Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Cinematic Gentrification: An interview with Quinceañera Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
Expanded Edition from the 8/9/06 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Quinceañera co-writer, directors and real life partners Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland and the stars of their new film,
Jesse Garcia and Emily Rios
When gay filmmakers and partners Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland were looking for a subject to collaborate on for their
long awaited follow up to 2001’s The Fluffer, they hit upon the idea of a story that features characters from different cultures in a
gentrifying neighborhood – just like those in their own Echo Park, California surroundings. The result, Quinceañera (Kin-sin-yare-a)
(the title refers to the elaborate coming of age celebration for Hispanic girls) features not only a 15 year-old Mexican heroine but
may also present the first gay cholo on the screen. The movie, a winner of several awards at last January’s Sundance Festival,
opens today at Chicago's Landmark Century Centre Cinemas. The enthusiastic co-directors sat down recently to talk with Windy City
WCT: Okay, this is amazing. According to these press notes – you thought of this idea in January because you did a photo shoot of
a Quinceañera and then you wrote the script in three weeks and filmed it like seconds later. I mean even for Indie, this is lightning
RICHARD GLATZER (RG): Well it doesn’t usually happen this way with us, I’ll tell you it’s been years trying to get the last one – The
Fluffer – going and we sat down on New Year’s Day and we were thinking about how interesting our neighborhood is with different
cultures side by side and we had been to the Quiñceanera and were wowed by that and just had this idea of a gentrifying
neighborhood with a Quinceañera in the foreground and the neighborhood in the background.
WASH WESTMORELAND (WW): And the gay cholo throughout.
WCT: What does that word “cholo” mean?
WW: I’d say a “cholo” is a sort of young, rough neck Latino. A little bit gang identified.
WCT: Rough trade, kinda?
WW: Not necessarily trade. Just a macho guy.
WCT: So you had this idea…
RG: But it was just the pieces. We had house guests visiting from Toronto and we’d been out for New Year’s Eve and by the time
they woke up at 2 o’clock we had our whole movie in our heads. It just came really easily.
WW: Yeah, if they’d got up at a normal time the movie never would’ve happened. I mean there were a lot of really great
circumstances that…I don’t believe in Astrology but our stars were lined up right, you know? A lot of the right people and the right
circumstances came together very rapidly and it surprised us.
RG: And Wash knew these guys who wanted to invest in their first indie feature and they were all immigrants so he pitched the idea
to them really briefly. They were like, “We love it, let’s get to work, when do we see our money back?” So they were pushing us to
make the movie so we rushed to get it going. Wash went to Sundance in 2005 and people we’re like, “What are you up to?” and he
was like, “Oh, I have this idea for a movie” because we hadn’t started writing it. That was at the end of January and by the end of
April we had shot the movie. It was that fast.
WCT: That’s amazing.
RG: We wrote it while we were casting – that’s what’s so really amazing.
WW: It was low budget but we decided to make something that would work on a low budget with no special effects or explosions.
It's about people and their lives and it was shot in our neighborhood and in our neighbor’s houses and we cast non-professional
RG: We kind of approached it as if it were documentary. Here’s where it takes place, so let’s shoot it where it’s happening.
WW: We decided that we wanted to shoot everything within a one mile radius of us front door so we could always walk to work.
RG: Four houses on our block were major locations including our house.
WW: Our house is the interior of the gay character’s house in the movie and our house is usually full of junk – books, old furniture—
RG: --old vinyl albums.
WW: And we said to the designers, “Can you make it look like gay people live here” and they were like, “Well, we don’t know” and
they brought in all this mid-century modern stuff.
WCT: Have you kept it nice? Is it like a “Queer Eye for the Queer Guy” makeover?
WW: It’s halfway – it’s like “Extreme Makeover” a year later. It’s going a little back to the old habits.
RG: One of the actors in the dinner party scene who had been there for rehearsals and stuff came back and said, “Wow, I can’t
believe this place looks so good. It was so dumpy before.”
WCT: (LAUGHS) The nerve!
WW: I know, he said it to me!
WCT: Insert slipper in mouth. I was watching this with my partner and we live in a gentrified neighborhood in Chicago – a Puerto
Rican one – and we both were saying, “This is our story.” We’re just three years now and on the cusp and Echo Park seems to be
ahead of where we are. I was struck by the interaction between the two cultures. We don’t have much interaction with our
neighbors. So should we do a movie to get to know everybody?
WCT: Did you know your neighbors before?
RG: We did because we’re on a dead end street and people on either side of us were very friendly and people across the street
would say “Hi” and be friendly but the movie was an occasion to get to know people better. But because we’d been asked to be the
photographer for our next door neighbor’s Quinceañera we did know our neighbors and that was our entry into the whole world
initially and then the movie really did break down barriers even more. People became much friendlier.
WW: I think gay people are often seen as the front line of gentrification—
WCT: –and artists.
WW: Definitely. And we tend to move into neighborhoods that are considered a little sort of dangerous because it’s not all white
and it’s not all sanitized but I think a lot of gay people like that. You like that the neighborhood isn’t all completely sanitized and in
a way you want to freeze it like that. When we first moved onto our street we were the first white people and a lot of people spoke
Spanish and we thought, “Well, they’re thinking we’re gay” and we thought we should just chat with everybody in very traditional,
neighborly ways just yakking over the fence or whatever.
RG: It’s funny because we never said, “Oh, we’re a gay couple” because it’s so obvious if you know anything about gay couples but
we never made a big statement to our neighbors so when we finally showed them the movie we sort of thought, “Is this going to be
a big revelation to them?” and they didn’t say anything about it other than “Nice movie” so they knew along and everything was fine.
WCT: We’re at a point now where the taxes have gone up and you’re starting to see some of those “Anglo go away” signs in the
store windows and not everybody is happy to see us. Have you had any of that at all?
RG: There was one moment like that when we first moved in. Not on our street but around the corner where it’s a little bit rougher I
remember some people saying something along those lines when we were driving by once and that’s the only time I ever heard
anything like that? Have you?
WW: No. I mean it’s interesting it’s like the point in neighborhoods right now is there is a definite benefit to the mix. It’s feeling
like a community that can integrate but it is a balancing act.
RG: And I think the housing prices have peaked so I think it’s going to kind of stay the way it is. I don’t think there’s going to be
more influx for awhile but what do I know. There were definitely people being displaced and I think the people have had a right to
be a little bit upset. Our next door neighbors whose Quinceañera we photographed were booted out after renting a house for 28
years and on the other side of us this old lady who was the landlady died and her heirs got a hold of it and decided it was perfect for
WCT: I’m just wondering, do you feel like you hate to see it happen but at the same time it’s good for the value of the house.
WW: We were more into the film looking at the other side of the hot real estate market – looking at what’s lost when the prices go
up. I think there’s one situation where there’s a party and there’s a load of gay guys discussing real estate and it’s just a
conversation about real estate but seen in the context of Carlos, the Latino who’s listening to it, you see this other side to the coin.
When a neighborhood gentrifies something is also lost and that’s what we’re looking at in the movie. The renter’s get squeezed out.
WCT: Was it hard to make those two characters that are obviously based on you two a little more callous? They’re really the villains
of the piece (THEY’RE AGREEING).
RG: We thought as gay men we have the freedom to be more critical of the gay community than people outside it. I’ve heard
those conversations. Everybody buys houses and sees the property value go up and people think that’s great but we also thought it
would be great to draw the gay community’s attention to the fact that something is being lost and also, if you want to fuck somebody
and don’t want to invite them to dinner – that’s kind of cruel. We want to draw attention a little bit to the coded racism where you
fetishize something different but because it’s different you don’t want to go beyond the physical.
WCT: I’m glad you pointed that out because that’s one of the things I really loved about the movie – the contrast of the two
cultures. When the gay yuppie and Carlos say to each other, “You live in a whole other world don’t you?” and he says, “No, you do.”
RG: But also we think we have a gay hero because Carlos is a gay hero.
WW: He’s a new type. I don’t think you’ve seen a gay character like Carlos before. In a way he’s a new type because he’s gained
his sexuality through the internet, from going online before he’s really come into contact physically with any gay people. He does
have a very different feel about him. I think it’s a new thing.
RG: And he’s not angsting over, “Am I Gay?” He knows he’s gay. It’s not like you think, “Oh, it’s this big macho Latino guy; you’re
going to have this big coming out thing.” We want him to be very sure that he’s gay because of his online experience but he just
hasn’t had any physical experiences yet.
WCT: And the young lady is also knows who she is. They’re both really honorable characters – sort of unusual for teens. As I was
watching the movie I wrote down, “This is like a modern day kitchen sink drama. It reminds me of the English kitchen sink drama
film from 1961 A Taste of Honey – Latin style.”
(THEY ARE BOTH DELIGHTED OVER THIS)
WW/RG: No way! Really!
WCT: Because the young girl is Rita Tushingham and Carlos is the young gay British guy who befriends her.
WW: And Carlos is Murray Melvin (the actor from A Taste of Honey).
RG: That was our big inspiration! That’s so funny that you picked up on it.
WCT: Yeah but this is 40 years later so there’s no apology about the character being gay.
WW: We really love see that movie the way they made this outside the family and that certainly related to our experiences. We
have a daughter with a friend in England who is a lesbian and wanted a kid on her own so we have an unusual family. We’re all into
celebrating unusual families and to create in A Taste of Honey you have this pregnant teen girl and a gay best friend and they
become a family and it’s really, really touching and we loved that and we’re very open about borrowing the idea from that.
WCT: It was in my mind but at one point when Carlos says, “I will be the father” the click when off in my head.
WW: That’s amazing that you’ve spotted that!
RG: It’s also so different once you’ve transplanted it to this other culture with our characters which are very different. You know one
thing I wanted to say in talking about the gay characters and their place in the community. While the gay white couple in a way are
racist in the way they fetishize Latino boys but not treating them as 3-dimensional people, Carlos’ parents are completely
homophobic so we wanted him to be at the center of those different issues.
WW: I think it’s interesting. Like if you look at the development of African-American cinema. Whenever Sidney Poitier was in a
movie in the 60s it was always about the race issue and it had to be right out there and then you go 20 years later and you’ve got
Spike Lee making Jungle Fever and it’s about different levels of racism within the black community. Maybe post-Brokeback Mountain
now, there’s room in gay cinema to look at whole different things that haven’t been looked at before. There’s just not a need to
push incredibly positive images of every single gay person in a movie. There’s more room for shadings and complexity and to look
at issues that are in our community.
WCT: Well you guys do that really well if this movie and The Fluffer – which I loved – are any example. What a great film that was
that also got into so many different issues – straight/gay and different cultures existing side by side. Your joint resume is all over
the place – we got from that to Gay Republicans and America’s Top Model (THEY’RE LAUGHING) – and it’s been five years since your last
RG: We realize how blessed we were for this to come together so quickly. It was five years since The Fluffer, it was like seven years
between Grief and The Fluffer. It just takes time and we did have it really easy with this one movie but it’s not always that way.
WCT: So what are you working on now that’s going to take ten years to get made?
RG: We’re working on something set in turn of the century Paris – of course!
WW: Yes, we’re getting our time machine ready. We’re doing a movie about the writer Collette and her first marriage which is kind
of a transgressive story but we want to make that for the big screen.
WCT: 11 years together – can you talk about collaborating on a personal and professional level.
RG: Well we decided that if we were going to direct together that the best move would be to sleep together.
WCT: Ah, that is so sweet...You’re like the Marilyn and Alan Bergman of film directors. (BOTH BURST OUT LAUGHING).
WW: I think our very first conversation together was chatting about the dream sequence in Rosemary’s Baby – it was always about
film and we got together very fast – considering I moved in on the first night and our relationship just happened instantly. But we’ve
always been very interested in film but we didn’t initially think of collaborating. It was about three years. Richard was working on his
scripts; I was working on my projects.
RG: But he always knew that he wanted to make a movie called The Fluffer so when we were living together which was like the day
after we met he didn’t know how to write a screenplay and that was my background, that was my whole thing so I was like, “Oh, I’ll
show you how to write a screenplay.” I was like his editor for his Fluffer script.
WW: So when it came time to make it, it sort of made sense to do it together. I think co-directing now is becoming more
prominent. If there’s two people you can share the problems and the difficult things and enjoy the time together.
RG: People say, “Oh, isn’t this stressful on your relationship that you work together?” and I think it would be much more stressful
the other way around.
WW: If we weren’t or if we were competing – if we had rival films.
WCT: Can you talk about Great Uncle Tomas the character – was he gay?
WW: We don’t know. We just want to leave it open because it’s really not important. The important thing is that he doesn’t judge
people on their sex life. He’s not interested in having sex so he doesn’t judge people on that level whereas the parents are much
more like, “What’s my DNA doing in the next generation.” He just doesn’t care. It didn’t matter if he was gay or straight he’s just
someone who hasn’t prioritized sex in his own life. He’s kind of based on my own Great Uncle Tom who brought me up when my
parents were having a lot of problems. He brought me and my brother up through our teenage years and he was just like that –
very non-judgmental. A lot of people say, “You two are the gay guys in the movie, right?” and we’re like, “Well, I’m more like Carlos
and he’s more like Magdalena.”
WW: Maybe the other way around. Really what you do is you splinter your personality through all the characters.
RG: Most fathers are not happy to hear their sons are gay.
WCT: Are there any that are?
WW: Many people have positive experiences with their grandparents.
WCT: Winning the awards at Sundance must have been quite validating.
WW: Oh it was incredible. It was wow – especially because The Fluffer didn’t get into Sundance which we were always upset about
and this time around, boy, Sundance really came around. They made up for it. It’s really the focus of American independent film
and that’s where the energy is coming from and you can’t beat Sundance.
RG: I think if we hadn’t won those prizes we might have been in trouble. When we made The Fluffer – it’s got a provocative title and
we knew somebody would pick up but this one we weren’t so sure. If you don’t have Jennifer Aniston in your film it’s really great to
have those two prizes. Those prizes become part of the identity of the movie.
WCT: Did you have a big party in your neighborhood and show everybody in to see it? Weren’t you nervous?
RG: Well the people who acted in the movie and who participated; came to the cast and crew screening. There’s still a lot of
neighbors that haven’t seen the movie and still think it’s like this little hobby of ours.
WW: The girl who’s Quinceañera we shot, her family came and they were approving. They were really wonderful and they really
accepted the movie and took onboard the issues. I think it’s a movie that could go out to a universal audience and it has these
different messages in it that’ll lead people along with interesting results. Some people might be freaked out about the gay subplot
and some won’t.
RG: And we love the idea of there being different audiences for it beyond the normal boundaries of just a “gay movie.”
WCT: Well I hope it’s going to do really well with all audiences. Thanks so much.