Josefina Lopez Opens Up:
Talks Real Women Have Curves, Her New Play, Women in Media & More
By Amber Topping
Josefina Lopez is the talented and successful writer behind numerous plays, shorts and screenplays, so being invited to have a conversation with the talented playwright and screenwriter was truly a pleasure. We covered many subjects from her successful play and film Real Women Have Curves (which was the breakout role for America Ferrera) to the misrepresentation of how women are portrayed in the media, her new play that recently premiered at her theater Casa 0101 in Boyle Heights, A Cat Named Mercy, and more. Warm and articulate, Ms. Lopez shared stories from the personal to the inspirational about her life and work.
To start, can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you became interested in writing, whether playwriting, screenwriting, and how you got into that?
I came to this country when I was five-years-old. And I grew up in Boyle Heights and I hardly saw Latinos on television growing up. And of course there was a Spanish network but I hardly saw any Latinos; and when I did start seeing Latinos they were always playing the bad guys, always the drug dealers and the maid. And I mean, the maids are not the bad guys but they were either the criminals or the servants…And it really bothered me because my parents were really hard-working people and very dignified and they just got them…with this distortion of truth. And so then I just started writing when I was about sixteen-years-old because I was so angry at how many injustices I saw.
It was my parents telling me that it was a waste to educate women because my Dad came from a rural background; and he himself didn't have an education. So he had these really old world beliefs about not educating women. So I had a lot of fights with my father about this. And then I wrote my first play at 17 as a way of expressing all my anger and how unfair life is for a woman and for a Latina. And then I entered into a playwriting contest and then I won and then the play got made. That's how it really started, is that it was a source of my anger…I couldn't do therapy either because I'm also very empathic with other people's feelings. It's a little too much sometimes. So writing plays was a way of channeling all that pain and anger.
So at 18 I had my first production and then that's how it all started. And then about 21, I wrote my first full length play and then Warner Brothers, a producer at Warner Brothers read the article about my play, Real Women Have Curves and then that's how I became a member of the Writer's Guild. They optioned it and I wrote the screenplay and the movie didn't get made until 11 years later.
Oh wow. That's a long time.
That's how my writing career started.
So let's talk Real Women Have Curves. It was a play, it was a feature film—
Now we're working on the musical.
Yeah! So how important has this story been to you? All these years and it's still something everybody talks about.
When I first wrote it, it was just about me and the sewing factory and the truth and then 11 years later when it did become a movie it was part of a movement of other forms of expression or stories being told about how unfair it is that women are measured by a very different standard physically and sexually in so many different ways. And so when the movie came out, it came out at the perfect time. It came out, I think I remember when the club Curves was coming out…even My Big Fat Greek Wedding I think was coming out around the same time. It was a wave. And so it was so wonderful that me and the sewing factory was a bunch of women, you know? That was one experience but then it became something universal. And I think that's why it was very successful. And I think that's why the story lives on. And it's so wonderful ‘cause I see that Real Women Have Curves is studied in colleges now and in high schools and I really like that it’s been embraced. It's recognized and I see anger that you should feel at being oppressed this way.
I don't think that there's enough stories out there whether a play, movie, about real women having real conversations with each other. There definitely needs to be more movies like that, more stories. So I thought it was great.
Yeah, there should be because—And part of the reason, this is why I try to educate people on this when I lecture at universities and high schools and women's groups, is that people ask: "Why is the image of women so distorted?" And I go, "Well for many reasons." One of them is that Hollywood makes films for men ages 13 to 35. That's who they're trying to get an audience, right? So all the women represent fantasies, sexual fantasies for these men.
And that's why women are a size zero, really skinny blondes...like a certain look. And that isn't real characters, it's just a look. And the other reason is, and I've experienced this myself, is that the majority of the writers, directors, producers are men. And the way that happens is—and I've been rejected from film school six times.
Different ones too: Like AFI, Cal Arts, USC, UCLA… And I have gone to film school but a different program. And people are surprised, and I think "Yeah, I was always told I was not promising and it was men interviewing me. And even in one university, one college, one high school, I was told I was not gonna fit in because I was way too successful and way too articulate... (And I was going in for producing and most of the directors tend to be upper middle class males and I'm 27). And that I was gonna clash with them, and that's why I wasn't allowed in. But their typical client was a male, a rich male, because that's who the director is. And I was like, "Oh my God, I should have recorded this conversation.” Of course they wouldn't have let me because this is outright racism.
But this is also why it's a type of person who becomes a director. And it tends to be a masculine male and then these schools favor this type of person. And so there's a lot of women directors, but they're not usually given these assignments because they have to prove themselves. And even after they've proven themselves, and have so much more sexism, that's also why we can't get all these stories about women. And to me, I just get sick of it because even when Hollywood is attempting to tell a story about women, a woman's a size zero and she's a movie star and we're there to look at how beautiful she is.
Virtually the character has a PHD and to me, I tell people that's worse now. Because now this woman, brilliant, has a PHD in astrophysics or whatever her title is, but she's like this beauty queen. And it's like, "Oh great!" [Laughs] We work hard enough but now we have to be beautiful? It's just ridiculous, you know?
Yeah, it's like the strong wonder woman who doesn't actually reflect real women. I don't know. You see more of that.
You just don't have time to do it all. Like there's a bomb and explosion and she just appears with makeup…
I know. Yeah, it's not very real.
That's how you know this is a man's movie is a woman wakes up looking beautiful in the morning with makeup. I'm like, "how does she do it?" [Laughs]
Yeah, it's strange.
Usually it's not a movie for men and I joke with people; because men can't get sex when they go to the movies, especially young men. They can't buy sex so they go buy a ticket and then they fantasize about these women and they go out and masturbate. And I think for women we have other needs. And we’re also much more auditory beings rather than visual beings.
So, changing the topic a little bit to talk about your play. For the readers who aren't familiar can you describe what your new play, A Cat Named Mercy is all about?
[A] Cat Named Mercy centers around Catalina Rodriguez who is a life and vocational nurse, an LVN, whose hours get cut to part time as part of a discriminatory practice that she discovers later. Or we discover, the audience, later. And she loses her health care coverage and benefits and soon discovers that she has a cancerous tumor in the uterus and has to get it operated right away. And because she lost her health insurance and she has a previous condition she's denied health insurance. And so she's really in a horrible situation and she has a panic attack. And then in the alley of this high class, residential--nursing home, a cat, an alley cat comes to comfort her. And this alley cat she calls Mercy. This alley cat helps her overcome this panic attack and really just kind of ends up guiding her because she doesn't know what else to do except pray because she has to take care of a blind, diabetic mother who is somewhat schizophrenic, and she's always taking caring of people who are in a nursing home, and she's just like a caretaker to the point where she has totally neglected herself.
What she does then is she's just trying to figure out what to do, how to either get another part time job, how to survive. And you just see how much she takes care of people to a point where it really is detrimental to her health. And then this cat is a magical, white cat and it's played on stage by a puppeteer dancer, a woman who's a dancer with puppets. And this cat eventually takes her to people who are ready to die. And then one of the things that happens is—so there's this woman, she's white and she's from the South and she's being brought to the Nursing Home and she basically doesn't want to be touched by anyone not white. Obviously she's old generation, old way of thinking. And this woman, one of the LVN that Catalina has trained…She basically has trained this one woman and now this young woman actually ends up getting a full time job. And Catalina doesn't understand why; she trained her and she's had seniority and discovers that it's because she's white. And one of things that this facility is doing is that they're transitioning from a middle class residency to like a boutique, luxurious residency and they're slowly getting rid of their brown and black staff and from Latino staff. So she's one of the last Latina women.
And there's another woman Joy, who's Filipina and American. And so Joy sort of discovers it too, finally finds out what's happened. But it’s done subtly so that no one could sue. So anyway, there's this white woman named Kitty, she's given the wrong medication by the younger LVN who Catalina trained and so she has a near death experience and Catalina has to perform CPR. And then she comes back from this near death experience touched by the light. And so she really understands what's going on and…she's really touched to the point where Catalina's a little afraid of her because she realizes that this woman wants to go home. She wants to die. And she knows about Catalina's cancerous tumor….Catalina is so afraid because [Kitty] is saying, Catalina, "If you help me die, I'll help you live. I'll give you money so you can use this money toward your surgery." And Catalina doesn't want to do it at first and then eventually this cat guides her back to her. And it's almost like this cat helps inform Catalina as to who's ready to go. And then Catalina helps them die because they've asked her to…
There's one character who’s in a lot of pain who just doesn’t want to be here anymore but she's not running away; she finally accepts that she wants to go home to her real family on the other side. And then another character, the spirit of his wife keeps visiting him. And the spirit keeps telling him to help Catalina but also to come home now. And so it's a very different type of assisted suicide.
And so then the grand design of it all is that at the end Catalina is sort of found out. And then Catalina is forced to expose herself as far as with what she's done. And as a result of that she goes to jail. But in jail you get full healthcare and coverage, medical benefits. And as a result of that her life is saved. And I did that to show the ridiculousness, you know and it’s like, "Wow, you could be a criminal and get full health coverage?” And when you've been the kind of person like Catalina who's devoted her whole life to be a service to people you get, "screw you." And it's sad.
Yeah, it is.
And so then she ends up in jail but Joy who is the Filipina American Nurse, head nurse RN, comes and tells her that she did deal with suicide matters—that these two people left suicide letters. And that she's gonna fight for her to try to get her life sentence reduced, so that she can get out sooner if they can show it was suicide and that these people wanted to die but it wasn't murder. Anyway, it's funny because at the end Catalina, all the things she never learned like setting boundaries, like standing up for herself, like fighting back, like expressing anger, she now ends up learning in prison. And she kind of ends up experiencing freedom for the first time because she was born into a situation where there was a lot of trauma…it's really very dark. We call it a dark comedy.
Looking at trauma and how the horrible thing happened where the father molested the daughter, the older daughter. And repeatedly doing it because the mother wasn't intervening and so then the daughter decided to hang herself. And so rather than the family discovering the body, the father hid the corpse and then he took off. And so the mother, because of the incredible shock of this loss, has created a story in her mind where the daughter ran away and that the father went to go look for her; that they're coming back. And the daughter has to take care of her mother. And just [she] had no life of her own because she had to be caretaker from the very beginning. And then the trauma losing her sister, her mother, her innocence and losing everybody, she had to repress because she had to take care of her mother. And so then the trauma manifests as a cancerous tumor sixteen years later.
I've been teaching writing classes for years now. In all the ten years, one of the things that I've discovered is that most of my writing students are coming to write about a trauma that they had at least ten years ago. Usually after ten years we can start dealing with a trauma, but if we refuse to deal with a trauma then it sometimes shows up as a disease or a cancer. So then now we have to deal with it physically if we're not willing to deal with it emotionally or spiritually.
So what was it about this particular story that inspired you to write about it now in your life?
I wanted to celebrate the Affordable Care Act being passed and now a law because I was denied coverage twice. I was denied coverage by Blue Cross because I had had the first stage of cancer because of the HP virus...
And it was taken care of. I got the procedures done and it was fine. And that was like a couple years ago. I was living in France because the difference was that I'm a member of the Writer's Guild. And when you work and you make a certain amount of money you get healthcare. But then when I decided to [go to] France and take time off to write my novel, to have my second child, to take time off, then I had no insurance because I wasn't working. And then when I came back to the U.S., when I applied for insurance I got denied. And I was like, "ridiculous.”…So I went without coverage and luckily I got insurance again through Writer's Guild but it's been tough these past years. I haven't gotten any writing assignments and so I had to apply for health insurance again. And then I got denied again because I had, had a total knee replacement. And you're not supposed to have one until your sixty. And I'm like, well I needed one, and my spine was going crooked, so I had to get one. And then there's also that I was penalized and so I was denied coverage again. So I was like, "this is so unfair." You know?
[Laughs] So I wanted to show the ridiculousness of that. And also, I had heard a story. Well there's a couple of ones. The other one is of Doctor Elizabeth Kubler-Ross [who] wrote many books on death and dying as I'm sure you know. Her Quest book about the dying process; and then her later books dealt with what happens when you die and you're at hospital and you're dying and all the conversations that people would have as the veil was lifting. And all the relatives, deceased relatives [of] that person would show up. And they would have conversations and then, the angel—I mean, the stuff that would happen in the rooms when people were dying, she just documented that. And she talked about how oftentimes...Like one experience where there was a family that all were rushed to the emergency room because they were in a car accident. And they had to take half of the family to the other hospital because there was no way they could take care of all of them. And she knew who had died based on who this person, you know, the person survived. And they were talking to a spirit of someone of their family. She knew that their person at the other hospital hadn't made it and they were coming to say goodbye.
And then she had this other experience where she had considered giving up this research on death and dying because there was so much criticism and it was so difficult for her to continue because scientists don't want to look at that, at death. Because it just goes beyond the scope of what medicine and science is. So she wanted to continue, but she considered giving up. So then one day, she had a woman visit her and this woman said to her: "You can't give up. This is so important. Humanity needs this. You have to continue." And so then, this woman who she didn't recognize fully but she knew she knew her, convinced her till she said: "You know, you're right. I'm not gonna give up on the key point." And so after, the woman said: "Okay, great." And she left. And then after the woman left, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said, "Oh my God, now I know who that woman was. That was a patient of mine. She died months ago. She died with the spirit. The spirit came to talk to her. And that's when she knew that, wow this made an impact…that she had to come back and tell me.”
And so I wanted to incorporate what Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said and what she said is that: “Nobody dies alone.” And I said, “Oh that's a beautiful message” because I think why we so afraid? Because we think it all ends and we also are afraid to leave behind those we love. And then she said something else, it was really profound. She wrote this book with David Kessler who's also an expert on dying and he said that one of the things that happens is when we're afraid to let go of the hand of a dying relative. And so instead of the person dying, afraid to let go of their relative, they don't realize is that someone is already [holding] their other hand on the other side.
Yeah, that's nice.
If one's already ready to die, then you know. So I wanted to capture that with the play. And another thing is that there was this cat named George in a nursing home that would go to comfort people right before they were gonna die. And this is a true story and so after he would do this a couple times, they thought, "Oh maybe this is just a coincidence or maybe the cat smells death or whatever." But after the cat [did this many times] they realized that this wasn't a coincidence, an accident. That this cat [was] in tune with the psychic, you know.
So I wanted to take this story but it had been many years since I saw this story. I said, "Well maybe we could add the little twist where the cat is the one guiding Catalina to the people who are ready to go home. And when she gives them the injection then the cat comforts them. But the cat is also helping people die even without Catalina." So this idea of this cat, and that's why it's called A Cat Named Mercy—so the cat represents kind of a divine spirit comforting those who are dying. Catalina's also dying and that's also why the cat comes to comfort her. And there's also this electromagnetic field interacting with her electromagnetic field, so she's able to stay alive a couple more days to be able to do what she's doing; and then eventually she breaks down and she's dying. And in one of the scenes she's actually happy to go home but then the spirits as a people that she helped die, come to her to tell her don't go into the light, you're too young. You know, they haven't had a life, you really need to stay and so she decides to stay. Anyway, it's a very beautiful play. It's really been funny because some of our critics hate it. And we've been told that they just hate the play.
Yeah, that happens.
And I think some of the critics who hate it, I think a lot of them are white male. I tell people that death is an affront to your ego and especially to masculinity because masculinity a lot of it is a false self. It's your ego. So the idea of dying, people wanting to go home or die is like such an affront to having any kind of control. But in reality you do have control because you have free will. Your soul has free will of when you want to die. We just don't know that that's what we do.
It's a powerful message and idea, an image of the cat representing this divine figure. I love that. It's great.
Have you seen any of the video [the youtube links]?
I did not see the links. I actually would love to be able to see the play. Is it going to extend beyond the Feb. 23rd dates at all?
No, no because we have a play coming up right after.
Oh, okay. I live in Arizona which is the only reason I haven't been able to see it.
Yeah, yeah. If you look up A Cat Named Mercy there's two of them [youtube videos]. One is in Spanish and then the other one is in English. And it's like two minutes. So you can see the visuals. And I think I have the one with a puppet.
I will definitely watch that.
You know, we've had people out in the audience watch it and people have had near death experiences happy to see this play because they're like, "It's so great because I couldn't talk about it and now I can talk about it. Now it's just okay to talk about it." And then other people who have had people die, they're like, "You know, I feel better now because I know that my Mom wasn't alone when she died." But then I also recognize that, and I told the cast, I said, "Don't be offended if people don't come back after the second act. It could be too much for people to watch a play with racism.
Yeah, it's hard.
People are used to one subject at a time and I'm not like that because, I go, "You know, as a Latina woman who's not a size four or a six, I have so many different types of issues to work with in one day, you know?" [Laughs] …That to me, that's realistic. It's like, you know, when something goes bad—and this is what's interesting, when something goes bad it doesn't just stay bad, it gets worse. Because as soon as you start experiencing like one bad thing and you stay there and you don't get out of it, that energy pulls more bad things to you.
Yeah, attracts it.
So in that sense, the character's like, you know, her mother's become schizophrenic, she's dying, she gets her hours cut—it’s just everything in the kitchen sink is thrown at her. And she's just doing the best she can. And so I did this because sometimes, some people—I think one of the first performances we had there was a woman who brought her daughter because they were a part of a class that came, college students. And the woman said, "Oh my God, I love your play but I can't stay to watch the second act because my mother just died and I'm starting to feel all the pain. And for her, she was still incomplete because I think she probably felt guilty that she put her mother in a nursing home. And I told the actors some people when they watch this, and at the end of the first act they go, "you know what this isn't for me, I don't want to have this, I don't want to think about this." Or you trigger too many things. And that's okay.
So I wanted to write this now because I haven't been afraid of dying just because when I was a little kid I heard an adult conversation about how the world was gonna end. My brother was arguing about [how] the atomic bombs were gonna destroy the world. And he was only like maybe twelve or whatever. He had learned at school that atomic bombs could destroy the world. And my mother was Catholic, very Catholic. She said, "No. It'll be God destroying the world." And I was like, "Oh My God, I don't want to hear this conversation." But they really instigated me thinking about my life, like wow, I'm gonna die? And so I decided that I was gonna really look at dying. That dying was gonna be something I make peace with because then your whole life is spent resisting dying. And then you're just about survival, and not about making a contribution to humanity or being present enough to say, “Well what do I want my life to be about?” And so I think that changed the way I saw my life. I said, “Wow I could die any minute.” And it's funny because I've had many experiences where I almost died. But I had divine intervention. And you know, I had many instances where I was shown what was gonna happen before it happened, seconds before so that I could do something about it and move. But yeah, yeah like I've had several supernatural experiences.
Like my life being saved, yeah. So then I realized that death is not random. If death was random I would be dead already. Because then I said, “No I have something I'm supposed to do, and I'm supposed to have a long life and I'm not allowed to die yet.” [Laughs] …I teach classes on the paranormal because...
Oh really? That's very interesting.
...Because I befriended a man who was like the third, one of the top three experts in the paranormal in the U.S. And we became friends as a result of meeting him and working with him on a screenplay. I learned a lot, and then I just said, “I'm gonna have to keep learning.” And so I try to teach people that we know, we have free will, like even when you have dreams for instance...Sometimes people have dreams. You're shown these dreams because your soul is saying, are you ready to go? Because if you're ready to go, then don't do anything when this happens. But if you're not ready to go then do this, do something else, you know, or change this. And you're given these premonition dreams to change. But if we do intend to go, it's you're time to go cause you will decide before it incarnated that you were gonna exit by this time if you learned your lesson. So I guess I have a lot of lessons to learn; that's how come I'm not allowed to die.
Me too. [Laughs]
So let's talk a little bit about your theater Casa 0101. Was it always a dream of yours to one day have your own theater?
Yes. You know, it's funny, yes. When I was 18 years old, I remember thinking most people who grew up in Boyle Heights their dream was to save enough money to get out of Boyle Heights and go to [where] the successful Latinos go like Montebello which is just like ten minutes away. But I remember thinking… my family, the American Dream is getting a house and a pickup truck. Or a big car, you know? And for me, my American Dream was always to get educated so that I could be free. And in my thoughts and my mind...And so for me I never aspired to own a house, it wasn't like something that important…so for me having a theater is kind of like my version of a house because then I could share it with so many other people.
But the other reality was that even after I had a lot of success with Real Women Have Curves (I had like 19 productions of the play), I couldn't get a production in Los Angeles. No one would produce my play. And when I submitted it to people, they would give me really bad feedback like these women were undignified, that they didn't want to present Latina women this way, and a bunch of other stuff that I thought was kind of condescending. And even outright telling me that they didn't care how my Chicana diatribe—and this and that. I mean, really these were men too; a couple women. And I was really shocked, you know? Because I said, “Wow how could my play be hated this badly when it's been produced 19 times with huge success?” So after a while I said, “You know, I can't.”
And here's the thing, I was complaining about it and then a friend of mine who was in a leadership class with me said, “Well maybe you're supposed to produce it. Maybe that's why it hasn't been done.” And I was like, “Oh Man she's right. I'm supposed to.” So then I used my student loans from UCLA, I was getting my Masters degree and I decided to use that money to produce it in a tiny little theater that didn't ask for money upfront. And then I had a successful six week run and then we extended it. Then a producer came and saw it. And anyway, but I started producing theater because no one would produce my plays in Los Angeles. And it was to me ridiculous. But then I realized, hey maybe I'm supposed to do it because maybe I really need to take charge of telling the stories of my community that aren't being told; and the stories of women that aren't being told. And that's why I started my theater because I also wanted to help other women and Latinos tell their stories.
And it's so wonderful to have a real theater now and then one of the things that I'm trying to do now is start Latino theatre rows and encourage many Latinos to write plays and tell their stories. ‘Cause there's several theatre rows in Los Angeles so I want to start one in the East Side, because it's funny that we're in majority here in Los Angeles, the Latinos, and yet we're still pretty invisible in television and film. And so at least we can do it in theater. So I'm trying to at least represent ourselves in theater because there's just so many stories and there's also a whole spectrum of the Latino experience that I want to show. And so yeah, so I opened another stage called Real Women Have Curves Studio. And people just say, “Oh you're going to be the Mayor of like these two blocks…”
Yeah. I love the mission statement of your theater, a love letter of sorts to Boyle Heights.
And the idea of nurturing future storytellers who will change the world is an amazing idea and being able to provide opportunities for people to have classes. I think it's wonderful.
Yeah…I walk into the theater and it's so wonderful to see so many people lit up and inspired. One of the things that I wanted to do, is this community was the home of so many immigrants, but this community was so neglected by the city to the point where it was so violent. And then the city realized they had to do something. And so, to me, I see that this is one beacon of light; that we need a lot of light because there was so much violence. I didn't know this growing up because I was lucky that I was a part of an intact family, that there were 87 gangs in the city.
That's a lot.
I was like, “Oh, My God.” So to me, the way you fight the darkness is not with more darkness, you fight it with light and that's why it was such a big deal. And so to us, I just wanna be like a little beacon of light so that little kids [that see] the gang life feel that there's another way…
Have you started to see a positive influence that the theater's been on the community?
I have. I have seen it because now people can say, "Oh yeah, we have a theater.”…We have these things that in rich neighborhoods people just take for granted. And I wanted to create a space that I wish I could have attended when I was a little girl; I wish could have inspired me when I was a little girl, you know, so I'm happy to say I got educated so that I could come back and share this education with people. And then, inspire other people who are also educators, also people who grew up in the neighborhood to come back and contribute back to the neighborhood instead of just --because so many people take, take, take from this neighborhood. But they don't realize, well, you also need to give back.
Give back, yeah. No, I love that even on the site it says that no one is turned away for lack of funds which is really great because that's so rare and it's a wonderful opportunity for people who want to be able to learn and experience who probably wouldn't have had the opportunity otherwise which is fantastic.
No, it's true. I teach screenwriting and playwriting classes for ten dollars. And I tell people, you know, it's so hard because when you look at the screenwriting classes that they do have, they're about $350.
They're insane, yeah.
And then you go, yeah, you know as a writer sometimes you're like, do I pay rent to take a writing class? And yeah, so to me it's kind of like I don't want to make it hard—because it's hard enough to be a writer. It's a very hard road. I try to make it as easy as possible.
That's great! So changing gears a little bit, you also wrote a book. Can you talk a little bit about your first book, Hungry Woman in Paris?
Yeah, it's a novel. See, I wasn't living in Paris and I was gonna spend my time with my kids and then I got really bored, so...[Laughs] You can only do so much with your kids. And I didn't speak French, so I convinced my husband, because it's very pricy obviously to go to Cordon Bleu Cooking School, so I figured, you know what, I want to go to cooking school so that I can write a novel and then I told my husband, "I'll cook dinner for you, this and that." And so I went; and I decided to write a novel because I wanted to tell a story, like an erotic story that takes place in Paris with a Latina that wasn't about falling in love. And I wanted it to be about a woman who finds her calling in life or at least finds meaning in life. Because she's really depressed and then she kind of has to reach into all the fire within to cooking, and there are these sexual experiences that sort of bring her back to life… And I wanted to treat men like food, you know?
I remember seeing a book called Men Are Just Desserts. And I just remember thinking, “Wow,” that the message of that self-help book was don't make men the main entree, make them dessert. Everything in your life and what you want and what you need and then have men complement that. And in many ways the story [Hungry Woman in Paris] is about a woman who's trying to find a reason to live because she is kind of depressed. And she's also a journalist. And this takes place around the time when they were lying to us saying that there were weapons of mass destruction, that we had to go to Iraq, and all this stuff...You know, we knew it was a lie and I protested and we protested and then still they went. And the censorship of the media…
Then one of the things that was happening too is that in the war up there we send the Mexicans and the Blacks at the frontline. In so many wars, Latinos die disproportionately because when they enlist they're always sent to the front lines. And that's why there were a lot of protests in the ‘70s about this. And so she starts reporting on—like a lot of Latinos still undocumented signed up for the military because this is the fastest way of getting your green card and U.S. citizenship; and so she would write stories about this but then they were basically being killed, these stories. And so she really got tired of the censorship and decided to walk away from the writing career.
She's supposed to get married and she decides to break off her engagement to a Doctor, and decides to just use the plane tickets for her honeymoon to go by herself and figure out what she wants; to get away from her family who think that she's gone crazy for breaking off her engagement. It’s about a woman who needs time off; she needs a year to kind of really figure her life out. And it's funny ‘cause I was writing this at the same time that Eat Pray Love was coming out in the U.S., I'd been away, so I said, “Oh wow.” Yeah, I think the idea of a woman taking care of her needs: Spiritual, Emotional, Sexual; and owning her hunger. You know, the fact that when men want sex it to them it's like there's no shame around wanting sex because it's like they're hungry. They have to feed themselves, you know. As a woman, she just wants sex for sex sake. There's this whole guilt, a lot of guilt attached to it, especially Latina women. And so I wanted just to write a book about women owning their hungers, their sexual and their spiritual hungers—basically how hungry women are; and not just even about dieting. Because I think that most women are on a diet that that's kind of our reality…From the very young we're on a diet. And we go hungry in so many ways.
That's true. Well I definitely will check the book out, spread the word…
Yeah, and I mean it is very erotic. So sometimes I've been criticized for that. And I said, “No, you know what?” I also wanted to explore Latina sexuality because we're always seen as these hot senoritas and our sexuality is just taken for granted; that it's really there to be a service to white men and we were eroticized and so I wanted to really show a much more realistic look at sexuality. And even some Latina women blush when they tell me, “My God.” But with them they're saying, “Wow, I'm so jealous that you could do this ‘cause I could never do this.”
They'd probably be too embarrassed.
Yeah. They're too embarrassed or if they have done whatever this character has done, Camilla, they wouldn't admit it. And they wouldn't definitely write about it. And so to me, I said, you know I wanted to really look at sex from this woman's point of view. And yeah, I didn't want to write a romance novel. And I think that's probably the reason I had like little disagreements with my editor because I think wasn't used to a woman being so real about sex or about things that women aren't supposed to do. And I wanted to write a story about a quote on quote bad girl. There's a saying that good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere. And so I wanted to take her so many places that men automatically get to go. And yeah, I wanted to take her to places that women, a lot of Latina women aren't allowed to go.
Well, before we wrap up, do you have any other upcoming projects? Or is there anything else you wanted to add?
Yes, I just, again—I was writing all these screenplays thinking that after my big hit with Real Women Have Curves, I would get more movies made. And it was really disappointing to discover that ten years had passed and no, I couldn't get a movie made. So I decided to start producing films. So I produced my first film called Detained in the Desert. You saw my play about SB 1070, the anti-immigrant laws in Arizona. And it's called Detained in the Desert. And so right now I'm taking it to different film festivals, and then I'm trying to get it distributed. I've decided to just be responsible for all of my dreams. And to say: if anybody wants to help me, great, but that's it. I'm not waiting like Cinderella…for it to happen. [Laughs] Not waiting. It's not up to anyone else to make these dreams come true. And it's great ‘cause now I know how hard it is to make a movie. But now I know how to make a movie. Yeah.
Awesome. Okay, well thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and share your stories. So thank you.
Okay, thank you. Okay, bye.
For those of you who would like to find out more about Josefina’s upcoming play dates check out her theater’s website for Casa 0101: http://www.casa0101.org/
For other information, head on over to Josefina’s personal website here: http://josefinalopez.co/
To learn more about Amber Topping, check out her vintage inspired (yet modern) media blogzine: http://www.silverpetticoatreview.com/