Carmen Marrón is passionate about representing the Latino voice in the media industry and is transparent about the challenges to becoming a female director. The Mexican-American writer, director and producer who grew up in the inner city of Chicago as a street dancer. Marrón especially relates with her community and is inspired to increase their representation in mass media through her storytelling. Some of her well-known works include her debut dance drama “Go For It!,” “Endgame,” and “Queen Sugar.” She believes in coexistence and the delivery of cultural authenticity.
LASM: Carmen, you’re a trailblazer on various fronts within the Latino community, can you talk to us about your heart behind this?
Carmen Marrón: That’s a huge part of why I’m doing what I’m doing. With a background in education and psychology, I was a guidance counselor. When I was growing up as a kid from the inner city, one out of every 10 kids were very economically disadvantaged. Then, when I was in graduate school, I knew that I wanted to give back to my community. I’ve had that burning desire my whole life. When I was a guidance counselor, I chose to work in the school districts in Phoenix, Arizona that needed the most help.
When I saw the lack of Latinos on television, I realized that there wasn’t a representation. In my mind I thought, “Why don’t I just try to teach what I’m teaching them, their life skills and everything about humanity [through television]? Why don’t I put all that in a story, and then create characters that reflect their lives––bring out the hero in the characters’ life journeys and write about their real challenges.”
It was all truly me trying to fill the need for Latinos. What I really have learned and I’ve felt this my whole life: when you put your passion into something you get there.
LASM: It’s one thing to write a show, but you wrote, directed and co-composed it. How long did it take for you to put that project together?
Carmen Marrón: I had written a partial script when I was in Phoenix. I thought I would give it to someone so that they could understand my intentions and help me represent it. It really took two years of real rejection because back then people were like, “No one wants to see brown people in leading roles. Latinos don’t even want to see Latinos in leading roles.” So I would say from when I got to LA to when I made the movie and sold it, took around seven years. It was seven years of trial and error and a drive to represent Latinos––That’s really what it was, that was my whole fuel.
My parents came to this country with no money. They didn’t speak the language. They didn’t know anyone and they didn’t have any education. There’s a scene in the movie, which is partially based on my life. The dad tells the character that he learned to read and write. My dad taught himself to read and write in his late 20s. I thought, if my parents went through that, I can figure out a way to make a movie in LA.
LASM: When you came to LA in 2003, did you continue to do street choreography or were you doing inner city guidance counseling out here?
Carmen Marrón: No. I ended up becoming a pharmaceutical rep because my neighbor at the time heard me crying the blues after all the rejection. I was making a dance movie with 40 actors and dancers and four choreographers at 24 locations in two cities, LA and Chicago. Since I had never made a movie, I didn’t know the work that I was going to take, which in hindsight has always been like a superpower in a way because when you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, you don’t stop yourself.
I became a pharmaceutical rep because my neighbor was one too and made a lot of money. In my spare time, I started taking dance classes just so I could find the top choreographers. I was going through finding all these great female choreographers. I would tell them that someday I’m going to make a movie that’s going to empower women. It’s going to represent people of color. And I’m going to have all female dancers. Will you be my choreographer? And they were like, “Oh yeah, sure. Someday when you raise the money. Come back to me.” And I did. By that time, it was like four years later.
LASM: When did you get connected with Ava’s network with “Queen Sugar?”
Carmen Marrón: It’s interesting because after “Endgame,” I moved to Austin. I felt like I wasn’t really connecting with the material that was coming to me. Even though I wrote “Endgame,” I wasn’t sure if I was starting to write for TV, but I felt like I needed to get out. While I was over there, developing a project and looking into teaching film at the university level, Ava contacted me out of the blue. Many filmmakers are not being considered for television, even though we’ve proven ourselves, above and beyond. We are proving ourselves with stories representing the minority groups that haven’t been considered as equal as the people doing mainstream projects. When I was in Austin, Ava just contacted me and said that she watched my work and that she would like to hire me for season four of “Queen Sugar.” [I felt] it was her really telling me not to give up and that my voice is needed in this industry.
LASM: Is that what you consider the sisterhood of what’s called the “Ava Effect”?
Carmen Marrón: It’s a real sisterhood because you don’t just get hired. It’s filled with love and support. It’s like we’re part of this community and we are here to make sure that everyone succeeds. It’s incredible.
LASM: Give us some insight on how you feel about the importance of the storyline of African-American culture being seen on TV. How does it feel to tell that story?
Carmen Marrón: I’m truly a fan of the series because of my psychology background. I don’t just work on anything, I have to work on something that moves my soul. The social consciousness that’s happening in this series and in the story with the characters has pulled me in from day one.
For me, when I watch “Queen Sugar”, I feel like it’s a true representation of African Americans. It’s a universal representation, as if that were my family or any family, because it’s dealing with the soul of humanity in such an authentic way. That’s the responsibility that I take as a filmmaker and a storyteller when I’m on the set.
LASM: Is there anything on your heart that you want to touch on while we’re in this space?
Carmen Marrón: I really hope that Ava is setting a precedent for the rest of the industry. Where it truly is possible to work on a set, be a kind and considerate community, be successful, make your days and get everything that you need to get done in this industry. TV directing is hectic, but there’s so much more that you can get out of it if you really set the precedent to create an environment where everyone could be themselves and be there with the intention to support each other, as you accomplish the project.