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Meet ‘Gordita’ Writer and Director Debby Wolfe

Meet ‘Gordita’ Writer and Director Debby Wolfe

by Suzette Banzo

Writer and Director Debby Wolfe wrote a short independent film called “GORDITA”. She posted casting calls for Latina Plus Size women on Myspace, Facebook, Craigslist, LA Casting, Breakdown Express, and called every Latino theatre and arts organization that exists in CA and NY.  The extensive search caught PLUS Model Magazine’s attention, so we contacted her to find out more about this plus size project.

Suzette:  Debby, I wanted to reach out to you ever since I read the ads for casting the short film you wrote posted on Myspace. The title GORDITA really caught my attention; since it means in Spanish chubby or little fat girl (and no, I don’t mean phat). Why did you choose this as the title of your film?

Debby/Gordita:  “Gordita” to me is a term of endearment for a woman or girl who is plus size, adorable and knows how to work it. In my family, the plus size women are often called Gorditas; but it’s all in good fun.  It’s never meant to be a hurtful term.  If you called them ‘Gorda’ (fat) or ‘Panzona’ (big bellied) though, it might get you into trouble. The film is about a woman who has lost touch with her inner “Gordita”, her sense of self confidence and comfort with her size.  It only seemed natural that “Gordita” should be the title of the film.

My friend was fighting me on the definition, I really feel it’s a funny term, but it can only be applied to those who are strong and confident about their size and won’t take it badly.  They would own that word!

Suzette:  It’s an attention grabber. The viewer has an immediate idea of what the movie will portray; like with Real Women Have Curves.  Did seeing that movie inspire you to write “Gordita” in any way?

Debby/Gordita:  I love Real Women Have Curves; the mother reminded me a lot of mine, which allowed me to really connect with the movie.  It certainly was an inspiration. But, for me, “Gordita” really came from a culmination in my own life of various influences.

Suzette:  How so? Did your mom tell you not to eat flan? Seriously though, tell me about the main character, without giving too much away.

Debby/Gordita:  Ha! Well, Tatiana is a young El Salvadorian woman, 26, who is plus size.  She lives in East Los Angeles with her mother and works in a dead end job at a bargain retail store; the kind where you might find two dollar blouses in that fall apart in the washer.  It is a mundane existence and she can’t seem to find a way out.  Tatiana feels stuck; stuck in a body she loathes and in a state of mind where she feels she isn’t good enough to do anything different with her life.

Suzette:  What size is she?  In Los Angeles isn’t plus size a size ten? (playfully)

Debby/Gordita:  No, that’s true! It is ridiculous how many size eight girls tried out for this part claiming they were “plus size”.  I was shocked. The casting process was very difficult.

Suzette: How many roles did you have to fill?

Debby/Gordita: The lead, Tatiana, is supposed to be around a size 18, or more. Her fifteen year old, confident teenage self is also supposed to be plus size.  Both actresses were extremely difficult to find.  I encountered so many size 8 and 10 girls claiming they could pull it off.  For the lead, Tatiana at twenty five years old, I saw approximately seventy-five actors; only ten were the size I was actually looking for. Casting the teen Tatiana was worse. We saw about one hundred fifty girls and about five of them fit the bill.

Suzette: I guess that’s good in a way, considering statistically the increasing numbers of obesity in children and teens ages six through nineteen.  When the actors said they could pull it off did it mean they willing to eat; method acting?

Debby/Gordita:  A few suggested wearing a fat suit, but I never wanted to do that.  I felt it was really important to cast someone who was plus size. There are explicit scenes in the film, showing her body close up, something that’s never really been done before in cinema; so it was imperative for it be real.

It really saddened me. The message I got was why should plus sized women bother trying to get into the industry if in films larger bodies aren’t depicted often? It’s understandable; you’re not going to pursue a career in something where you’re cast once in a blue moon.  Also women, who might be the slightest bit plus sized, are told to lose weight. The agents here don’t play; it’s a business and the market demands anorexia.

Suzette:  I guess the plus sized actors that didn’t apply weren’t right ready for a role where they’d have to face their own demons. They weren’t strong enough.

Debby/Gordita:  That is true.  I had to find someone not only plus size, but definitely comfortable enough with it to show her own body on screen.  I did get a few actresses that said they didn’t feel comfortable with the “nudity”.  But there’s no nudity; it’s just a bra and panties, like wearing a swim suit.  I understand though, I don’t think I could do it.

Suzette:  What about “the camera adds ten pounds” factor; was a size eighteen really necessary?

Debby/Gordita:  I think it was absolutely necessary.  It’s time to show real bodies in film, not these photo-shopped, chiseled bodies that take working out twelve hours a day to achieve. They’re just not real.  Tatiana is a woman you see crossing the street every day, at the grocery store; she’s not a woman you see in film and it’s about time you did.  Plus size women exist; they’re beautiful, deep, complex, powerful women who I’m excited to convey on screen.

Personally, I find films with real people in them much more appealing than Hollywood ideas of beautiful.

Suzette:  That’s the beauty of independent films. There is more opportunity for character actors and character development. Tell me more about casting. Were you looking for strictly plus size girls from El Salvador?

Debby/Gordita:  Initially my thought was to find Salvi actors and keep it authentic. Then I quickly realized that it really narrowed down my choices to almost nothing.  As many El Salvadorians as there are in LA, none of them seem to be pursuing a career in acting. Then, I expanded to a national search. And still nothing. We finally found Talia Zapien who appeared in Gregory Nava’s “American Family”.  She is Mexican and an amazing actor.

Suzette: Are any of the other characters gordita?

Debby/Gordita:  Gloria, the mom, is not exactly very plus size but she’s “mom sized.” Her family, who appear in a party scene, are all plus size. Many of the characters in her life are on purpose average size. They all think she’s beautiful and don’t have a problem with her body, yet she is unable to feel that way about herself. Part of the story is that her boyfriend, who has been with her since high school and loves her, embraces her body and even wants to marry her; but she feels so badly about herself that she can’t make the leap to changing her life and going for it.

Suzette:  Who is your target audience?

Debby/Gordita:  I have two targets. I’ve never seen the American-Salvadorian culture depicted before on film. We are a rich culture with delicious food, loving people, and hilarious sayings.  I really want to portray, as accurately as possible, Salvi’s in the film and in a setting they can relate to.  There’s also a second target audience, which is women of all shapes and sizes.  It’s a film for any woman who has ever felt “fat” and “stupid” and rendered herself unable to pursue her dreams. The film is about finding that spark, the one you had in your youth when you thought you could rule the world, and using the spark that still exists within you to make things happen for yourself.  You are in control of your own destiny. You are the only one that can improve your life.

Suzette:  Now, I have to ask you the obvious question, how much of Debby is in “Gordita”?

Debby/Gordita:  Well, as a size nine I don’t consider myself plus size, but I have put on about twenty pounds in the past two years and I know emotionally what it feels like to feel “fat.”  I pull at my stomach in the bathroom, I examine how many chins I have if I look down in the mirror, I use the digital zoom feature on my camera to check out how fat my face is getting and one day I just really felt compelled to capture on film that feeling. I was thinking about how many women spend time in the bathroom maniacally grabbing themselves and feeling alone.  I wanted to depict this through a character who truly understood what it was like.

I can also relate on losing confidence with Tatiana.  It’s hard to pursue a career in the arts; you’re constantly being judged and there’s so much competition! I keep at it because it’s what I love and I can’t imagine doing anything else.  When I do feel a sense of, “I’m not cut out for this”, I have to stop myself and remember what it felt like when my first short film was shown in Tribeca, NYC. When I do, it really instills that passion in me again; it makes me strong and motivates me to keep at it.

95% of independent projects are financed through the kind help of strangers, family, and friends. The filmmakers of “Gordita“, who have raised enough funds to make a short film, hope the short will attract more investors and serve as a springboard for a feature length film.