Deconstructing Latina


DECONSTRUCTING LATINA [working title] is a feature documentary exploring issues of Latino identity in America by focusing on a group of troubled teenage girls in a suicide prevention program who feel rejected by both black and white America, but are transformed through an exploration of their roots. In the course of the film they use ancestral DNA testing to discover their ancestry and learn more about themselves.

Following the DNA testing, the girls embark on a expedition to learn more about themselves based on the results.  On a trip to the Dominican Republic and other sites, they explore issues of social justice, ethnic studies and history, identity and race.  The two central characters start to rethink their place in the world as they begin to take pride in their past. In the film, the participants, and through them the pubic television audience, are challenged to rethink what it means to truly be an American. And along the way, they are encouraged to rethink how they have learned about American history and, more specifically, challenge the status quo.

Driven by severe identity issues linked to depression, culture and societal baggage, Latina teens have the highest suicide and suicide ideation rates in America. The statistics are disturbing: One in seven Latina teenagers will attempt suicide. Not only has this trend remained steady for more than a decade, but also the rate is higher than those of white or Black teenagers. New York City, where the film is primarily shot, is the epicenter of this problem. Latina teens generally attempt suicide at rates far greater than their non-Hispanic counterparts in New York City – more than twice the rate of white youth (14.7% versus 6.2%) and 44% more frequently than teenage African-American girls (14.7% versus 10.2%).

Enter Life is Precious (LIP). First launched in 2008 in the Bronx by a Cuban refugee and Latino mental health pioneer, Dr. Rosa Gil, LIP works with Latina teens that have either attempted suicide or expressed suicidal thoughts. It’s the only arts driven suicide prevention program of its kind in the United States offering teens from different ethnic backgrounds with roots across the Americas an alternative to depression through art therapy.

Told from director Raquel Cepeda’s point of view, DECONSTRUCTING LATINA is shot in HD, primarily in New York City and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, mixing vérité and, sparingly, animation.

As the documentary unfolds, the film’s protagonists begin to develop a curiosity about where their ancestors come from. Ostensibly, they are Dominican, Puerto-Rican, Central and South American. However, Latinos, being the genetic circumstance of the Columbus arrival to the New World, are more than what meets the eye. These girls—some bullied for not looking white or Black enough by the kids in their respective schools—want to know where their maternal ancestors came from. What did our ancestors have to go through for us to be here today? Mitochondrial DNA testing will point us in the right direction.






SAM POLLARD is an Academy Award nominated film and video editor, and a documentary producer/director whose work spans almost 30 years. Most recently, Sam Pollard directed and produced the critically acclaimed documentary Slavery By Another Name, recounting the many ways in which American slavery persisted as a practice many decades after its supposed abolition. He began his career in 1989 with Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads and received an Emmy for an episode he produced. Between 1990 and 2000, Pollard edited a number of Spike Lee’s films: Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Girl 6, Clockers, and Bamboozled. He recently won his sixth Emmy for best editing on the HBO documentary By the People: The Election of Barack Obama.

HENRY CHALFANT is best known for his photography and film documentation of urban youth culture. He has co-authored the definitive account of New York graffiti art, Subway Art (Holt Rinehart Winston, N.Y. 1984) and a sequel on the art form’s worldwide diffusion, Spray Can Art (Thames and Hudson Inc. London, 1987). In 1983, Chalfant produced the PBS documentary, Style Wars, the highly regarded film about graffiti and Hip Hop culture, and directed Flyin’ Cut Sleeves, a documentary about South Bronx gangs, in 1993. He produced and directed Visit Palestine: Ten Days on the West Bank in 2002. His film From Mambo to Hip Hop was featured in the Latino Public Broadcasting series, Voces in 2006-2007, and won an Alma Award for Best Documentary.

STEVE ZEITLIN is the director and cofounder of City Lore, an organization dedicated to the preservation of New York City’s—and America’s—living cultural heritage. City Lore works closely with New York’s diverse communities to develop strategies for validating and disseminating their cultural heritages. He has also coproduced a number of award-winning film documentaries including How I Got Over; The Grand Generation; Free Show Tonite on the traveling medicine shows of the l920s and 30s; and the recently completed From Mambo to Hip Hop, broadcast on public television in the fall of 2006, and winner of an Alma Award for Best Documentary. In addition, he coproduced the documentary DeAf Jam about a group of teenage American Sign Language poets with Judy Lieff, funded by ITVS, premiered in November 2011.


CYBEL MARTIN is the first and only African American woman to receive an MFA in Cinematography from New York University. Her work has premiered at Sundance, Tribeca and Toronto International Film Festivals and acquired by Showtime, HBO and PBS. Martin has contributed to numerous documentaries, notably Inside: The New Black Panther Party for National Geographic, 11 Days produced by Mark Burnett and the Tribeca Film Festival All Access Award winner, Dressed Like Kings. Her commercial clients include L’Oreal, Hewlett Packard, Timberland, Calvin Klein, Nike, Sony Music and PBS.