Yellow Rose is an Unexpected but Needed Commentary on Immigration at #Urbanworld2019
By Donnia Harrington
At first glance, Diane Paragas’ Yellow Rose appears to be a response to the current political and social climate regarding immigration, but Paragas’ story of an undocumented teenager has been in the works for fifteen years. Her timely debut narrative follows Rose (Eva Noblezada), a Filipina teenager who has dreams of getting out of her small Texas hometown and making it big as a country star. Her world is turned upside down when her mother (Princess Punzalan) is detained by ICE, and Rose is forced to run, where she embarks on a journey of self-discovery as she attempts to find a new home.Check out the trailer for Yellow Rose
Despite being an unexpected form of political art, what also makes Yellow Rose stand out is the fact that the story of immigration is told through the eyes of someone who is Filipina. A perspective that hasn’t been explored, Paragas’ decision to focus on a different minority of undocumented immigrants highlights a topic that hasn’t been introduced, but the message is universal: people who come to America for a better life, who work for a better life. Rose is the traditional definition of an “All-American” Southern teenager, right down to the oversized Texas shirt and cowboy boots. Texas is all she knows, so when she’s threatened with the possibility of being deported, she runs. “This is home.” She repeats throughout the film, and it’s true. This country is all she knows, and despite the series of challenges she faces, she fights for the opportunity to stay.
Eva Noblezada gives a moving performance as Rose, with angelic vocals and passionate lyrics that capture the heart of what country music is all about; she’s able to naturally embody the shiny goal that aspiring musicians have to make it big one day. It’s interesting seeing the combination of her own cultural background with traditional aesthetics of Western culture—she lights Prayer candles with pictures of Prince and Dolly Parton attached to them, she has vinyl records of her favorite country artists, she never forgets the words to Filipino songs that her mother would sing to her as a child. Her identity is ingrained in both cultures, she wouldn’t be herself if she had to give one side up.
When her mother is detained by ICE, we see how undocumented immigrants are stripped of their humanity. They’re not referenced by name, instead a number. When relatives visit them, they can’t hug or even hold hands. They’re constantly reminded that in the eyes of the government, they aren’t seen as people. Yellow Rose chooses not to focus too heavily on that. It would be easy to do so, considering how often it happens. But in Paragas’ words, the theme of Yellow Rose is empathy. Rose goes from temporary home to temporary home, finding refuge in the places of people kind-hearted enough to understand her story. Although it’s not hard to believe that people want to help others, there comes a point in the film where Rose’s good luck streak is a little too convenient, and may be hard to believe. But for a story focused on empathy, it does its job at showing that the immigrant story is one that should be humanized.
Paragas’ fifteen-year project is an admirable one. Despite leaning on Deus ex machina plot devices and thinly written dialogue, the message is still there, and it’s a powerful one. When speaking at a Q&A for the film, Paragas expressed hope that Yellow Rose will start dialogue strong enough to move the conversation about immigration. While no one film can do that alone, Yellow Rose should still be in the conversation of what is hopefully a growing number of stories on the immigrant experience.
Donnia Harrington has been writing critically about film for over three years. Her work has been published on FlickSided, Audiences Everywhere and ComicBook Debate. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys foreign cinema, female-centered video games, Korean music and Scandinavian crime novels. Check out some of her other contributions to soulhead.