be that person's friend based on their shoe selection.
This is what White Alligator
is about just as much as racism. And we all experience it. I want to invite people to share their White Alligator stories. You can post them as comments here, or just email them to me to vent! I was trying to make our Facebook
page a community page for this purpose, but it hasn't caught on yet, so I'll bring the community vibe to our Kickstarter page! After all, Kickstarter is all about community! So, let's hear from all of you...
(Originally published on Kickstarter on July 7)
I am currently reaching the end of my summer vacation in Avon, Colorado, which is why you haven't heard from me in the past week.
I've absconded with my brother-in-law's computer to share an interesting article I just read in the Vail Daily. There is an Olympic skier named Toby Dawson who has just helped South Korea lobby successfully for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Toby was born in South Korea and at the age of 3, was left on the doorstep of an orphanage. Six months later, he was adopted by a couple in Vail, Colorado. As is the custom up in these mountains, he was practically surgically attached to a pair of skis as soon as he could walk, and the rest is history. Since winning the bronze medal in freestyle skiing in 2006, he has reacquainted himself with his hometown in South Korea, and also with his biological family. He considers himself a Korean-American and is now trying to use his status to help children in South Korea gain the same opportunities he had growing up here in Vail.
I loved this article. How beautiful that Toby is able to connect with the place where he was born and help that community in his own way. A few questions arose in my mind, of course. Toby considers himself part of both countries and communities, as do a lot of Americans, including the recently unfashionable Arnold Schwarzenagger. But does our present society allow Americans to feel this way without being Olympic athletes or movie stars? When someone looks at me as a foreigner when I say I am originally from Puerto Rico, and I feel that shift in someone's gaze (and I do feel it often), I often feel compelled to explain that I grew up in the States. That I too, eat pizza (albeit vegan pizza). That I'm well versed in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all their individual powers. That I can quote Top Gun with the best of them and am dying to see the new Harry Potter movie.
Why do I feel the need to give proof that I am like everybody else? We all want to fit in; it's human nature. Why are there rules stating that birth place or ethnicity mean more than an experience? And aren't we all citizens of the world anyway? Isn't a pad thai the pizza equivalent for Thailand residents? We're all living in the world together and we all experience the same feelings. Why can't our movies represent that truth?
I also wonder if Toby had been of a different ethnicity or in a different career, if he would feel the freedom to publicly explore his "roots"? Do we discriminate against certain countries when it comes to publicly announcing one's ethnic roots? If you met an Iraqi-American who won a bronze medal in skiing and is native to Vail, Colorado, can you accept that? Would you have different questions of a Korean-American in the same position? What about a Mexican-American? And would you question their ability to ski?
I leave you with this: never, ever, forget to put on sunscreen on the backs of your hands while bicycling down a tall mountain in Vail. It seems trivial, but I now look like a two-toned yeti.
(Originally published on Kickstarter on June 27
I had a tough week that culminated with an entertainment industry professional requesting that I do black face.
Let me explain. I happened to be at an audition for a Spanish speaking project, a rare opportunity due to my white skin. As I sat there going over the material, the monitor approaches us, humiliated, with a small jar of bronzer and some cotton pads. He says to us, "they want you to put this on before you go in." I could tell the boy was just a messenger, and he himself was horrified at the request. Nevertheless, I looked at him like he had three heads and I was about to eat one of them. He apologized and walked away silently. The other girls and I tried to laugh it off and go back to our material.
You know how I was able to laugh it off? Because it's happened before
. I have had a manager ask if I can wear darker foundation to appear more Hispanic (by the way, there is a scene in White Alligator
comprised of this experience).
This happened after I already had a friend stare at me in shock for a few minutes after I told him I was born in San Juan, and
I heard another industry professional explain to an actor taking direction that a Hispanic character's motives for cheating on his wife were "cultural". All in a week. And this is the norm. I took the edge off by treating myself to the Klimt exhibit at the Neue Gallerie on Sunday.
I leave you with this fascinating article about a man who's lived in the US his entire life (like me) and is still trying to fit in, just like you and me. Hell, at the end of the road, we're all in the same boat...pursuing the American Dream.http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/magazine/my-life-as-an-undocumented-immigrant.html?_r=4&ref=magazine&pagewanted=all
(Originally published on Kickstarter on June 21)
First of all, thank you all for pledging to make this movie happen! I'm so overwhelmed with the positive response this has gotten, and I'm forever grateful.
Something interesting I've noticed so far... Since I launched this project last Thursday (16% already in only 5 days!), I have gotten so many emails and posts on Facebook from people telling me that they too are white alligators. I love this. I've inadvertently coined a new phrase! Let the white alligator be our symbol for anyone who falls outside "the box"!
This brings to mind something a very wise man once said to me (okay, it was Larry Fleming, nutritionist extraordinaire, during a Little Lads cooking class, and he addressed the entire class, but whatever...). He said that in this country, the consumer controls the product. Yes, at the time he was encouraging us to demand true whole wheat bread with no nutrients taken out and replaced by wood chips for fiber...but the lesson was that he was encouraging us to demand what we want, and take no substitutions! If we want to truly see a change in this country, hell, let's demand it! Yes, I dare write that films can change the world. This is why I do what I do. Let's demand more acceptance of minorities in lead roles. Let's make movies where we're all actually equal, and the asian isn't stuck always playing the best friend. Let films be an actual slice of life, where we have every age, race and creed comingling on screen, just as we do in real life. Quick poll: Has anyone ever said when meeting a "minority" (which is actually the majority, let's face it, this is America), I'm sorry, you don't fit into what I think my intended demographic wants, so I can't actually converse with you. Answer: I think not. All of these Hollywood rules are all of a sudden sounding ridiculous, aren't they?
I'll leave you with this: a friend wrote to me saying that my film sounded a lot like Hollywood Shuffle. I looked the film up. I had never heard of it. It came out in 1987 and made quite a bit of money, putting Robert Townsend on the map, and some argue, started the indie movement. I read about the film, and he was saying the same exact thing I'm saying. Twenty-four years ago. How long does it take a society to learn a lesson? I guess we'll find out...