“Yellow Rose” is the timely story of a Filipina teen from a small Texas town who fights to pursue her dreams as a country music performer while having to decide between staying with her family or leaving the only home she has known.
I was fortunate to speak with the director of the film, Diane Paragas (“Brooklyn Boheme”). “Yellow Rose” is her narrative feature debut. We talked about her 15-year journey into bringing this personally inspired story to the screen. We discussed her talented cast, specifically Broadway star Eva Noblezada (Hadestown and Miss Saigon) who plays Rose, the main character. Eva is a Grammy®-winner and two-time Tony Award®-nominee, and “Yellow Rose” is her screen debut. We also discussed Diane’s hope that people who see the film will leave their politics at the door and experience the journey of an undocumented Country singing teen. Paragas described herself growing up as a square peg in a round hole, feeling different in a Texas town, but coming to a place where she really knows her voice. And the story of Rose reflects that. The film is at once very timely, and timeless.
REBECCA MARTIN: How did you come to this project?
DIANE PARAGAS: I wrote the script a long time ago, like over 15 years ago. I grew up in Texas, and when I went to UT [The University of Texas], I was a square peg in a round hole–this weird Filipino girl in the middle of Texas. Of course a lot of the story comes from my childhood and upbringing, but as the years went on and I kept pursuing the film, it started taking on another meaning, especially this version of the film. I leaned more into the immigration side of the story, which incidentally was always in the script, but I followed the mom’s journey a little bit more in this version. And the trajectory was more about Rose finding a home, as opposed to “A Star is Born”-type of journey. The narrative definitely shifted, and is a reflection of the times that we are now living in.
But “Yellow Rose” was always about a girl who wants to be a country singer, and that’s really it. It was this very personal movie based on some experiences that I had. I feel that’s what you want in your first narrative project, for it to be something really personal. And I think that was this movie, it just took me a very long time to make it.
MARTIN: You have an incredible cast. Is this the first onscreen role Eva Noblezada], who plays Rose? I’ve never seen her before, although I know she’d done a lot of theater. How did you find her for this role?
PARAGAS: Yes, this is Eva’s first film of any kind. She’s never been on a short, and she’s never even been on a set. She was all Broadway. Having said that, she was a Tony-nominee at the time we cast her. We shot the film in-between her finishing up with Miss Saigon and beginning Hadestown, which won the Tony last year for Best Musical. She was nominated again, so she’s a two-time Tony-nominee, and a Grammy winner for the Miss Saigon soundtrack. As she is a Broadway person, this film is going to be her introduction to most people. Eva’s just an extraordinary talent. I really hope people can see this performance. It’s something to behold.
MARTIN: How did you get connected to her, was there someone in charge of the casting?
PARAGAS: No, I reached out to her manager and had mentioned the script, which she really liked. I consciously did not go to see Miss Saigon. We had already shot a short at that point, but I knew she was tied up. I just didn’t want to get my heart broken. When I found out the show was ending, that’s when we had this window to send them the script, and I went to see the play. I had dinner with her that same night and offered her the part on the spot because her performance in Miss Saigon is incredible, but mostly it was because the way that she acted was very cinematic, and that is what I responded to the most. Even with all of that, I didn’t know what to expect until we started shooting. She just blew me away.
MARTIN: I would love to dive deeper into the immigration side of the film and how it paralleled with the relationship between the mother and the daughter.
PARAGAS: One of the big things of the film is the fact that there are many undocumented Asians in this country. I think often when you say “undocumented”, the first thing you think of is the Latinx community. Filipinos are the third largest undocumented population in the US. But it’s just not something that you see reflected onscreen. My parents who arrived here, came on a Visa, and when the Visa ran out, there was one point where we were in risk of being deported. But as reflected in the film, I feel our parents kept it from us to a large extent. We didn’t really know it was serious at all. But it was. Luckily we were able to stay legally.
We’ve had our brush with immigration with my own family, but I certainly know a lot of people that have undocumented status. It’s just known as part of the Filipino-American community. This was definitely something that I wanted to focus on, because it’s a big issue within our community.
MARTIN: What was your reason for bringing the stories of immigration and country music together?
PARAGAS: It just kind of fit together in the story that I imagined. I think it was a metaphor for her loving this music and having the place where the music originated not love her back. Not just the music world, but the country itself was rejecting her. It just seemed like a convenient metaphor.
MARTIN: What do you hope people will get from this film, besides just falling in love with the story?
PARAGAS: One thing that I was very conscious about when I made the movie was to not be this polemic film where you’re beating this ideology down people’s throats. I wanted it to be a human story that showed the humanity of what happens when a mother and daughter get separated. It’s not about pointing fingers, it’s not about forcing people to take a stance on an issue, but simply to show the experience itself. Like what happens, and how does it feel? I hope it gives a window into the lives of the undocumented, particularly young people who get taken on this journey and are not party to being the decision makers, yet they’re left in this position where they are either separated from their families or deported.
I also just hope people can leave their politics at the door, and give this movie a chance. I remember telling Eva, part of my pitch to her to be in my film was that I wanted to make a classic film that was timely and timeless. The kind of movie that movie lovers love. In this film, you have a romance, you have music, all the things that make a movie great. And I think it’s the kind of film I hope will bring back that love that we have of the theatrical experience, or being in a theater and hearing that beautiful sound–in this case, Eva’s beautiful voice. I think that there is something for everyone in this movie, and I just want people to get to know this character. She’s such a great character, and such a great story to follow.
MARTIN: Advice for Emerging Female Filmmakers?
PARAGAS: I think the story for me was that I was just told “no” a lot. I was just told this is not a story anyone wants to see, it’s not a film that there is an audience for. Even after we made it, we were told that from a lot of buyers. A lot of festivals didn’t take us. At the end of the day, we were sold to a major Hollywood studio, and will be released in hundreds of theaters across the country. My advice would be, stick to your guns, and tell a story that is as unique to who you are as artist, and as a person. Because I think it’s changing, Hollywood is changing. There are so many platforms that you can make movies for, you can make content for, that are wanting to see these stories that are unique from female perspectives, people of color, from all types of people.
And don’t make a movie that you think people will want to see, make a movie that is personal to you. In film school, often you watch these movies, and there’s a tendency to want to be a copycat of those films, or to think these are the type of films that are getting into Sundance, and getting out there. Or the tendency to imitate your auteur hero, when really you want to figure out what your own voice is. Stay with that and you’ll get noticed, and will find people who will believe in you. But always stay true to yourself. It’s a simple thing, but I have the living proof that it’s worth it too, to stick to your guns.