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‘Majo’ is Filly Brown
(Photo courtesy: Joe DeAngelis)

By Amber Feese

Actress Gina Rodriguez came to Denver to attend the Denver Film Society’s screening of her movie, “Filly Brown,” at the SIE FilmCenter on Saturday, March 9. The movie was chosen last year to be one of the Official Sundance Film Festival Selections and Rodriguez received colossal praise for her performance, even if the movie itself didn’t hit all the right notes with the critics.

Directed by Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos and sporting a star-studded cast with the likes of Lou Diamond Phillips, Edward James Olmos and the late Jenni Rivera, the film provided an exhilarating environment for Rodriguez to prove herself as the lead in a feature film.

“It was like a master class watching these people perform,” Rodriguez told La Voz, “It felt like every dream wrapped into one. Every day was like, pinch me, I’m dreaming.” She was the first to be cast for the film but knew that the producers were going to ask Phillips and Rivera to take on the roles of her mother and father. Rodriguez waited with fingers crossed, praying that she would get to work with big-name talent that she had idolized throughout her career.

“Having Edward James Olmos say, ‘my star, my superstar,’ I was like, ‘shut your mouth!’ It was the monumental moment when someone said, ‘you can carry a film, go carry it.’ It changed my life drastically,” Rodriguez said. She was named the “next big thing,” one of the “top 35 Latinos under 35” and was recently the Imagen award winner for Best Actress in a Feature Film for her role as Majo in “Filly Brown.”

Majo Tonorio is Rodriguez’s tenacious lead role who, despite trying to make ends meet for her family with an incarcerated mother and an overwhelmed and overworked father, transforms herself into Filly Brown, a strong talent who has the potential to rap herself to success. But first she faces losing her artistic voice and the friends that supported her when a big-shot record producer offers a music deal to the struggling youth.

This character’s transformation from an unknown to superstar wouldn’t have been possible without another transformation; the one performed by Rodriguez when she took on the task of becoming Majo.

The role was originally written as a spoken-word artist, which was an art that Rodriguez was familiar with, but during her audition she was informed that they were considering changing it to a rapper. Undeterred, she gave an improvised rap performance on the spot.

“I had never rapped in my life,” Rodriguez commented. Yet she can be seen on-screen, spitting lyrics and taking names. This role brings the little-known community of Latino hip-hop from Los Angeles into the spotlight as well as validates her as a successful actress.

“Filly Brown represents that indie, underground labor of love; that little edge in the current Latino community,” Rodriguez said. “There are a lot of things happening in this film, and there is a lot that could happen because of it.”

Another message to the community that she promotes is, “a celebration of being unique and of the beauty in all shapes, sizes, and colors,” especially to young girls who, as Rodriguez puts it, “don’t think that they are princesses.” Whether as Gina the actress or Majo the rapper, Rodriguez embodies the gusto that it takes to accomplish the impossible. “It’s so gratifying to overcome obstacles, to look fear in the face and say, ‘you are not going to win today, no, you are not taking me today.’ To be able to stand up and brush off your knees in the face of failure feels so powerful.”

In a world where production is often more important than content, it can be hard for any young artist to empower herself as an individual. The message is clear in both “Filly Brown” and Rodriguez’ career that sometimes the correct path is the harder one, but it is important to not compromise who you are.

As Rodriguez said, “that smile on your face is worth every moment that there was a tear there.”

Looking to the future, Rodriguez has secured a talent development deal with ABC and landed another star role, but this time as a female boxer in a biopic by D. Olmos. According to her, there is not much that could stop Rodriguez from going all the way to the top. “There is nothing that can stop me besides myself, so I try not to get in my own way,” she said.





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