Esai Morales, Harmony Santana, Judy Reyes: Extraordinary Performances!
By Mary Chuy
Although, I didn’t have the opportunity to see Gun Hill Road when it first premiered in theaters, I was intrigued by the various articles and film reviews I read. The movie trailer is mesmerizing! The topic is super sensitive and not easy to watch especially where human biases based on society, cultural and religious beliefs are completely challenged. Those emotional floodgates will open because Gun Hill Road is certain to shake you up on so many levels.
The reality for many beautiful human beings is that many of us are discriminated, bullied, abused and condemned by society… but when it comes from your own family, the hurt is immeasurable. Gun Hill Road stars veteran actor/activist Esai Morales and his performance is magnificent! I actually cried just by watching those five seconds of the trailer. Have your box of tissue handy when you watch your DVD of this movie!
Judy Reyes and Harmony Santana are equally amazing in their roles. Gun Hill Road, written and directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green, tells the story of Enrique (Morales) who returns home after spending three years in prison, only to find his teenage son Michael (Santana) is now Vanessa. Oh, boy, this does not bode well with his super macho, cultural, and religious beliefs.
Check out Esai talking about Gun Hill Road on CBS/KCAL9’s HOLA! LA Talk Show last September:
Angela (Reyes), Vanessa’s mother, loves and accepts her child, but Enrique, has a hard time understanding what has happened to his son. There is no doubt that Enrique loves his boy but he just can’t wrap his head around this extremely delicate parent-child issue.
I can’t wait to see Gun Hill Road when it comes out on DVD March 5th… I already pre-ordered my copy on amazon.com.
Not only is the film story inspiring, but from what I had read about how the film got made… well that’s uplifting as well. According to Morales in an interview on Los Angeles HOLA LA! talk show he said: “Our director Rashaad Ernesto Green was an NYU prodigy and he was also a recipient of a grant of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts and told me he had a great script. I read it and agreed to it… not what I usually do… which is rare that I did… mainly because the film has so much humanity.”
By the way, Esai happens to be a co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA), along with Puerto Rican actor Jimmy Smits and Felix Sanchez). How cool is that!
With Morales blown away with the subject matter, Enrique’s part was cast!
Next, Green cast Judy Reyes just as she was coming off the hit TV show Scrubs.
Most fascinating to me is that Harmony Santana is in real life exactly who she plays on the film. The transgender actress was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award in the Best Supporting Actress category for her Michael/Vanessa role in Gun Hill Road. Santana, with this role, has made major LGBT progress in the entertainment industry. And she seems to be the first trans actress nominated for a major Hollywood award. Gun Hill Road, groundbreaking!
According to the director, he wanted to cast a boy who was actually going through the same transition as the character he created. After a long search he finally met Michael who at that moment was going to a gender transition—he fit the role perfectly—Michael went through a full transformation during the filming of Gun Hill Road. Again, Gun Hill Road, groundbreaking.
Despite Limited Distribution, Social Media Working
Unfortunately, and despite all the publicity, hard work and love that everyone who was involved with making Gun Hill Road didn’t get much support with theaters nationwide. A worthy film without widespread distribution can hurt but word-of-mouth and social media marketing promises to make Gun Hill Road a success.
Perhaps we “Hispanics” more than ever, need to support and tell our own stories by making our own films. According to MPAA: “Latinos are America’s most dedicated moviegoers.” But even though this film was neglected by many, it has been successfully screened at many prestigious film festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca and IFP Independent Film Week, all with great reviews and standing ovations. And, Gun Hill Road has gone on to win a variety of awards: Winner – Ashland Independent Film Festival (Best Acting Ensemble), Winner – XicanIndie Film Festival (Best Film Winner and Best Performance), Philly QFest – Audience Award (Best Film).
Run, don’t walk and buy Gun Hill Road, watch it and come back to this article and post your comments and we’ll make sure the filmmaker and stars read them.