If you’ve seen Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird and you’re gay, you probably loved it. You may have gay gasped. (So did critics. It’s the most well-reviewed movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes.) The film, which is great, seems manufactured by a Gay Twitter focus group. It’s written and directed by critically adored, but commercially underappreciated, queer darling Greta Gerwig. It stars critically adored, underutilized and due-for-awards-attention Roseanne alumna Laurie Metcalf. And its protagonist, played by Saoirse Ronan, is an outcast theatre nerd exponentially cooler than everyone around her who nevertheless dulls her shine to kowtow to her peers. She is us. We are her.
In being filled to the brim with white women to like, retweet and stan, the film has enchanted its audience. Over Thanksgiving weekend, plenty of gay men tweeted about seeing the film with their mothers, or with their Judys, or alone. Yet although Lady Bird boasts Gerwig’s strong directorial choices, writing and acting to its credit, there’s no denying that the film’s whiteness is part of its appeal. It’s set in Sacramento in 2003: People of color are few and far between in this setting.
Sitting through Lady Bird, I couldn’t help but feel like I had seen this story before. Of course, there are only two real plots in all of fiction: person goes on a journey, or stranger comes to town. But, so many of the plot points in Lady Bird’s quotidian bildungsroman echo, beat for beat, plot points from the 2002 film Real Women Have Curves.
Curves doesn’t get quite the reputation it deserves. It doesn’t get cited like it should, though, at the time, it did something for Latinas and women, in general akin to what Bridesmaids did with a cast of white women later. It declared that Latinx women in Hollywood were able to tell their own stories, to be funny and heartbreaking.
The films share a remarkable list of similar elements. Curves stars America Ferrera as Ana Garcia, a high school senior in California (like Lady Bird’s titular protagonist) who, as Lady Bird herself would say, is “from the wrong side of the tracks.” While Lady Bird is poor in Sacramento, Ana is poor in East Los Angeles. Like Ronan in Lady Bird, Ana meets a rich white boy who ignites her budding sexuality. Both protagonists struggle to convince their families to allow them to attend college in New York. Both have bodily trauma: Lady Bird breaks her arm, while Ana struggles with her weight. Both movies explore the fragile relationship between a headstrong daughter and a tough-as-nails working mom.
Why then has Real Women Have Curves seemed to have evaporated from public consciousness? Why then can we see ourselves in outcasts like Lady Bird, but not an outcast like Ana Garcia? Some might argue that the film’s age it turned 15 this year plays a factor. But in a world where people on Twitter can dig up every Laura Dern performance from the 1990s as a sign of latent genius, I don’t think that 2002 is that long ago.
Just as Lady Bird’s parade of white woman talent is a part of its success, I’m inclined to think that Real Women Have Curves’ Latinx-centric world hinders it, like much work by and about people of color, from feeling relatable. Whiteness, in Hollywood and in our collective conscious, often means relatability, while latinidad does not. To that point, I have a plea for every gay who loved watching Lady Bird: Watch Real Women Have Curves right now. Especially if you’ve never seen it before, but rewatch even if you have. (A larger plea I have is to examine why white womanhood is so venerated and feels so relatable, but, baby steps.)
Curves is written by a Latinx woman, based on a play she wrote as a teenager. It is directed by a Latinx woman. It stars America Ferrera who would go on to win awards and attain icon status for her work on Ugly Betty. But if you’re really looking for something to gay gasp over, you need to check out the work of Lupe Ontiveros, one of the most prolific Latinx actresses of all time. She’s in almost everything you’ve seen: As Good As It Gets, Selena, Desperate Housewives and The Goonies. She will make you gay gasp.
Recently, a friend and I went to a screening of Real Women Have Curves’ for the film’s 15th anniversary at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Walter Reade Theatre. During a panel after the film, Ferrera spoke about acting in her first film role opposite Ontiveros. Since that time, Ontiveros has died. But, Ferrera said, she learned something about racism and misogyny in Hollywood from working with the elder actress. Ferrera said she realized that someone like Ontiveros could go their whole life in Hollywood without being able to utilize and share the enormity of their talent with the world.
Gerwig, Ronan and Metcalf have loads of talent, and they get to share it. And that talent lives on in each discussion. Give Curves a viewing. Write about it, tweet about it. Allow it to live longer. And whether you see a part of yourself in it, and especially if you don’t, investigate that.