Culture

Filmmaker Paola Mendoza: planning the Women's March on Washington has been a 'healing process'

The march is "not an anti-Trump rally," says the Colombian-born filmmaker. "It's the opposite. It's actually a rally and march for what we are for."
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A few days after the presidential election, filmmaker Paola Mendoza learned that her friend Carmen Perez was helping to plan a massive march in Washington, D.C., scheduled for January 21, the day after the inauguration.

Mendoza didn't think twice. She called Perez, the executive director of The Gathering for Justice, and expressed her enthusiasm. "I'll do whatever you need me to do," she said.

Since then, Mendoza has been working as the Artistic Director for what's slated to be one of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history. She will march Saturday for her son Mateo Ali, "so he knows never to sit back in silence when injustice happens."

The director, actress, screenwriter and author focuses much of her work around "marginalized stories," including those of immigrants, women and children. In advance of the November 8 presidential election, she directed four short documentaries for Refinery29 that explore various facets of the immigrant experience in the United States.

Mendoza, who was born in Bogotá, Colombia, came to Los Angeles at the age of two, with her mother and six-year-old brother. Not long after their arrival, her father abandoned the family. That experience and the challenges that followed shaped Mendoza's life, and formed the basis of her award-winning 2009 film, Entre Nos, which led to the novel The Ones Who Don't Stay.

As Mendoza preps for Saturday's march, she spoke with Univision about why she feels called to take to the streets -- and why others should too.

How did you get involved in organizing the Women's March on Washington?

The day after the election I was totally devastated. I laid on my couch and cried. But then I went to my office and I realized that even though I wanted to just sit around and cry I couldn't. What I could do in that moment was call my friends, my community of filmmakers and really try to peel them off the ground, which is where I was. In those calls I began to heal myself, slowly. A week later I found out that my friend Carmen Perez was one of national co-chairs of the women's march. I called her and I said 'I want to do this, I'll do whatever you need me to do.' So I hit the ground running and have been doing it ever since. The healing process has almost completed itself. Come January 21 I'll be whole again.

Is Saturday's march a demonstration against the presidency of Donald Trump?

No, this is a very important point, our goal is not to challenge the Trump administration. Being anti-something doesn't work. So this is not an anti-Trump rally. It’s the opposite. It's actually a rally and march for what we are for. Our goal is to present to all of those people that are coming to the march, and all of the people watching on the livestream, that women's rights are human rights and that under that umbrella there are all kinds of issues to fight for.

If you've been hurt in this election cycle you should come out and march. You should come out and march because it's giving a platform to your voice. Uniting with fellow citizens and saying 'I mean something, I matter.'

Many people thought the march would center around reproductive rights and justice, but it's come to be about so much more. How did the platform expand to cover so many issues?

When Carmen and Tamika became involved they recognized that the moment we are in is intersectional. That this should be across topics. We are for women's rights, climate justice, reproductive rights, immigrant rights, Muslim rights. These are linked. Climate justice needs reproductive rights and vice versa. Freedoms are bound in each other, in issues, in personhood, and that is when we ultimately will be free, and it is also when we're strongest. People that believe in all these issues can come, gather and fight. If your issue is climate justice, are you ready to fight for your undocumented brothers and sisters, to make sure they're safe?

The platform prioritizes immigrant rights, an issue close to your heart. Can you talk about that part of it?

We had a policy table, which included experts from individual fields all across the country and all these amazing women gathered in conference calls and Google Docs. The issue of immigration was clearly very important to us all. The platform states that "we reject mass deportation, family detention, violations of due process and violence against queer and trans migrants." But we recognize that the world is in a migration crisis. We cannot separate this country from other countries. We believe migration is a human right and that no human being is illegal. In the Northern Triangle people are fleeing because they're refugees. We cannot divide and conquer. We must unify to find a solution.

When the march is over and you head back to New York, how will you stay engaged?

In my work as a filmmaker I go to people where they are and I try to tell their stories to the best of my ability. I plan to go back to being a filmmaker. I plan to tell the stories that are important to me, the stories people need to hear. My work is centered about marginalized stories, women, children and my own personal background. So I will continue to do that … But I know I cannot make art for art's sake, that is a luxury I cannot afford to have now. I will not just be creating art, I will be centering my art around intelligent ways to get back the world that I want.

This interview has been condensed.

See more photos from behind-the-scenes of the Women's March, by Kisha Bari.