Filly Brown: A Hispanic Paint-by-Numbers
by Priscilla Lynn Gonzalez
“You don’t get it, do you? What you know about real?” These two lines can easily serve as the synopsis of the latest hip hop, rags to riches drama, Filly Brown. Although the film is advertised as “an inspiring and gritty portrait of a young artist striving to find her voice,” there was nothing inspiring about writer-director Youssef Delara’s employment of stereotypical clichés that are found in almost every Hispanic drama: Spanish slang that includes “carnals y cabrones,” imprisonment, alcohol and drug abuse, and the ever so famous macho attitude that leads to domestic violence.
Majo Tonorio (played by Gina Rodriguez) and her younger sister, Lupe (played by Chrissie Fit), were forced to grow up at a young age after their mother, Maria (played by Jenni Rivera), was convicted of a drug charge and incarcerated. When Majo’s father, Jose (played by Lou Diamond Phillips), and uncle refuse to hire an attorney for Maria’s retrial, Majo sees a music deal as her only means of freeing her mother. Taking on the stage name “Filly Brown,” Majo sexes up her wardrobe and her lyrics to land a contract. But fame and money don’t last very long for Filly Brown when news breaks that her hit song was stolen. Yet, with the help of family friend and attorney, Leandro (played by Edward James Olmos), Majo discovers a sense of healing through her art.
I am always hesitant to watch and review urban dramas because they walk a fine line between the real and the exaggerated. Watching the writer-director’s perspective of real and then relating to it proves to be difficult because my idea of real is hardly ever expressed without being exaggerated and stereotyped.
Majo Tonorio and I actually have a lot in common. We are both Hispanics, born and raised in Los Angeles, California, who were forced to grow up at an early age because one of our parents was imprisoned. We were both exposed to the hardships a single parent endures while raising two children. Because family is Filly Brown’s drive, one could easily argue that my reality is depicted but fortunately, I don’t live the life of a stereotypical Latina. It’s these differences that draw a thick line between the real and the exaggerated. My wardrobe does not solely consist of sweatpants and hoodies and my sentences don’t involve stereotypical jargon such as “aight,” “heina,” “homes” and “la neta.” My family members don’t wear flannel shirts and they are not covered in tattoos. I don’t freestyle, “spit rhymes” or write “killer verse[s].” Filly Brown doesn’t paint an inspiring and gritty portrait of a Latina overcoming obstacles to find her voice, it’s a paint-by-numbers of stereotypical characters and social ills that has little to no depth.
Despite Filly Brown’s immense downfalls, I cannot give it the F the screenplay deserves. Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Lou Diamond Phillips and Edward James Olmos deserve an A+ for every effort they made to save this film. Their complete commitment to their characters, despite how stereotypical they are, give the film the few shining moments it has. A prime example of their brilliant acting is the heartfelt conversation Jose has with his daughters when he confesses he was the one who introduced Maria to drugs. He admits, “She wanted to be a part of my world…What happened to your mother was my fault.” Gina Rodriguez’s talent shines through as Majo responds, “I didn’t want to see it. I just wanted my mother back…I’m not giving up on her.” It was this climatic moment that saved the film because of its honesty. It illustrated weaknesses and strengths everyone everyone could relate to.
Filly Brown, alongside hundreds of other films like 8 Mile and Hustle & Flow, claim to paint a realistic representation of minorities in addition to illustrating the harsh realities of “the streets,” but at what cost? I was always under the impression that these urban dramas were meant to portray something other the white norm – “happy families” and white collar jobs – in film, but that their end result merely reinforces minority stereotypes and prejudices. Filly Brown earned a D+ in my book.