Queer Director Adelina Anthony Destroys the Myth That POC Filmmakers Can’t Tell Universal Stories

Courtesy of Bruising for Besoso

Adelina Anthony’s latest film Bruising for Besos represents 13 years of hard work. It started as a solo show while she was studying at Stanford and was eventually workshopped at the Sundance Writers Intensive in 2014. Having grown up in a violent household Anthony has found a way to marry that experience with a torrid love affair and a side piece of humor to make some intersectional art. Aiming to appeal to the wokest of us and the not so woke, Adelina utilizes humor and the power of the friends we make family to soften the blows the film throws in your face.

If you’re a 27 Dresses type of gal skip Bruising for Besos. The montages in this one are rough. The drama follows Yoli (Anthony) and Daña (Caro Zeller) as they fall in love. It is passionate and it is violent. Considering that 35% of women in same-sex relationships have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, this is not your Blue is the Warmest Color lesbian film. Adelina Anthony deals in reality, hoping to open up a conversation about these issues.

We spoke to Anthony about Bruising for Besos, the specific challenges of being a queer Chicana artist, and the healing power of humor.

On How She Got Her Start

I started as an actor and I was doing work as an actor and then because of my budding lesbianism… I landed in Nueva York… but that wasn’t a scene for me cuz like I was a Chicana, Tejana. I got a lot of “¿Pero que tu eres, Colombiana?” and they just looked at me like “You’re this foreign it.” I loved that time because I got exposed to Dominicanos, Boricuas, Colombianos, just a whole other way of being a Latina mujer and feminist.

In my early 20s, I fell in love with my first woman, she was older and she was Chicana. She would take me to go see foreign films. Actually indie films, and that’s when I realized film could be something else from Hollywood mainstream staples and that’s when I fell in love with cinema as an artist.

On How She Got to LA

I knew being there that NY was not going to work for me and at the time, I was in my early twenties, I realized how much I had been shaped by Tejas. It’s like expansive cielo. In NY it’s like looking up at Tetris pieces. I was missing my cultura. I can still remember my comadres saying “Ok Adelina, you can’t say y’all here” and I was like “What?“ “You can keep wearing your Tejas boots but…” Anyway I followed this mujer to LA and that was a disaster in the end. The films’ (Bruising for Besos) protagonist is this kind of this mezcla of that unhealthy relationship and some other engagements I had in my twenties that I was like, “I should have come with a warning sign… that reads: construction zone.”

On What Bruising for Besos Is Really About

There’s a long history with it. Precisely because it does come from the semilla of embodied knowing of violence within a household. It’s essentially looking at this young queer chicana protagonist, trying to understand how domestic violence in her household is being replayed in her adult life. Yoli’s addiction is mujeres. And whether queer or not we all know people who go from one relationship to the next to the next to the next, until finally I think something stops you and makes you question wait, why are these failed relationships and at the end of the day who’s the common denominator, right?

On Why Using Humor Became Necessary in This Story

“Humor is actually really curative when we use it in a way to survive.”

They are like the ying and the yang. As an artist, I’m always trying to bring in both. Humor is absolutely necessary in Bruising for Besos because if not it would be too harsh of a story to take in. Because I come from the world of comedy, I really try to add these moments of respite. These two mujeres ignite in each other unresolved familial history and legacy and you need these moments where you just fall in love with them and you fall in love with their friends and their world when you realize ok, humor is actually really curative when we use it in a way to survive.

And so quite often for me the jokes are uh, you know we can all look at comedy central, especially during the day time and it’s there are a lot of comedians who still rely on this humor that is always picking on the other and the marginalized and it’s usually white straight men pokes at women but when you’re getting critical humor and you’re attacking and you’re joking and you’re undermining the systems of oppression there’s a way in which you can really navigate humor so that it serves us as mujeres, as queers, as people of color because we’re using the humor to laugh off what is usually meant to injure us and what is meant to stay inside our cuerpos.

On Making a Deeply Personal But Highly Fictional Film

It is deeply personal and highly fictional. One of the things that happens to us as writers of color is that folks always wanna go like, “Oh, that’s autobiographical.” It’s as if we never re-edited, transformed or imagined our work. We’re still working at a political spectrum where the white writer, the one that has been historically given the privilege of writing and making stories, they’re set up to be like “Oh everything they do is imaginative” because they’re the heteronormative, they’re the universal. And so when we write: “Oh it must come from their very specific experience” which quite often it does but we’re also highly invested in the creative act. It’s just that we’re not looked at as professional writers or writers who are creating these expansive worlds and characters, using our imaginative prowess and capabilities. I think most people are doing it unconsciously when they say stuff about us.

And so the complexity and paradox in what we’re doing is that, well of course we have insider knowledge but that doesn’t mean that we’re not taking the semillas of what’s the personal and what is fodder and creating something completely distinctive and of its own making. Like the humor in Besos is really written for Raza or Latinidad. A lot of the jokes, even though we did translations, the jokes are in Spanish or Spanglish and I was telling someone else, you can translate that but not really, it’s for us, and that’s totally ok, like how many films are not written with us in mind, right?

On Being a Queer Chicana Artist

“I’m a Chicana so my heart is cultural activism, there’s no way around it. And I’m grateful for that.”

As POC and women we are always expected to fall into the passive role and to follow that. It’s like lets get our normative protagonist and let’s go on his journey. And we’re supposed to relate and quite often we do but the inverse isn’t true because historically and politically speaking our stories haven’t been given the space to be out in the world. So there’s resistance when we put a film out or a story, “Oh they’re not going to relate to us” and I think a lot of the times that just means: “Can you check your privilege and come in as an ally and sit in a story that, yeah, you’re not the intended ideal audience member but I bet you you’ll walk away relating to something because we all have the space of humanity that we work from and maybe then they can also walk away with an understanding of what it means to have these intersectional experiences.”

On What She Hopes the Audience Will Take Away From the Film

It comes back to it needs to be medicine for us and sometimes the medicine is bitter, sometimes the medicine is candy coated. And it feels good, but if I only have so many days on this planet, if I’m just one artist who’s trying to work in this very specific framework then I want my work to matter. I really want to create films that we’re going to look at. We’re going to look at the legacies of violence in our intimate lives, in our families and in our communities.

Mi propósito es que your art can matter for social change, it’s really a great dialogue. What I love about the festival circuit is that it’s implicit that you’re gonna have a Q&A and some kind of dialogue with el público and that’s what this film is intended to do. Let’s start talking about these things; it’s such an intersectional kind of film. Even if it touches one life on every screening, if it wakes someone up, to know that they can get out of it… or let’s at least start bringing this issue to light then the work has lasting power beyond just making a film. I’m a Chicana so my heart is cultural activism, there’s no way around it. And I’m grateful for that. ¡So yeah, la revolución sigue!

Bruising for Besos premiered at San Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival. You can catch it during QFilms in Long Beach, California on September 10, 2016.