After introducing herself to audiences in 2007 with the heartwarming drama “Under the Same Moon” (“La misma luna”), the story of a young son’s journey from Mexico to the U.S. to find his mother, director Patricia Riggen, 41, returns to theaters with a coming-ofage film about the conflict between a rebellious teenage daughter (Cierra Ramirez) and her preoccupied mother (Eva Mendes) in “Girl in Progress.”
During an interview with me last week, Riggen talked about the challenges she faced growing up as an independent spirit in a conservative home in Guadalajara, Mexico and what currently worries her about her own 4-year-old daughter.
Were you a rebellious teenager like the main character in “Girl in Progress?”
Well, I grew up in a very conservative family. I wanted to be independent. I loved going out to parties and dancing and being with my friends and boyfriend – everything a normal teen would do. I just wanted to live my life. I never got into anything really bad. That was already bad enough in a conservative family.
Do you think it was harder for you as a teen growing up in a Latino family?
Oh my God, yes. Especially in a very machista society like Mexico, women are meant to get married. That’s the goal in life. It’s not a bad goal, but I always thought, “Why not combine that with getting a career and being a professional?” That was my struggle. Thankfully, I was able to do that. I am a female Latina director. I am a very rare species.
If you could talk to your teenage self, what would you tell her?
I would tell her to be more self-assured and to enjoy life while it lasts, especially those younger years. Life is hard, but you just have to keep going and make the best of it.
It is just a coincidence that your movie about mothers and daughters will be released just in time for Mother’s Day weekend?
I didn’t know at first, so when they told me I thought it was perfect. What I like about the movie is that it speaks to moms and daughters and the struggles they face together. I don’t see that very much in movies today. I like that the movie is fun and entertaining, but at the same time it has a message about teenage pregnancy and bullying and how to understand each other. [Latinas] are an underserved audience. There aren’t very many movies out there that speak to us. It’s a perfect gift for Mother’s Day.
It’s interesting that a movie like this was written by a male screenwriter. How did that change the perspective of the story?
I think [screenwriter] Hiriam [Martinez] did a nice job. He has a very nice style and is very smart. I came in and gave the characters more of a female perspective, which is something I usually do with writers. I did the same with “Under the Same Moon” so I could bring in my own vision. Hiriam is a very talented guy. These movies are hard to make with Latinas and female main characters. They’re not easily financed. We’re lucky that we were able to make this one.