The dreams of an aspiring musician, interrupted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, form the basis of a new film opening in May at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Starring Eva Noblezada, Princess Punzalan and Tony Lea Salonga winner, “Yellow Rose” tells the story of Rose Garcia, a 17-year-old Filipino American from Texas who secretly dreams of becoming a country music star. When her mother is arrested by immigration officials, Rose flees and is forced to embark on a journey to make her own path or face deportation with her mother in the Philippines.
The film features original music composed and performed by cast and director Diane Paragas, who said she took inspiration from country music stars of the 60s and 70s – like Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson – for the purpose to create a protagonist immersed in The Austin Music Scene.
Inspired by her own upbringing in the heart of Texas, Paragas wanted to make a film with her hometown of Austin as the backdrop and spent 15 years developing the film.
In 2014, Paragas released a short version of “Yellow Rose” with the intention of expanding it into a feature film.
While casting for the feature film, Paragas said she had an eye on Noblezada, who was performing in London in the West End production of “Miss Saigon” at the time.
When Noblezada came to New York City for the Broadway production of “Miss Saigon,” Paragas scheduled a meeting with her after one of her shows and offered her the role there, adding that she would be prepared to wait. ” Miss Saigon “to finish her race.
“When you choose people who come from the theater, which is great, you ask yourself if they can go to the movies, which is more nuanced,” Paragas said. “Eva had that unusual cinematic style of performing on stage which is rare in musical theater. There is something really special about her. Beyond her voice, she is just a natural actress with extraordinary charm.”
Paragas had previously had a connection with Salonga because they had worked together on a documentary in the Philippines. Paragas said that when Salonga read the script, she immediately said yes.
“She was a hero to me and to all Filipino Americans,” Paragas said. “She was and still is one of the few Filipinos to have achieved international mainstream success, and it is just a dream to have her in the movie.”
Paragas added that depiction of Filipino Americans was important to her in order to tell this story. “As an American of Filipino descent, I feel like we are mostly invisible as a subset of Asian Americans. The Filipinos have played against other Asians, but you rarely see a Filipino being a Filipino, ”she said.
Jeremiah Abraham, co-producer and publicist of the film, said that while “Yellow Rose” is a Filipino-centric story, they hope to encompass a reality that many Americans are currently facing. A media guide compiled by Define American, a nonprofit whose work aims to inform conversations about immigration to the United States, reported that when it comes to telling stories about undocumented immigrants, the focus had been on Mexicans, although Asians continue to be the fastest growing undocumented immigrant population.
“Our hope is to help diversify the types of stories being told about Asian Americans in Hollywood and the value we can bring to mainstream media,” Abraham said.
According to the Pew Research Center, Asian immigrants to the United States constitute 13 percent of the undocumented population. But representation of this population in mainstream media is still scarce, according to groups like Define American.
For Paragas, she not only hoped to highlight Asian immigrant stories, but wanted to create a story that people could relate to.
“One of the great and powerful things about cinema is that it can tell a relatable human story that helps inform what’s going on in the news,” Paragas said. “If you get to like these characters, it’s universal humanity that will give some empathy and shed light on issues like immigration that seem to divide but shouldn’t be.
“I didn’t want to demonize any band. It’s not a film about hate, but about acceptance. I didn’t want to make a big political statement, but to show that we are all in the same boat with the same hopes and dreams and struggles.