Lissette Feliciano loves being told no. Okay, so no one loves being told no, but it’s never been something that has deterred her from telling her story. The young writer/director has produced all her own shorts. Now she’s produced her first full length feature film, Women is Losers, for HBO Max.
In the beginning of the movie a scene is interrupted to provide a mea culpa on behalf of the film for not being a giant, fully funded blockbuster. Instead it’s a scrappy can-do film who relies on its message and story to entice the viewer, and it succeeds.
We follow Celina (Lorenza Itto) as she navigates the waters of survival in 1960’s San Francisco. As a young Latina woman she goes against the odds to accomplish even the most standard things like food and housing for her and her baby. The film carries a message of perseverance and the edict to work smart along with working hard. I jumped on a Zoom with Lissette, who told me more about her inspiration for the film and the message she hopes is taken away.
This is your first full length feature, and you wrote and directed this film. What was that process like?
“I’ve written, directed and produced all of my work for the most part. The process is not dissimilar to what happens to [Celina] in the film. She is – because of who she is as a person – she’s presented with certain challenges. And definitely as a filmmaker, I have been presented with similar challenges. “
Feliciano is a young Latinx woman who has chosen a field that is dominated largely by white men. As she tried to gain her footing she realized that there were invisible barriers to her success.
“Celina is dealing with a lack of really good options and as a filmmaker, I was dealing with a lack of good options. So secretly it was always, sink or swim. If I don’t write it, if I don’t direct it, if I don’t produce it, it’s not going to get done. It doesn’t feel like this is unfamiliar to women of color everywhere. If we’re trying to do anything, unfortunately it seems like we have to do everything.”
Especially in this country. That’s what I really loved about the film. Even though it’s told from a Latinx perspective, the issues that are dealt with are felt by every kind of marginalized or ethnic group or anyone who has to live with being a woman of color in a world designed for white men.
“I went and sat with a friend of mine who had produced a couple of films that have gone to Sundance, and I was looking for $200,000 to do a small project. I was struggling so hard to put this little amount of money together, and the friend, he said to me, ‘Well that’s just four people with $50,000.’ and then it dawned on me – he knew four people with $50,000 of discretionary income. I know 40 people where if they made $50,000 a year, they would feel like a success. It’s then I realized that we’re on different planets.”
There were times when Feliciano was ready to give up, but she received unlikely words of encouragement from her mother and grandmother.
“I went home and told her I was done. I don’t think this is gonna work for me, I’m just not that good. And she told me what happened to her and all of the things I was feeling she put a word to. That was the moment where I said, ‘Okay, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to do it in a way where I acknowledge these roadblocks.’ because if I didn’t, then that was it.”
Feliciano is referring in part to the financial and culture barriers she faces: “I can’t make a period piece like with a Gangs of New York budget, that might never happen for me. So the opening scene was me putting all of my vulnerability out onto the table. A lot of times it seems the reason we don’t see these stories is because it’s expensive to do.”
It can cost a lot financially and emotionally. The idea that you work so hard and don’t get the fruits of your labor because of the color of your skin or what body parts you have (or lack) is extremely frustrating.
I think a lot about when I hear the adage of, ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps like I did!’ and I think… you didn’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you had a dad with connections and you had a trust fund and golf outings where you made networking connections and just all of these things that are markedly inaccessible to female artists and artists of color.
What I love about Feliciano is that she’s written and directed all of her films. She’s said to the mainstream market, “If I can’t get you to tell my story then I’m going to tell the story. And you’re going to listen.”
And this is a story that contains a lot of layers. From domestic abuse and the patriarchy to abortion rights and fair employment, all things that women have to deal with at some points in their lives are expressed here.
Near the end we talk about Roe v. Wade in the ‘70s and being a catalyst for women’s rights and the protection and safety of the mother. Now, in 2021 we’re seeing those rights trying to be challenged in Texas. What does that inspire in you? How do you react to something like that, or reflect on it?
“I think the film does that. That was the point of the film because when we started in 2018, things were great! 2019, things got worse. We weren’t trying to grandstand, or make a political movie, but if you put these women in this time period and you give them XYZ options, and x, y, z options are from bad to worse, they’re going to take one, that’s all they have. I’ve always struggled with the bootstrap mentality because it assumes that everybody starts out with the same boots.”
That’s a perfect way to put it!
“Yeah, it’s a comment on shortcomings, but like Celina says in the film, you can’t pull yourself up by the bootstraps when all you have is your skin. If you don’t have boots you still have to run in the race, but now your feet are bleeding. That’s what Women is Losers is. An amendment to the footnote that says yes, not everybody starts with boots, but everyone has the same attention. If you’re walking barefoot, you’re going to get there.”
Women is Losers is currently available on HBO Max and VOD. Check out the full review!
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