Hollywood’s favorite Latina maid is about to get a lesson in feminism — from the mouth of her vagina.
In “Valentina,” a short film currently raising money on Kickstarter, the title character is a cleaning lady obsessed with — what else? — being clean. Set in the near future, a heat wave and power outage shatter Valentina’s creature comforts, forcing her to confront her own filth. Especially one part of her body that is most susceptible to heat and sweat. According to filmmaker Mary Angélica Molina, the film explores “what happens when she’s confronted with this part of her body that she has either ignored or tried to keep under control.”
Molina, who spoke to IndieWire by phone, is a twice-recognized Sundance fellow (for screenwriting and creative producing) who cites Luis Buñuel as an influence. “Surrealism interests me because you’re taking heightened realities and trying to get to levels of truth,” she said. For instance, using a talking vagina allows her to address “the intersection of female sexuality, climate change, and domestic workers’ rights,” as she says in her Kickstarter pitch.
Molina was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was young. During her teenage summers, she helped her mother at her factory job. “There were many women who came from rural areas of South and Central America, often with below-average education levels,” said the filmmaker. “They had very little awareness of their own bodies, particularly of their own genitals. That created some issues for them; whether around hygiene, healthcare, or just female pleasure.”
As a young person, she internalized the shame and mysteriousness surrounding vaginas. This shame was compounded by the fact that she was queer and trying to parse out her relationship to gender identity as well. “Growing up Latina, particularly when you’re more male-identified, there’s this notion: ‘What’s my own vagina, what’s my connection to it? Is it a dirty thing? Is it gross?'”
She wrote the character of Valentina in order to “play with the shame of the vagina being ‘dirty.’ She is a heightened version of what a maid should be. She is utterly and absolutely clean,” said the filmmaker. From the first page of the script on the film’s Kickstarter page, one learns that the film opens with Valentina “scrunching her nose in disgust” at “the faintest of yellow smudges” on a pair of underwear. Heightening the Latina cleaning lady trope to such extremes adds another layer of commentary to this satire.
The project will hopefully scratch a creative itch for Molina, who has been working on her first feature for the last six years. “Dolores” is about a beautiful Colombian woman who has the voice of a man. (Think the Colombian Edward James Olmos). “The whole idea is to create a character that doesn’t exist, that kind of obliterates gender,” Molina said. “To create a space where the audience constantly feels this ambiguity in the film, this uncertainty as to what her ‘biological gender’ is.” Despite much support from the Sundance Institute, even interested small studios worry about how to sell a surrealist film about a “gender non-conforming experimental being who is not quite real,” she said.
Not only is “Valentina” a way to get Molina’s creative juices flowing, but it is a way to familiarize nervous potential backers with her work and present themes that are important to her. Namely, issues relating to gender, female sexuality, cultural identity and the body. “The body is super important to me. Particularly as a queer person — I’m incredibly aware of my body. It is both a vehicle and a cage in many ways,” she said.
The director and actress Paula Mendoza will co-produce. The two Colombian-American filmmakers are in a writer’s group together, and share similar cultural experiences. “We both have that insider/outsider perspective, one foot here, one foot there,” said Molina. Mendoza directed and starred in “Entre Nos,” which played the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009. The mid-career filmmaker urged Molina to step out of her comfort zone and start putting her work out there. According to Molina: “When she read the script, she said, ‘you have to make this, this is ready to be shot tomorrow.'”
Molina attended the experimental film program at Bard College, and then received a Masters in screenwriting from USC. She aspires to fuse the best techniques of experimental film with the storytelling of classic cinema: “How do you take these inventive, experimental, strange ways of using the medium and then put them in a package that you can consume, that has a narrative thread?”
It’s easy to see that Molina’s star is on the rise. “Valentina” was chosen by Kickstarter as a “Project We Love” and is featured as a Sundance Institute Curated Project. Hopefully Kickstarter donors want to see a movie about a talking vagina from a queer Buñuel devotee. And really, who wouldn’t?
Check out “Valentina” on Kickstarter.