The short film we’re excited to present in December is called La Macana, directed and written by Maria Mealla. The film follows recently divorced Carmen and Franco who work through their fervent relationship to support their daughter Sol when she gets her period for the first time. Just reading that sentence aloud immediately gives me flashbacks to when I first got my period, and oof it was rough. My parents are so loving and supportive, but the taboos around menstruation and anything “female” related were so tangible, my dad would literally change the channel whenever one of those ads came on TV where you’d see blue liquid being poured onto a pad or a tampon. You know exactly which ones are talking about.
Asha Dahya (00:08):
Hello hello! Welcome to this episode of the rePROFilm podcast. That time of the month where our team drops another repro periodical straight to your inbox (ps. Head to reprofilm.org if you haven’t subscribed!) which includes links to the latest podcast episode, links to our featured short film of the month, articles we’re reading right now, and organizations you need to be supporting in the ongoing fight for reproductive autonomy. I’M your host Asha Dahya, and while I’m not quite in holiday mode just yet, our featured short this month has got me thinking about family, support systems, awkward parental conversations, and how repro rights and healthcare is actually inextricably linked to all of that.
The short film we’re excited to present in December is called La Macana, directed and written by Maria Mealla. The film follows recently divorced Carmen and Franco who work through their fervent relationship to support their daughter Sol when she gets her period for the first time.Just reading that sentence aloud immediately gives me flashbacks to when I first got my period, and oof it was rough. My parents are so loving and supportive, but the taboos around menstruation and anything “female” related were so tangible, my dad would literally change the channel whenever one of those ads came on TV where you’d see blue liquid being poured onto a pad or a tampon, you know exactly which ones I’m talking about, which is why I loved Maria’s film so much. The anxiety and stress Sol is feeling is so real and very relatable. But what unfolds is something so beautiful and frankly refreshing. The way we see her dad, who clearly has a tense relationship with his ex wife, step up to the plate and be there for his daughter when she gets her period, knowing how embarrassed she is feeling, is the kind of narrative that I hope inspires meaningful conversations in families everywhere.
So to head into the holidays, we wanted to show this type of repro conversation in a family setting, giving us hope that issues like menstruation don’t have to be so taboo and fraught with gendered negatives and connotations when it comes to a teen going through something so pivotal in their lives. I was excited to talk about all of this with Maria, who explained the significance of portraying this scenario in a Latino family, how the script was largely biographical, and what she wanted to say in terms of a father’s role when his child begins menstruating. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast. Maria it’s just lovely to be speaking with you today and talking about your film. Let’s start with your background. Can you tell me about your path into filmmaking and any barriers you may have faced along the way?
Maria Mealla (02:59):
So I am originally from Bolivia and I moved to the US when I graduated high school thinking that I wanted to be in theater. So I moved to Austin, Texas, where I currently live and studied theater first. And was told the big lie, no, I’m just kidding, <laugh>. I was told that like there was a popping theater community in San Francisco and I didn’t wanna move to New York because I’m from Bolivia, which is a small, intimate third world country, and New York just felt too big. So San Francisco felt like a good middle ground. And I moved to San Francisco and did not discover that popping theater community that people were talking about.
Asha Dahya (03:40):
Oh, no, <laugh>.
Maria Mealla (03:42):
But I discovered film. There’s, there was a beautiful little film co-op there at the time called Scary Cow, which is a terrible name for a film co-op.
Asha Dahya (03:51):
I kind of love it, <laugh> <laugh>.
Maria Mealla (03:54):
And the gist of it was that they met quarterly for pitch meetings. So if you could pitch an idea and put a team together, then you could make a movie. Hmm. So I kind of came up in that world through work trade and first started PAing on a couple of jobs going, doing some scripty work, some first ad. I made my first short film way too soon, had no idea what I was doing,
Asha Dahya (04:20):
<Laugh>, but that’s how we learn, right?
Maria Mealla (04:22):
<Laugh>. Exactly. You know, trial by trial by fire, and eventually started getting, producing jobs through that. So eventually I just met enough people that were like, Hey, you know, you, you’re kind of good at this. You got an knack for it. So I got into the producing worlds from like a commercial corporate side of it. I’m a writer and director by trade, a storyteller, <laugh> as I was in theater and otherwise. So I’m always trying to work on passion projects on the side, we’re gonna talk about hurdles. I guess the bigger one would be the, in the same way that I don’t like New York, I don’t like La <laugh>,
Asha Dahya (04:55):
Maria Mealla (04:57):
But it’s for the op, the exact opposite reasons. You know, it feels like very spread out and Hmm. So I’m, I’ve always been kind of industry adjacent in a way. And even though I’ve had a look without a former formal education in film, kind of like cre opening my own doors for myself making that jump to like narrative still feels a little bit hard, right? Like, I kind of live in the, in the indie, in the indie world, which is a beautiful world to live in. So I’m not mad <laugh>,
Asha Dahya (05:26):
I mean, it’s inspiring for other filmmakers to hear that you don’t have to live in one particular city. You can, you know, pursue your passion in other cities and finding that community. So that’s really great to hear. And yeah, I think a lot of filmmakers will, will get a lot out there and feel, okay, I’m not alone. I don’t have to just move to New York or just la. So I think that’s really important to share. How did you come up with the idea for Lama and when was it made? Like tell us about when you filmed it, where you wrote it.
Maria Mealla (05:53):
Yeah, so Lama is very autobiographical <laugh>. So at some point I realize that I love working with kids, like kids and teenagers, a young population. I just kind of get them, I understand them even though I don’t have any kids of my own. And I feel like I have a good knack for writing for them in a way that they understand the content and they can relate to it, you know, so it’s easier for them to like convey the emotion.
Asha Dahya (06:21):
Maria Mealla (06:22):
And I’ve written a few different ones and the, you know, reproductive issues are an ongoing problem in our country nonstop. So I think at one point I was talking to a friend and we were just discussing like having our first periods when it happens, you know? Ha ha. And I was remembering that and it made me think a lot about my dad because my dad was actually great in that area and he is, you know, ave a very bivian conservative Catholic man, so Wow. He was lacking in a lot of other areas. <Laugh>. I think I mentioned at one point, like my, when he signed my sex ed slip, he wouldn’t even make eye contact with me. You know, he, oh my gosh, anything I like put it in front of him and he like looked at it, I saw him go pale.
And then he signed it and just like gave it to me and waited for me to leave, you know, which I did quickly. <Laugh> <laugh>, he was happy to have that signature. But when I got my period, my parents were freshly divorced. And you know, like I spent the weekends with my dad. I was with my mom during the week and I was just like full of dread and mortified of having to go spend the weekend with my dad cuz we never really talked about that or anything, you know? And he really went out of his way to make sure that I was comfortable, you know? And my mom, which they had a lot of friction at the time, you know, but she was like, he knows about periods, I get a period, you know, your sister, your older sister gets a period like he knows, you know, and I was like, I know, but I just don’t wanna have to talk about it with him, you
Asha Dahya (07:48):
Maria Mealla (07:48):
Yeah. but he did, he went out of his way. He was wonderful. And in talking and sharing that story with friends, I was like, man, dads don’t get enough credit. You know, they have to participate in that. Like, it becomes a part of their life as well when they are raising girls <laugh>.
Asha Dahya (08:04):
Maria Mealla (08:05):
And yeah, so I just wanted to make that film, you know, it’s kind of as an ode to mine, a tribute to my dad and the relationship he built from that.
Asha Dahya (08:13):
I love the nuance of who he is as, you know, conservative Catholic man, but also really lent into his role as a father to you. And, and I think that’s really lovely and there is something so relatable and so wholesome and sweet about the relationship with the dad and soul in the film. And, and so you explained, you know, how this went down with your family. Why did you wanna highlight this on film? Especially because it de it definitely does feel like although this is a film about a girl getting a period for the first time, it really does uplift the father’s role in this and, and show other dads like, hey, this is something that you could be to your child when they menstruate for the first time.
Maria Mealla (08:53):
Yeah. well, I mean I think film is my medium of communication, right? And I think that it’s a good way of like, I’ve shared it with a bunch of dads that I know already, you know, and I’ve had like dads ad film festivals come up to me and be like, I love that. That was beautiful.
Asha Dahya (09:10):
Maria Mealla (09:11):
We always say that like, feminism is for everyone and the, it’s available to both. Everybody needs it. And I think it’s important to just like give them that platform in a way when it comes to like reproductive issues. Cuz reproductive issues are still so stigmatized and so hush hush across culture. Yes. So presenting it in a way that’s like, it’s a short film that isn’t like crass, you know, or go or anything. It just kind of goes through like the matter of fact thing that we all go through. And I do think it’s like a family film, you know, it’s something that like a dad could watch with his daughter and it wouldn’t be like horrifying or embarrassing in any way. So I like the idea of having that tool out there, you know, that they can use to communicate for the kids as much as for the, for the parents.
Asha Dahya (09:53):
Yeah. I I love hearing that so many dads have come up to you at film festival screenings and received it so well. So that’s really exciting to hear. And yeah, just proves that film really is a powerful medium to, you know, instill new ideas and challenge our way of thinking about something that is still so taboo in 2022. It’s, it’s crazy. So yeah, kudos to you for doing that.
Maria Mealla (10:12):
It, it’s been fun to have them come up to me because there’s just a fun in like seeing a pride in a dad’s eyes, you know, like somebody who relates to the story, you know, and is like just proud of being like a father in a, a similar way, you know, I like seeing that <laugh> being on the receiving end of that energy.
Asha Dahya (10:29):
Yeah. And I think that chips away at stigma a little bit to make them feel like you’re not on this island. You are just like all the regular dads that are, you know, going through this scenario with if they have a daughter as well. So yeah. That’s really beautiful. And you know, when we see discussion about menstruation periods, it’s usually confined to being a quote unquote woman’s issue. But in fact it’s so much more than that. As you shown this is for many people, first it’s a family issue. I mean, most teenagers are part of a family or family unit in some way when they menstruate for the first time. So how did this play out in your family in terms of, you know, the dynamic and, and feeling hesitant to share it and also your parents going through a divorce, so that dynamic as well. How did you navigate that? I
Maria Mealla (11:13):
Mean, I was such a snotty kid. <Laugh>. Yeah. So I, I put a, I like fought tooth and nail to like not have to have that conversation with my dad. And in the end, I actually don’t think we ever had the conversation much like in the film. There was just the acknowledgement, you know, where I was like, thank you for today, <laugh>. And, and he was like, you’re welcome. And after that, like I did process it more with my mom actually. I was like, you were right, you know, we’re good. Mm-Hmm. I can still go spend weekends with dad, you know, <laugh>. I was like, that’s not gonna be a problem anymore.
Asha Dahya (11:50):
I love that he, in the film, he made it about, well, what are the things I can do? I can make her favorite rice and chicken dish, I can make sure the bathroom’s stocked up. Like, he didn’t kind of force what his role had to be, he just knew his area where he was able to help her out and it just kind of flowed really well. So I I I love that. I thought it was really poignant. Totally.
Maria Mealla (12:09):
And even just like the simple dynamic of just showing him cooking, you know, like just cooking a meal for his daughter and it’s just no big deal. I don’t think that at any moment, like when he’s going through these things you like, one of those weird things when we talk about reproductive issues, especially with like men and their role and like feminist, there’s this idea that it’s emasculating to participate, you know? So I really wanted to make a point to be like, it’s not like, you know? Right. This is just the role. It is what it is. Yeah.
Asha Dahya (12:41):
Yes. Very important point. I love that. But I’d love to hear reactions from especially Latino audiences. Can you share more about this, whether it’s your own family or people you know, or just the community in general so far?
Maria Mealla (12:52):
Oh, for sure. Yeah. This has been, it’s been a hit with a
Asha Dahya (12:56):
<Laugh>. Has your dad seen it? Actually, I, that’s the question I should be on. Yeah.
Maria Mealla (12:59):
I did send it to my dad. He got a huge laugh out of it, you know, <laugh>, he really loved it. Yeah. Cause he, for, it’s happened so long ago now, you know, that now like a totally different dynamic and we’re way more chummy than we used to be. So yeah. My dad really loves the film, particularly for Latinos of divorced parents. They were like, oh man, yes. You know, that <laugh> that conversation is so tough, you know, having to have it you, yeah. So there’s been a lot of like, support for it. And I think that there’s also, there’s something about the banter that feels very familiar to the Latinx community, you know, that just like back and forth and just kind of getting spicy, really quick <laugh> with each other, you know, that everybody was able to like, relate to that and enjoy it.
Asha Dahya (13:44):
Although it is 2022, we and on, we’re on the precipice of 2023, so big year ahead, I don’t know how many changes are coming, but keeping my fingers crossed that there, there’ll be good ones, but we still have a lot of work to do to dismantle menstrual stigma. Why do you think it is still so taboo, especially in different cultures? There’s still that pushback or, you know, the wanting to not make eye contact and acknowledge the elephant in the room kind of thing?
Maria Mealla (14:12):
Yeah, it’s so tough. Like why is it taboo? I think that in general, <laugh>, the, the fact that it’s reproductive and menstruation and stuff like that, and people are, so, we live in a culture where it’s taboo to talk about it because it is sexualized. Right, right. And I think that through a cross culture is definitely in Latin culture when a girl is becoming a woman, you know, there’s this like sexualization attached to it that people are uncomfortable with. There’s so many problems with that, you know, with like child abuse and this and that, that people like try to really like, steer away from it and they don’t wanna see it, you know, it’s like a little girl or whatever turning into a woman is what we call it, you know, but in the reality it’s just like a human bodily function. And I think that if we talk about it more, it destigmatizes it, it takes away that like danger and risk around it, right? We have to talk about these things like they’re normal, you know, like, like it, like anything else that we, that we experience and go through.
Asha Dahya (15:11):
Yeah, definitely. I mean, we’re living in a moment where reproductive rights and health are under attack in America. We’re going backwards even. And it’s really interesting to see side note, the, the green wave movement that’s happening across Latin America. So it’s like that’s moving up north and it’s almost like that is now the blueprint for what we in America should be doing. Let’s follow their lead because they know what it’s like to not just change the law, but change culture and change hearts and minds and then the policies and then the social attitude will follow. So it’s, it’s really interesting to be in this moment in America. How do you hope your film and your career as a filmmaker will play a role in this conversation to push back against the tide? You know, you mentioned filmmaking is your medium of communication. So what, what’s the role of you as a director and, and Lama Kana especially? I
Maria Mealla (15:58):
Mean, for Lama Kana, what I want is for people to feel comfortable and come together. I was trying to make a movie that doesn’t have any controversy attached to it. It’s like the most simple matter of fact, intimate story between a father and his daughter trying to navigate that. And I wanted people to be able to approach it without any trepidations or fear, which I think that it’s doing successfully. And as a filmmaker, I do like writing for that age range, as I mentioned before. And I think one of the things that I wanna do is just remind adults and empower teenagers, you know, to understand like how smart they are and how vulnerable they are, you know? And how I feel, I feel, especially like as people get older, they take for granted like that, you know, kids aren’t there yet or they’re too young too, you know, but they’re so intuitive and they experience things so, so deeply that they just need to be like let in, you know, to all of this, like all of these different processes and conflicts that we go through, especially in family dynamics.
And for me it’s everything. It’s not just reproductive, but it’s, it’s grief, you know? And trying to hide things like grieving from children, you know, or doing it yourself instead of showing it. It’s finances, it’s anxiety, it’s stress. Like it’s all of these things, you know? And so often than not, we just try to cut them out of those conversations instead of like bringing them in, you know, which I think really strengthens the family unit. It makes them stronger people. It, it informs how they interact with the world
Asha Dahya (17:33):
And it definitely normalizes things too. I was just having a conversation with my five-year-old son about grief because we had an extended family member pass away recently. And, and it was a challenge to me to explain it, but I thought, I love this opportunity because I want him just to see his mind work and how he understands it and in the next moment he’s, you know, off playing. But it’s like, these are the important moments that we have to, to teach them and equip them in ways that they can handle such big topics. So kudos to you. I think that’s really, really beautifully and well said. And in, you know, showing these stories that, that are from a teen or child’s perspective, what do you hope men and dads especially will learn and take away from watching your film? How can this film be a way to encourage allyship? Last month our theme was about male allyship, and I think there’s definitely some of that in, in Lama Kana as well. So how do you hope it can be a way to encourage that?
Maria Mealla (18:23):
Well, I hope that when they see it, they like, it lands in them as something that is normal, right? <Laugh>. I know that the second, even when they hear, when people hear the log line, I can feel this like, oh, oh, you know, <laugh>,
Asha Dahya (18:38):
Maria Mealla (18:38):
What happened? You’re, you made a film about
Asha Dahya (18:40):
What am I gonna see
Maria Mealla (18:41):
Somebody getting their period? You know, like you can already feel that. And I, I hope that through the experience of watching it, they just, it lands in a way that feels normal and safe that respects them. You know, like treats the role with respect and mutual, you know, mutual respect really understands like the way that both perspectives, the way that a child would look at them through it, you know, and that they can take that with them.
Asha Dahya (19:08):
Amazing. So what’s the project you’re working on next and how can people follow you? Are you allowed to share what you’re working on? Tell us how you can follow all things. Maria
Maria Mealla (19:18):
<Laugh>, I have I have a couple different projects that are in different stages of development, but the next one that I’m working on right now actually, I’m in a part of a lab for a lap called Open Screenplay where we’re developing these shorts. And this one is called <foreign> Harry Kwana is what that translates to. And it’s about an 11 year old girl who goes back to school and all of the kids have started shaving, but her, you know, it’s like an a Latina girl and she’s just getting destroyed, like for being hairy. And it’s kind of like her dynamic with her mom cuz her mom thinks she’s too young to shave, you know? And how like her sister tries to convince the mom and help her. So it’s three generations of Latina women talking about, you know, how hairy we are and how we deal with it as part of society, basically.
Asha Dahya (20:08):
Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to watch that cuz it feels like that was my story as an Indian woman and I wasn’t allowed to shave when all my friends were allowed to shave and I had like, hairy legs and it was mortifying. So it
Maria Mealla (20:18):
Was brutal. I know. <Laugh>, it was brutal. I went through that as well. So hard <laugh>,
Asha Dahya (20:23):
Oh my gosh. I feel like any ethnic people are just like, yes, I need to see this. This is gonna be very cathartic for me. I can’t wait to see it. So, and where can people follow you on social media? Where can we keep in touch?
Maria Mealla (20:34):
I’m on Instagram at m maya m m e a l l a and on Twitter at Maria underscore Maya, m e a l l a. <Laugh>.
Asha Dahya (20:46):
Well, you know what to do, do all the things, follow, subscribe, and keep in touch. And Maria, thank you so much for chatting with me today. I’m very excited for people to be watching this film during December. It’s a family film, it’s, you know, it’s something so beautiful and so normal and so thank you for making it and for sharing some of your own personal story on, on screen as well. Yeah,
Maria Mealla (21:07):
Thank you so much. It was a joy to participate in this podcast.
Asha Dahya (21:11):
Be sure to watch La Macana at reprofilm.org during the month of December, and share this film with parents, families and teens during the holidays! Who knows, perhaps it will provide some inspiration or empowerment as to how to have potentially difficult or embarrassing conversations with love and respect. Well, we did it, we just finished recording a WHOLE YEAR’S worth of the repro film podcast and it has been such a pleasure presenting all these fabulous interviews with you! And we are not slowing down any time soon, we already have some brilliant themes, films and conversations planned for 2023, which we’re already working on. Tell all your friends to subscribe at reprofilm.org to make sure you never miss an episode. The Repro Film podcast is executive produced by mama.filmHosted and produced by me, Asha Dahya, Edited by Kylie Brown, With original music by ParisJane and Marrice Anthony.The periodical is programmed by Neha Aziz and written by Emily Christensen Alex Sgambati is our Social Media Manager and Rebecca Sosa is our Distribution & Impact Strategist. You can find us on social media @reprofilm on Instagram and @reprofilmfest on Twitter. I look forward to bringing you our next conversation. Bye for now!