“La Leyenda Negra” comes to HBO Latino and HBO Max on 12/4

I love all of the interviews I do, but this one was very special. In a way, the universe brought director Patricia Vidal Delgado and I together, or rather it was meant to be. I was roaming around Main Street in Park City during Sundance and I had a few hours to kill. I really wanted to see a film at the Egyptian Theatre, so I opened the convenient Sundance app on my phone and saw the film “‘La Leyenda Negra” was playing at the Egyptian Theatre in thirty minutes. This film was not on my radar, but reading the description intrigued me, and it also happened to be the work of a female filmmaker. I got my name on the waitlist and I was in.

“Little Chief” a brilliant short-film by Erica Tremblay opened, and was then followed by Patricia’s film, a black and white raw beauty. The basic plot centers on an undocumented teenage girl named Aleteia. The complexities and the richness of her story goes way beyond what we’ve typically seen before in this sort of narrative, and it touched me. I felt the love and the passion of the Latino Compton community, and wished that the people in our government, and those ignorant about TPS (Temporary Protected Status) would watch this film. Because if they saw what I saw, their hearts would shift and open up to change. I am glad I decided to see this film for so many reasons, but mostly because it is so important and relevant. A couple weeks after this screening, I had the opportunity to speak with Patricia about her film. Read further as we dive in.

*Inspired by the film, I’ve used a still from “Le Leyenda Negra” to be the face of our short-film festival, coming this August!

Patricia Vidal Delgado, director of La Leyenda Negra, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Isa Saalabi.

REBECCA MARTIN: What drew you to this film?

PATRICA VIDAL DELGADO: So I had already shot in Compton. I shot a short film [“The Hood” (2019)], and I had worked with an actor named Juan Reynoso. Apart from being an actor, he is a teacher at Compton High. He is the head of the Media and TV department. He knew that I had such a good time shooting in Compton, and loved spending time with the people there, hearing their stories. So he said to me, “why don’t you come one day to meet my kids, my students? Because they are interested in pursuing acting.” I met with them, and I fell in love with them. I loved the Latino community in Compton. They kind of go through what every American teenager goes through, but they also have immigration situations that make them feel that they are under attack. That was kind of where the theme for the film was planted.

MARTIN: How did you develop the main character, Aleteia [Monica Betancourt]? To me, I feel she is the heart of the film.  Could you talk more about the development of the character and the direction of the film?

Monica Betancourt appears in La Leyenda Negra by Patricia Vidal Delgado, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Matt Maio.

DELGADO: Her character was one of the first things that came to me. And you’re right, her character came first. Then the script branched off of the character. Despite the fact that she is very young, she’s an oddity amongst teenagers because she knows who she is, despite the fact that she is only seventeen going on nineteen. She is politically outspoken, she is very intelligent, very academically minded, and she’s also queer. But she isn’t afraid to be who she is, she doesn’t make any apologies for it. 

MARTIN: I love that, and that’s rare for a teenager. 

DELGADO: Absolutely.

MARTIN: I was definitely drawn to her. Had she acted before in film? I know that a lot of the cast hadn’t acted professionally before, had she acted professionally before your film?

DELGADO: No, she was a first timer. 

MARTIN: Wow, she’s already a star in my book. 

DELGADO: She’d be very happy to hear that. 

MARTIN: What was the intention for making the film black and white?

DELGADO: The idea for the black and white film is referenced in history, and it mentions colonialism, persecution, intolerance, and indifference. It essentially asks the question about tradition or change. So the idea to shoot in black and white to me, for me as a European, stemmed from that French idiom, “plus ça change”, and also after a discussion I had with my DP. We wanted the film in black and white to highlight the clarity of choices early characters were forced to make, potentially the determinant for immigrants in the United States. 

MARTIN: What I love about the rebellious side of Aleteia is that she likes to light things on fire, which I feel symbolizes the quiet rage that is going on in this country. When things are taken away from her because she is an immigrant, she lights up the very institution that is a part of the problem. Can you comment on those choices in the script and story?

Monica Betancourt appears in La Leyenda Negra by Patricia Vidal Delgado, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Matt Maio.

DELGADO: Absolutely, that was the symbolism I was trying to get across. Some audience members [at Sundance] were commenting about how she did something violent, something really wrong–

MARTIN: Yeah, I was there for that. I was like, ‘That guy didn’t get it.’ No disrespect, but I just don’t think he got it. But I definitely got it. 

DELGADO: I’m glad. Because that’s the thing, immigrants are people, and especially teenagers, they have a right to make mistakes, you know? They shouldn’t be held to different standards as a person. I think it’s unfair to demand that an immigrant should be perfect to have the right to call the country they’ve always lived in their home. 

MARTIN: Agreed, I understand the rage, and yes she’s a teenager, emotions are always so much stronger at that age. Especially with romantic relationships, like with Rosarito. It feels like the end of the world when you get rejected, and when friends stop talking to you. Everything is just so harsh and intense. For me in the context of the story, and her being a teenager, and dealing with all of these new emotions, it totally made sense. 

I appreciate that you take us to different places and different events. Especially that scene when Aleteia and Rosarito go to the quinceanera, and they are heading there on the skateboard. I love that you took us on their journey, throughout that whole day. What were you trying to illustrate by bringing us into this Latino community in Compton?

Monica Betancourt and Kailei Lopez appear in La Leyenda Negra by Patricia Vidal Delgado, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Matt Maio.

DELGADO: I was trying to make it organic to the story, and elevate their story, because Aleteia starts the film a little bit lonely. She’s an outsider, she’s new at the school, and she doesn’t really have any friends. It’s like Rosarito was extending that hand to her and bringing her into the Compton Latino community, which I have to say is so welcoming, and so warm, and embracing. I felt that was significant to show that in the film, because that was something I personally experienced too as an outsider, how warm and welcoming the Compton Latino community can be. 

MARTIN: Where did you grow up and what brought you to Los Angeles?

DELGADO: I grew up in Portugal, that’s where I’m from. I started making shorts in Portugal, and I realized if I really wanted to have a career as a director, I was better off leaving to the United States. The Portugal film industry is still very small, and there is still a lot of resistance against female filmmakers, especially young ones. 

MARTIN: I’m glad you came here, it is better here, or at least it’s getting better, but we still have a long way to go.

There is a power to cinema, especially when it introduces us to a group of people who are marginalized, and there is a bias against. When you bring us into a community, and you see that it’s full of love and embrace, that changes things. What do you hope the viewer takes from this film?

Monica Betancourt and Kailei Lopez appear in La Leyenda Negra by Patricia Vidal Delgado, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Matt Maio.

DELGADO: My hope is that people who have not come across a film like this before, they will watch the film, and they’ll come out knowing a little bit more about TPS [Temporary Protected Status], and what’s happening to TPS holders today in the United States. Also notice there are immigrants like Aleteia who are very bright academically, and it is not fair that this is happening. Not fair that this is happening to someone so young, and so vulnerable. Maybe from there they can do their own research, and it will encourage discussion, and maybe people will vote differently.

MARTIN: Now I wanted to transition to a different scene, in contrast to the scene of the quinceanera, was the night in the gym, with the salsa dancing. Everything seemed a bit awkward, less of a flow, a little more stifled. That’s when you see things start to unravel. What was the atmosphere you were trying to elevate with that scene?

Irlanda Moreno and Dana Hathaitham appear in La Leyenda Negra by Patricia Vidal Delgado, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Matt Maio.

DELGADO: Well salsa is a dance that is male led, like all Latino dances. There is a dance, a tension between the leader and the follower. So for me, it was a set up for Rosarito and Monica to dance together.   

MARTIN: The actress [Irlanda Moreno] who played Monica, is such a personality. 

DELGADO: Yes. She kept having to tell people, “I’m not actually that mean in real life.” [laughing]

So that set-up was meant to have them be forced to dance together, while not talking to each other. So Monica was like, “I’m the boss, and you are my underling.” And Rosarito is starting to challenge Monica by saying, “I don’t want to be your underling anymore.” So that was kind of what it was about.

MARTIN: Can you share with me more about your Sundance experience. I saw that you brought the whole cast. What an amazing moment for all of them. 

The cast and crew attend the World Premiere of La Leyenda Negra by Patricia Vidal Delgado, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Becca Haydu.

DELGADO: I mean it was amazing. It’s a life-changing experience because me and my team were plucked from obscurity. We never in a thousand years would have thought this would happen. I thought when I got called by the programmer that I was hallucinating. I didn’t think it was actually real. I had to wait until more emails came in until I was like OK maybe this is happening.

MARTIN: It’s happening, for sure. And so happy it is for you.

DELGADO: I think the best part–I remember one lady who came up after the premiere and saying “you know, I picked your film randomly, I didn’t even read the synopsis, and I was blown away. My heart breaks for these kids, and I want to learn what I can do as an American. What can I do to help to prevent this from happening to these kids?” And that’s what you make films for, to kind of galvanize people, and make them think, “If I can do something, I want to do it.”

MARTIN: Where is the film headed?

DELGADO: We do have a couple of festivals around the world lined up. We have a sales agent, so we are currently in talks for distribution.

MARTIN: That’s great news! Anything else you’d like to share about the film?

Poster image of La Leyenda Negra by Patricia Vidal Delgado, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

DELGADO: I could share more about the title of the film. This was a question that kept coming up in the Q&A. “Le Leynda Negra” refers to the demonization of Spanish settlers by protestant settlers. It essentially reflects a historical bias. Aleteia challenges the bias in her fight for truth, and that is what leads to her involvement in the underground political organization “The Compton Black Book”.

MARTIN: Did you have any advice or encouragement for emerging female filmmakers?

DELGADO: I think my biggest piece of advice is to make the film that you want to make. Not the film that your parents want you to make, or your friends want you to make, or your teachers want you to make–think what films there are that you personally want to make. I think a lot of filmmakers get hung up on “oh we don’t have funding, or we don’t have this, or this.” There is truth in making the film you want to make with the resources you have at your disposal, because you have freedom. You have freedom to write the story that you want to write, direct the way you want to direct. I would just encourage female filmmakers to be fearless, and to not make any excuses, and to not be afraid to make mistakes, because actually mistakes make you a better filmmaker in the long run. 

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