While Gerardo Naranjo’s 2011 film Miss Bala is an intense and well-made drama, it also has a significant flaw in its storytelling. Namely, the lead character, Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman), is primarily a passive protagonist – moving through the narrative at the demands of others and not taking an active role in her survival through the danger. This is an element that is changed greatly in director Catherine Hardwicke’s upcoming remake, and I recently learned that was something star Gina Rodriguez was very much focused on in the making of the film. Said the actress,
Yeah, 100 percent, that was something that I pushed for… My only fight – and it wasn't a hard one because everybody was in line – it was just at moments having to say, 'If this was a man, what would he do?' and finding out quite easily there was always an answer to that! And then the answer actually always aligned with something I would do. So that was something that me and Catherine [sic] both were very vocal [about], and I think everybody was very receiving and receptive of that because that's what our goal was.
This was a subject that I specifically brought up in conversation with Gina Rodriguez earlier this month during the Los Angeles press day for Miss Bala. Discussing her character, Gloria, and the dangerous horrific circumstances in which she finds herself in the film, I asked if there was a special point made of having the heroine do more to put her fate in her own hands. It turns out this was something that Rodriguez was very insistent about in the development of the story, and it ultimately had an effect on the way the plot moved.
Based on a script by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, Miss Bala centers on Gloria, a young Mexican-American woman, who travels south of the border in hopes of using her makeup skills to help her best friend, Suzu (Christina Rodlo), win a local beauty pageant. Things go horrifically wrong, however, when a night out clubbing is interrupted by an assassination attempt. At first Gloria is able to get away, though unable to find Suzu, but she is then captured by a local cartel leader named Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and forced to cooperate with him – told that it will eventually lead her to being reunited with Suzu. As she gets roped into missions that are more and more dangerous, she starts to plan a way that she can regain her freedom and save her friend.
Danger is basically around every corner for Gloria in the film, and her motivation to stay alive and help her friend make it so that every choice is an important one. Taking into consideration the aforementioned “If this was a man, what would he do?” question wound up influencing these choices on a micro level, and let Gloria be an overall stronger character. Gina Rodriguez continued, saying,
We were just making sure that we were meticulous in every decision, and not every decision was always a good decision - which is life, right? Some of the decisions Gloria makes gets other people in trouble, and that's very real. So she does have consequences to her decision making. And at the same time she has, very much, an agenda and nothing's going to get in her way of that.
As noted by the actress, it wasn’t exactly a challenge for Gina Rodriguez to get everybody to see her point of view because she was working with people who had similar thoughts and perspective. This very much included Catherine Hardwicke, who I also had the pleasure of sitting down with during the Miss Bala press day. The director specifically referenced the inaction of Laura in the 2011 movie, and from the very start of her involvement made a point of having her vision for the feature be different in that arena. Said Hardwicke,
There were quite a few scenes where we tried to make Gloria as active as possible. Because in the original one she's quite passive. And so that's like, 'No.' In 2019? No; she's going to do something. She's not going to get attacked and beat up. She's going to fight back. I tried to elevate it as much as possible so she's active, active, active. Then when Gina came along, she pushed it even more! 'Let's go! Let's go! Let her do this! Let her do this!' So we're always like, 'What would she do?' She's a very active person. She boxes. I'm very active with mountain biking. We would not sit there.
The strength of Gloria as a protagonist was clearly something that was very important to Gina Rodriguez, but another aspect of the film that the actress very much appreciated is that it didn’t choose to whitewash the story. The movie being an American remake of a Mexican-made feature, few familiar with Hollywood patterns would have been truly surprised if the ethnicity of the characters and locations of the story had been changed – but that wasn’t this reimagining’s prerogative. Instead, as Rodriguez stressed, it was seen as a proper opportunity to be not just a female-driven action movie, but one with a Latina hero. Said the actress,
The reimagining of this film was to make sure we re-contextualized it, not just for today, but for the American girl to be Latina, which was huge. In Hollywood, they take it and they change it, and then they give it to somebody else to make it. In this case they reimagined it, they kept it with the community, for the bigger audience, made sure that it was grounded in its characters. There is nothing caricature about it, which is awesome.
You can watch Gina Rodriguez discuss the empowerment of Gloria and her influence on the development of Miss Bala by clicking play on the video below.
Also starring Anthony Mackie, Miss Bala will be hitting theaters everywhere this weekend – going into wide release on Friday, February 1st. Check your local listings and find a proper screening, and be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interview with Catherine Hardwicke in the next few days.