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’Gun Hill Road’ :: Family dynamics, 21st century style

by Mona  Elyafi
Friday Aug 5, 2011

Part tough street film and part sensitive gay character study, "Gun Hill Road" offers a complex and insightful portrait of a family divided told from the perspective of the classic father-son dysfunctional narrative.

The film, the debut effort of Bronx native Rashaad Ernesto Green, asks the question: How does one reconcile a parent’s unconditional love for his/her child with the annihilating pressure of one’s own cultural beliefs?

Such is the quest of Enrique (the film’s protagonist played to perfection by Esai Morales) who, after three years spent in prison, returns home to the Bronx to find the world he once knew has drastically changed. His wife, Angela (Judy Reyes) struggles to hide an emotional affair; while his teenage son, Michael/Vanessa (newcomer Harmony Santana), is shifting identity and social circles much to Enrique’s immense despair.

Unable to come to terms with his son’s transgender lifestyle choices, Enrique desperately clings on to his instilled macho ideals (as if to preserve his own virility); while Angela in all her feminine woman stereotypical role attempts to keep the family together by protecting Michael. Will Enrique take the journey towards gradual acceptance of his son’s true identity to become the father he needs to be or, will he once again risk losing his family and freedom?

"Gun Hill Road" had its world premiere this past January at Sundance 2011 as part of the Festival’s Dramatic competition. Since then the film has been accumulating accolades and special recognitions, including being selected for the 2010 Tribeca All Access Program; as well as being named a recipient of the 2009 Spike Lee Fellowship, winner of the Princess Grace Foundation Award, and given a Hollywood Foreign Press Association Grant. It also was recognized by the Urban Arts Initiative in New York and the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance.

The film opened in limited release in New York and Los Angeles this week. For upcoming dates or to request that the film play at a theater near you, visit the film’s website.

EDGE caught up with the young Latino New Yorker filmmaker Rashaad Ernesto Green and the film’s breakout star, newcomer Harmony Santana, to talk about the making of the film, its impact on both the Hispanic and the LGBT communities, its homage to the Bronx, and how its narrative dynamic was reflected in real-life situations.

The Bronx connection

EDGE: What does "Gun Hill Road" mean?

Rashaad Ernesto Green: It’s street in the Bronx. Because I feel that the Bronx is a character in the story I wanted to have immediate recognition from the title.

It’s important because it informs the mindset of the characters and shapes the way they view the world. And it can also be broken down in terms of "gun" referring to Enrique’s character violent history. It also works in a double-entendre kind of way.

EDGE: What inspired you to want to tell such a compelling story tackling such controversial, taboo topic as acceptance of alternative lifestyle within the Latin culture?

Rashaad Ernesto Green: It’s inspired by someone in my own family who went through something very similar as Enrique. His child was also going through the transition process and he didn’t exactly have the tools to understand. I saw the struggle. I saw a man who was broken and I saw a child without her father and I wanted to make a piece of art that didn’t necessarily give them all the answers but at least pointed the way that if you put love and family first you can really do anything - everything else becomes secondary.

Story continued on following page:

Watch the trailer for "Gun Hill Road":


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