A Conversation with Jorge Molina
Since November 9th, the art world has been entrenched in discussion and debate on what the purpose of Art is now – what is its impact? What does it look like? What do we want it to look like? And how does it affect us? Now, more than ever, the fight for inclusion is a battle that must be won, and we look to up and coming artists like Jorge Molina and countless others to lead the charge for the next generation of cultural influencers.
As a recent graduate, artist, immigrant, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Jorge speaks to the importance of intersectional representation on screen, “breaking in” in Hollywood, and his experience on the up and coming TV Land pilot anthology adaptation of the seminal 1988 classic, Heathers.
Alicia Carroll: So, why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself!
Jorge Molina: Sure! I was born in Mexico City and raised in a suburb right outside of it. I always knew I wanted to work in the film industry in some way and knew that I had to come to the U.S. to do that. I’ve also always loved writing, so screenwriting seemed like an obvious career choice. I applied to several schools my senior year and got into USC with a scholarship. So I moved here, graduated last May, and now am in the process of getting my artist’s visa to stay.
AC: What is that process like? I know so many people who have stayed on education or work visa, but how does it differ for artists? Has your experience been smooth?
JM: It has been smooth, luckily, but it’s a long and complicated process. The way I describe it best is you’re preparing for a job interview you won’t be present in. It’s a talent-based process, so immigration is basically deciding if you’re talented enough to stay in the country. You compile literally everything you’ve ever done in a binder (your work history, education, awards, letters of reference, etc…) and present it to immigration and they base their decision off of that. There’s other things to it, like lots of paperwork and bureaucracy, but that’s the gist of it.
AC: Wow that seems highly subjective. Maybe that’s just me.
JM: Hah, I feel you. That’s exactly how I feel.
Kelly Wallace: When you decided to come to the U.S., what kinds of concerns did you have?
JM: To be honest, I was much more excited and looking forward to come here than concerned. It was always a conscious and active decision to come here and actually move countries, so when it happened it was all very quick and surreal, and didn’t really give me much time to be afraid. I had some worries that I would be home sick, and wouldn’t fit in, but I felt so well versed in American culture – film and TV culture especially, which is what I came here to do – and I wanted it so much that those worries quickly dissipated.
AC: That’s wonderful. What made you gravitate towards film and television at a young age?
JM: I still ask myself that a lot of the times. I think for me, film and TV have always represented a place where anything that can be conjured up in your head can come to exist. If you can imagine it, it can become a movie or TV show. And that’s enormously appealing. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to be the young, closeted boy that didn’t fit in and yearns of bigger places with more creative freedom, but clichés are grounded on truth.
KW: It’s a common feeling, I think. I felt the same way when I was younger. How helpful was TV and film for you when you were discovering your sexuality and when you were coming out?
JM: Ah, I can go on about that for ages. More than film and TV directly informing of my sexuality – they were not great at that, since the content we got back home wasn’t always the most inclusive – they served as an escape and kind of a gateway for me to start creating my own worlds. Now looking back, I can see that I was always attracted to stories about underdogs and people not fitting in, and to films with so much queer sensibility, but at the time I didn’t see that. That’s actually a big propeller of what I write. I try to create stories that I would like to have seen when I was growing up.
AC: So what kind of worlds do you create for yourself now, in your writing?
JM: I am very attracted to coming-of-age stories, people realizing who they are and their identities, and people fitting in. I feel that’s a topic I’m very familiar with, and I’m a believer in the “write what you know best.” I try not to be bounded by genres, but by themes.
AC: I am very similar in that I gravitate towards themes. From what I hear, you also write for the stage?
JM: I have dabbled in that. I’ve written a couple of one-act plays and would definitely like to explore that more one day, but right now I am more focused on features and TV especially.
AC: What draws you to the film and television mediums? It’s always interesting to hear since writers have so many storytelling avenues available to them; why the screen?
JM: I think ultimately for me it comes down to the number of people it can reach. I grew up with American content all around me, and it’s the same for so many places around the world. Hollywood is a world forefront in film and TV, and the stories they tell can really make an impact. So that’s what I’m after. I’m sure of the power of art in all its forms, but few have the widespread reach that film and TV have.
AC: Agreed. I also went to film school and I’m drawn to it for the same reasons. There is also a certain unlimited freedom to the medium, which I love. In terms of impact, what characters or stories had a significant impact on you? Do you see representation of aspects of your identity improving as you grow?
JM: As far as specific characters or stories, I always talk about Ugly Betty and how big that was for me. It had this character of her nephew Justin and it was the first time I saw someone that was a young, Latino gay boy like me and that was huge because his family and coming out circumstances looked a lot like me. I’d seen some gay and Latino characters before, but never one so specific to me. Glee was also huge because it was the first show for me to really both normalize and shed a direct light on gay characters.
As for if I see representation, yes. It is definitely growing and changing and that’s what’s so amazing about today’s current entertainment landscape: everyone is getting a voice. Where I think it sometimes lags is getting into nuanced representation that go beyond a single identity. Intersectionality is tricky.
AC: It is very tricky. I love seeing intersectional representation because it makes the stories more rich – more human.
JM: Exactly. No one is just one thing. I’m gay, and Mexican, and an immigrant, and a writer, and so many more things
AC: You mentioned that you use pieces of your real experience and what you know in your writing. How do you think the different parts of your identity have helped you develop your perspective as an artist?
JM: Well, it took me a while to realize and embrace that no one else has my experience. I think that in Hollywood, you are often forced into a box and to fit someone else’s vision, but if you look, it’s the people with unique perspectives that stand out. Those are the people I admire, so now I search for stories that only I can tell, in whatever way that may be. Maybe I identify with a character’s story, or am familiar with a world, or know a certain central feeling well.
AC: Inclusion in writing is definitely improving but still generally white-cis-straight-male dominated in the industry at large. Because of that, so many people write outside their experience or write stories that…maybe they shouldn’t be telling…or maybe are stories you should be telling, or they should include you in. What do you say to those people? Or is there a way we can combat that aspect of the system other than diversity pipelines?
JM: That’s a tricky question. What many people forget a lot of the time is that filmmaking and television are collaborative mediums by nature. I am generally not against people writing outside their own experience, as long as they do their homework. Reach out to people that do have that experience and let it inform the project. Have them read over the script and give an honest opinion. If it’s a TV show – since it’s a writer’s room – a diverse group of people is essential in my opinion. But for more solitary projects like filmmaking, it doesn’t have to be a one-person duty, even if the writing itself is. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
AC: That makes perfect sense. I think that is what all of us hope for. The ideal is that anyone can write anything as long as they include research and points of view that make it authentic. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s what we strive for.
JM: Exactly, I mean no one can write everything. But if you’re going outside what you know, learn it before. These movies and shows do have a very big social and cultural impact.
AC: What kind of impact do you hope to have with your work?
JM: I do believe entertainment should be the first goal of any of these, so of course to get people entertained. But beyond that, I want people to 1) feel something, and 2) either feel identified [or represented] or feel they knew someone/something they didn’t. I guess I want people to find meaning in what I do, whatever that is for them.
AC: Definitely. So we want to transition a little bit to talk about TV Land’s Heathers. For background, what was your journey to Heathers and TV Land? You graduated recently, correct?
JM: Yes, I graduated in May. And that’s actually a funny story. When I found out they were developing Heathers – my all time favorite movie – into a TV series, I made it a goal to be a part of the project. So when my school contacts gave me no leads to anyone involved, I tracked down the showrunner on Instagram, DMed him and told him I was willing to do any type of work but I wanted to be on the show. After some months of bothering him, he agreed to interview me, and I ended up as his assistant.
AC: That is a bold move. A true Hollywood story.
JM: It was crazy. While I was on set just watching the show being made, I couldn’t believe I actually got there.
AC: I can imagine. From what has been released thus far about the new Anthology series, the show is diverse in terms of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Has it been exciting for you to work on a show that values that?
JM: Oh of course! I mean, besides the original being my all-time favorite movie and kind of my model for how I want to write, this new version does such an amazing job of bringing it to the 21st century in those very important terms. I couldn’t be more excited to have been part of a project that sees that, and values that, and kind of plays around with that.
AC: That’s truly amazing. You seem like a very dedicated Winona Ryder fan.
JM: [Laughs] Oh I am. Favorite actress, I’m sure you can tell.
AC: Heathers has such a specific tone. Do you gravitate towards dark comedy? Or the macabre? I feel that is Winona’s wheelhouse.
JM: Hm, yes, I gravitate towards dark comedy, but even more towards satire. That’s my favorite genre. Shows like The Comeback or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, or this new show Search Party, they all take a subject and examine it under a lens and pick it apart and make fun of it. I like pointing things out about society and making it fun.
AC: All great shows, we have similar taste Comedy can be such a great avenue for subversion and commentary too.
JM: Oh of course! I can’t really do pure comedy; I’m not really good at that, but I like the dark funny – when anytime it can jump to a drama.
AC: It’s weird to say that comedic drama or dramatic comedy is “in” right now, but it is. [Laughs] #SadCom
JM: Absolutely, it is. And that’s good for me, because that’s my wheelhouse.
AC: I agree that the new series does an excellent job of bringing the story into the 21st century. What do you think the benefit of re-inventing stories for a new era or generation is?
JM: Well, I don’t think every story should be reinvented. I think if a story still has relevance today, or the creators can find a way to make it relevant for today’s audience, there is big value to it. And Heathers definitely does that. But what’s the point of telling a story that lost its value or that feels dated?
AC: Agreed. So what is the relatable/relevant element of this story, Heathers? Or other reboots that are on television now – there are a lot.
JM: Well, it should say something about the audience that watches it, or the characters inside them. Heathers does a wonderful job of portraying teen culture like it is now, and not in 1989. I don’t know if I can say much else, but it feels 2016. I think that reboots, whether they do it directly like this, or more nuanced – like say, Westworld, is doing – should really say something about today.
AC: So, what do you feel the role of art is, today?
JM: Wow, that is a broad question. I think the role of art today – and always, really – is to provide some sort of meaning to whoever is enjoying it. That can be everything from inspiration, to information, to emotion. What’s great about art is that it can be anything you want it to be. Both from the artist’s and the audience’s perspective.
Jorge is a professional screenwriter and filmmaker from Mexico City. Jorge is a two time recipient of The Juan Rulfo National Short Story Award, and his works have been published in several anthology collections from the Universidad Iberoamericana and his original script “Fool Me Once” won him the Best Screenplay Award at the 2014 Ed Wood Film Festival. Jorge is a contributor to Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) website, as well as The Film Experience and AwesomenessTV. Currently, Jorge works on the television reboot of the 1989 cult film classic Heathers, spearheaded by TVLand, written by Jason Micallef (Butter) and directed by Leslye Headland (Sleeping with Other People, Bachelorette).