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Student film spotlights undocumented teens, critiques Trump administration

“La Leyenda Negra,” a feature film created by MFA student Patricia Vidal Delgado, follows a student with temporary protected status who is a member of an underground anarchist movement. (Isa Saalabi/Daily Bruin)

By Sidra Rashid

June 24, 2018 10:07 p.m.

Patricia Vidal Delgado said if she wasn’t completing her thesis project at UCLA, her film would likely not get funding from anywhere.

The directing student will spend her summer shooting the feature film “La Leyenda Negra,” which translates to “The Black Legend.” The film follows Aleteia, a Salvadoran student in Compton, California, with temporary protected status who is also a member of an underground anarchist movement protesting the administration of President Donald Trump. On top of experiencing typical high school friendship drama, Aleteia has her college scholarships revoked due to her temporary protected status, sparking her to exact her vengeance. Delgado said films with overtly political stances often have a difficult time garnering support during production. Delgado chose to take a risk with a film she hopes will paint an accurate picture of life as an undocumented student, she said.

“Unfortunately, you make a film and you have to think about funding, and you can’t ruffle too many feathers, maybe you have to play it a little bit safe,” she said. “The filmmaking I admire is really brave, and isn’t afraid to talk about things that are painful, and people would rather not engage with.”

To make the film true to life, Delgado said she spoke to a number of teaching and students from Compton High School who have grappled with issues of documentation, financial aid and personal belonging. Delgado said one of of the high school-aged actors in “La Leyenda Negra” said her parents wanted to return to Mexico to avoid deportation. However, the actor, an 18-year-old undocumented student, wants to remain in Los Angeles despite potential issues that could arise, Delgado said. Children often tend to identify as American once they migrate to the country, but may not feel a lack of belonging until later in life when they hear the othering rhetoric surrounding immigrants, she said.

“These kids are brought to America, and the dialogue they have, the sense of belonging they have, is innate,” she said. “It’s only when they grow up that they realize they are completely excluded. It’s a gradual unraveling of sense of self.”

Not only do undocumented teenagers and their families deserve to feel at home in the country, but they should be allowed to express themselves how they choose without fear of deportation, Delgado said. Even though the current state of the country does not encourage it, she said expression without fear should be a given, a cause Aleteia pushes for in the film.

“(They) are just trying to fight for what’s right and to have the right to make mistakes,” she said. “Aleteia’s definitely not squeaky clean, but she fights for what she believes in, and that is a basic human right.”

With characters overtly criticizing the Trump administration’s immigration policies, Delgado said the film’s dialogue could be considered combatant. She is not worried about the repercussions, she said. However, many of her contacts in the film industry felt otherwise – prospective actors felt the script was too political and anti-establishment, and did not want to appear in the film, she said. However, she was able to find people she worked with in the past that were passionate about the message she is trying to convey, such as her producers.

Producer Marcel Perez, who identifies as Latino, said he has a connection to the script and the current climate around undocumented issues. His mother, who migrated from Peru, and father, who came from Cuba, met in Miami. If they faced more challenges coming to the country, Perez said his parents may never have met and he may never have been born. He hopes the film will change the minds of those who support stricter immigration policies.

“A lot of people who’ve never come across this before will go in to watch a movie and come out thinking, ‘That makes sense, this person doesn’t deserve what they’re dealing with, it shouldn’t be that hard.’ And maybe from there people can vote differently,” he said.

Graduate student Alicia Herder, a producer for the film, met Delgado during fall quarter as Delgado’s teachers assistant. She said that while lately U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has garnered much attention over its unfair treatment of families, there is still a need for more action, such as talking to politicians and attending rallies. Support has often been spearheaded by teenagers, Herder said, and is depicted in the film through Aleteia’s joining of an underground movement protesting the government.

“It’s so hard for (teenagers) because there’s this stereotype that teenagers want to rebel, that’s it’s just a phase, but … they actually have something really important to say, and adults aren’t listening to them,” Herder said.

Herder said art and politics have gone hand in hand since the invention of film. Especially with current technology, she said that anybody can put a link online that somebody on the other side of the world has access to to learn about problems faced by people around the world. While Delgado said Aleteia’s tactics are a little more guerrilla, the production team is using technology through a crowdfunding campaign and social media to bring attention to the film. Delgado said that, in a time when political action is being done to take away the rights of undocumented immigrants, it is even more vital to bring light to the issues and spark more kindness and understanding in viewers.

“If it makes people a little more compassionate and a little more sympathetic to the plight of undocumented teenagers, who are just trying to fight for what’s right and who have the right to make mistakes, … then my work is done,” Delgado said.

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Sidra Rashid
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