Gina Rodriguez

Reza Safinia

A little film I saw at Sundance last year is currently making some major waves at the box office. Filly Brown tells the story of aspiring Latina hip-hop star Maria, aka Filly Brown played by Gina Rodriguez. It opened last weekend on 188 screens, but netted $1.5 million in ticket sales. How? I credit the fact that Filly Brown takes the idea of the American dream and portrays it through the complicated, and at times difficult, lens of the music industry. We’ve certainly seen this story play out time and again, watching as hot young acts quickly climb the charts only to fall hard. But Filly Brown isn’t the story of a young girl only hoping to become a successful musician – it’s the story of a young girl desperate to put her family back together who stumbles across a talent that may help her make that happen. Driven by a commanding performance from Rodriguez, the music is as much a character in the film as any of the actors. I spoke with the film’s composer, Reza Safinia, about working with Rodriguez (who had never rapped before making the film), his approach to such a music heavy story, and what artist he and Rodriguez listened to in the studio for inspiration.

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When it comes to family loyalty it is hard to turn your back on those you can’t help but love unconditionally, even if they disappoint you at every turn. Maria, aka Filly Brown (Gina Rodriguez), has become the matriarch of her house with a mother (Jennie Rivera) in jail who left behind not only, Filly but her younger sister Lupe (Chrissy Fit) and her father (Lou Diamond Phillips) as well. This responsibility has clearly left Filly with a tough exterior, but never bitter, as Rodriguez is able to seamlessly transition from a sharp-tongued fighter to a naïve young girl. It is clear from the onset (and comments from those in Filly’s life) that her mother is bad news, but as her daughter Filly can’t (or won’t) see that and when her mother asks for her help, Filly agrees without question. This promise becomes the catalyst that drives Filly through the rest of the film and effects the decisions that she makes to get the funds her mom seems to so desperately need.

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