FOLLOWING her breakout role in Sean Baker’s glorious film The Florida Project, Mela Murder’s latest project – Kristian Mercado Figueroa’s short film Pa’lante – brings her to Puerto Rico in wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.
With Pa’lante set to be shown at the Raindance Film Festival before screenings of Tim Smith’s documentary Cardiacs (27 September and 2 October), Mela joins us on Close-up Culture to discuss the film and much more.
Q: Pa’lante is a unique and passionate love letter to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. What did it mean for you personally to be part of this project?
A: I have always been so proud of my heritage and the beautiful island in which I come from.
We, as Puerto Rican people, understand Mother Nature must run its course. Where our pain derives from is the lack of rehabilitation and the abandonment of our island. Initially I felt totally powerless on how to go about helping those in need, then I realised the significance of utilising our voices through art. It is the best way to make people pay attention to the fact that thousands of people have suffered severe loss and are continuing to suffer.
The fact that my performance in this piece could make even a slight difference means more to me than I am able to put into words.
Q: Trump said the hurricane was ‘not a real catastrophe’. How important for you was it to shine a light on the destruction of Hurricane Maria in this project and to show Puerto Rican pride in the face of Trumpian ignorance?
A: FACTS are facts, ultimately. The facts were everywhere – in every article, every news station that tuned in, every news anchor that showed up, the facts on the severity could not be more clear. It is just sad that it took a death toll to be released for people to realise it.
Trump is a fucking idiot who is constantly lying and getting caught in his lies. The blind leading the blind. He’s a rich man who knows of no suffering, how can we honestly expect him to empathise with the Puerto Rican people or anyone who isn’t exactly like him? Unfortunately he is the leader of our nation and him even pretending to care about us would’ve been more decent than saying all those cold things.
We can whine about how much he sucks or we can act and be productive in spreading the truth and helping the Puerto Rican people.
Q: Can you tell us about the shoot for this project and your time working with director Kristian Mercado Figueroa?
A: WORK never feels like work when connecting with like-minded people who just get the vibe and the vision. That is what my experience was working with Kris for Pa’lante.
I was actually in London when he reached out to me about it. He opened up about his grandfather – who had passed away due to the hurricane – and the importance of telling this story in a way that represented and respected the legacy of his grandfather. I was moved to tears and knew I had to be a part of this.
The shoot was at times intensely emotional. The entire experience of being in Puerto Rico post-Maria was emotional, but it was Kris’s history with the island and his connection with loss due to the hurricane that put into perspective the importance of telling this story correctly.
Q: You give an incredible physical performance, I was moved by it. What was your experience connecting with the character of Milagros and her struggles?
A: THANK you. I had my daughter Amethyst and my niece Kylie by my side the entire time, so I was able to fully internalise what it meant to push forward in dark times. I put myself in the shoes of the women with children who had to keep pushing forward even in the face of tragedy, to give an example of strength and perseverance to my girls despite how scared Milagros must have been. That was inspiring, motivating and energising in every sense.
I was fuelled by feeling the balance between pain and prosperity. The responsibility of being the light at the end of a tunnel that felt hopeless and forgotten.
Q: There is a moment in Pa’lante where we see you dance. Can you tell us passion for dance and the influence it has had in your development as a performer?
A: DANCE, for me, has allowed for a more fluid performance. I connect everything with rhythm and if something feels off beat I know it isn’t right or I am tapping into the wrong frequencies. So I check myself, my surroundings, the people I have to interact with, give a bit of extra time and nurture into whatever it maybe that has me outside of my rhythm within my performance until it feels right.
Q: We are almost a year removed since ‘The Florida Project’ had its UK premiere at The BFI London Film Festival. How do you reflect on this remarkable film and the impact it had?
A: I still cannot believe I was a part of such a massive moment. Reflecting back I just feel so incredibly proud, a bit in shock and just blessed to have been able to be a part of such an impactful story. I think of the families in Florida who live that reality every day and I hope that the people who have been impacted by this film – and who are able to provide some help – will go out and actually do something positive for the families.
Q: The Florida Project is destined to go down as an indie classic and is the type of project that, I imagine, connects the cast and crew for life. Do you feel that is the case?
A: ONE-HUNDRED percent. I have so much love and respect for every person who was involved in this film. I was so nervous going to film, being that it was my first time on a proper movie set, my first time acting, being three months pregnant and just entirely out of my comfort-zone. I can honestly say everyone embraced me and expressed nothing but kindness toward me, the love really made my experience a magical one.
Q: For those who aren’t aware, you impart a lot of thoughtful and wise words on social media, especially in relation to single motherhood. Can you share anything about your experience as a single mother and advice you would have for other women?
A: I have been going back and forth in my head about how I channel my thoughts and words about single motherhood on my social media. I don’t want to come off like I am creating this division between single mothers and non-single mothers. I would never want a woman to feel she couldn’t reach out to me for support because she doesn’t identify as a single mother.
The more I grow into my experience as a mother and meet other mothers, I realise we really are all in this together. Some parents definitely experience more struggles than others and being on your own as a parent just feels so incredibly difficult and lonely at times, which makes being more open and inclusive with every type of parent that much more important and makes getting help that much more accessible.
Q: We saw in The Florida Project – and now Pa’lante – what a talented and emotionally connected actor you are. What kind of projects do you hope to work on in the future?
A: I want to continue to be a part of meaningful stories and I want to keep pushing boundaries of how women with tattoos are represented in the film industry. That we are capable of playing roles outside of prostitutes and drug addicts, that we can be heroes and doctors and have happily ever afters. Hit me up Hollywood! I got ideas! (laughs)