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Diane Paragas’ moving drama Yellow Rose features the first Filipino-led cast in a film coming out of a major studio. The story follows Rose (Eva Noblezada), an undocumented teen living in Texas with country music aspirations, whose world unravels when her mother is deported. Paragas expected her film to meet some contention due to its subject matter, but was surprised by the controversy the film has sparked.
While the lead cast of Yellow Rose is Filipino, the film was not made exclusively for the Filipino audience, but for everyone. The heart and soul of the story is a young person trying to pursue their dreams when an obstacle is placed in the way - something virtually anyone can relate to. Having written the story over 15 years ago, the release of Yellow Rose was a long time coming for director Diane Paragas. When I spoke with her in an interview with CinemaBlend, she opened up about the controversy surrounding Yellow Rose and why it surprised her. Here’s what Paragas shared:
I think the biggest surprise for me when we released the film was there's been some controversy on the way I portrayed the white characters in the film, to be quite honest. Some people were like, ‘Oh, why are you being so sympathetic? Why are all the white people so sympathetic? And it just sort of, to me, that's a sad thing as well, on the other side when, if you show a sympathetic white character, when you get criticized for it, you know, and that's sad to me because, you know - of course, people can have their opinions. There's been some talk about white savior, when really what I wanted to show was what we don't see as much. And that's the compassion of Americans. I do think it's out there despite the horrible things that are going on with Black Lives Matter, and even the treatment of immigrants. In my experience, there were a lot of allies, and I think that's important to show as well. That was a choice. And I knew I was going to have controversy over it and we have, but I stand by it. I stand very firmly behind it.
Rose meets multiple white characters on her journey who offer her some kind of support, and this interestingly has received some negative feedback. But Diane Paragas is confident and proud of her decisions, which led to a really beautiful movie. As with any film, everyone who sees it will walk away with a different takeaway, but it makes sense that Paragas finds this particular criticism a bit confusing. In her own words,
Why would I, as a Filipino woman, telling a story where the protagonist is Filipino, who at the end of the movie has to save herself, why would you throw out white savior when clearly our politics are aligned? Why is that in the conversation? It was a surprise to me, although we knew there would be controversy, I was expecting it from [somewhere else].
Being a film that tackles immigration, there are certainly other aspects of it that people could get upset about. That being said, a great film in my opinion is one that sparks emotion, reflection, action and/or conversation, and Yellow Rose does all of these. It taught me about another culture and a struggle I’ve heard about but never experienced or witnessed. Every member of the cast displays powerful and passionate performances in this coming-of-age story.