Jay Francisco López on Keeping Slain Teen’s Memory Alive with Bay Area-Set Film ‘Love, Cecy’

'Love, Cecy' still courtesy of Jay Francisco López

Although he was only in elementary school at the time, filmmaker Jay Francisco López remembers the first time he heard about the brutal murder of Cecilia “Cecy” Rios, a 15-year-old girl from in his neighborhood in Richmond, California, who was raped and killed in March 1994.

Although the heinous crime was not something he necessarily understood completely, López felt how much her death shook his community. As he got older, Rios’ name was one that he never forgot. He became more curious about her and wanted to know who she was as a person.

That curiosity continued through his late twenties when López decided he would make a feature film about Rios and the impact she had on her friends and family. Seven years in the making, Love, Cecy explores Rios’ life, her aspirations, and the relationship she had with her boyfriend Julio (Vince-Anthony Ramirez), whom she inspired to strive for more than his gangster reputation allowed.

In the movie, López recreates the early 90s era with freestyle dance music in the soundtrack, but balances it nicely with corridos, hip-hop and mariachi. He also captures the style of clothing that was popular with teens during that time like baggy outfits, ripped jeans, plaid shirts, hair scrunchies and hoop earrings.

To get inside the head of Rios, López uses voiceover narration by lead actress Angie Marie Espinoza, who play Cecy, as she writes her thoughts, dreams and poetry in her diary. During one scene, he also incorporates flashbacks as Cecy and Julio reminisce about the start of their relationship. The standout of Love, Cecy is Ramirez, who is a natural fit for the role of Julio. It’s a seamless performance in a cast of mostly non-actors.

During an interview with Remezcla, López – whose parents are from Honduras – talked about how his community reacted to Rios’ murder 23 years ago, why he thinks the media didn’t give her case much attention in 1994 and how he wants this film to represent Rios’ legacy moving forward.

‘Love, Cecy’ screens at the New York Latino Film Festival on October 14 at 5:45 p.m. at Cinépolis Chelsea (260 W. 23rd Street).

On How Cecy’s Murder Affected Him as a Kid

I felt the whole community was shut down emotionally. Everyone was shocked that a 15-year-old girl was murdered in our neighborhood. I didn’t know how to feel, but I knew it was a story I wanted to know more about. [Her murder] was a big deal at the time, but right after they buried her, it was like everyone forgot about her and what happened.

On Cecy’s Murder Not Receiving the Media Attention It Deserved

Around the time of [Cecy’s] murder, Polly Klass, a 12-year-old Caucasian girl who lived in Petaluma not too far from Richmond, was kidnapped and murdered. It was a huge story. [Actress] Winona Ryder [offered a reward]. The fact that Cecy was murdered in the ghetto and she was Latina, her story never left Richmond. There was speculation at that time that [her murder] was gang related. It wasn’t. They just assumed that. They thought she was just another Chicana who was part of a gang. Both murders were horrible and [both girls] got justice at the end, but I felt like Cecy should have gotten just as much publicity as Polly did.

On Keeping Cecy’s Memory Alive

Over these last seven years of doing research and putting this film together, I met a lot of parents who lost their kids to violence. A lot of them felt their kids were forgotten. A lot of them I talked to just want their child to be remembered in a positive, good light. That’s what I want [for Cecy]. I want people to see this movie and find love and live life as much as they can. I want the audience to feel the love [Cecy] had during the 15 years she lived on this earth.

Courtesy of Jay Francisco López
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On His Relationship with Cecy’s Family

I refused to make this movie without her parents’ blessing. I told myself I couldn’t tell her story without it. By the grace of God, I was able to get a hold of them. I went to their house and talked to them for seven hours and told them my vision [for the film]. Seven years later, it’s like I’m part of the family. I love them. They haven’t seen the film yet, but they saw the trailer and they cried. They’re amazed that [Cecy’s] story is finally being told.

On the Responsibility He Felt to Make a Film Worthy of Cecy’s Life

I feel like I’m responsible for her legacy. It’s really tough to have that on your shoulders, but I wear it proudly. The fact that [Cecy’s] family trusts me with her story says a lot. Hopefully, I can share her story with the whole world. I hope I did her story justice.