Can you believe it’s been 30 years since ‘Quinceañera’? The widely-successful telenovela, which arguably catapulted Thalía to become one of the biggest Mexican stars of her generation. Hailed as the first teen-aimed telenovela, ‘Quinceañera’ followed two girls in the lead-up to the title tradition, which celebrates a young woman’s entrance into adulthood. Three decades after she donned that signature pink poofy dress, Thalía is returning to the quince world in her HBO documentary 15 – A Quinceañera Story. This time, though, she’s behind the camera alongside her co-director, Academy Award nominee Matthew O’Neill.
The documentary follows five girls as they plan and prepare for their quince. But lest you think the four shorts are merely about choosing dresses, practicing choreography, and picking who’ll be part of their court, Thalía and her team have imbued each party-planning story with broader issues that are all too timely. Zoey, for example, turns her quinceañera into an all-out celebration of her trans identity, reclaiming the party’s all-out femininity as her own. Ashley, a boxer who helps her mom in her catering business on the weekends to pay for her party, faces the prospect of not having her coach there as he faces deportation. Rosi, eager to embrace her Cuban heritage, travels to the island where she soon realizes she may not have the chops to keep up with the amazing dance routine (to Gloria Estefan, natch) her choreographer has dreamed up for her. And then there are Texans Jackie and Nina, two escaramuza riders who use their joint party to highlight the Mexican horseback riding tradition they so enjoy. In sum, these are not your mother’s quinceañeras. These four stories show us instead the ways millennial Latinas in the United States have been reshaping this rather old-fashioned tradition and making it feel vibrant in the 21st century.
Ahead of the doc’s premiere, Remezcla got a chance to chat with the multi-hyphenate entertainer. Thalía talked to us about why she’s so excited about sharing this project with the world, what she hopes these stories can teach young Latinas, and what wonderful female filmmakers inspire her. Take a read below.
To many of us, you’ll always be associated with quinceañeras. What made you want to return to that celebration but to do so behind the camera?
Well, it was very organic. A kind of return but also way to show it to new audiences. And I found the ideal team with HBO and Matt O’Neill. It was incredible working with them and they understood everything that I wanted to show and to share. It was very organic and it was like a complete circle from the beginning, from that soap opera, every time I have a tour or a concert, they always ask me to sing that ‘Quinceañera’ song. And now, introducing the whole story of what really goes behind the party, behind the dress, the struggles from the families. It’s a dream come true.
Do you find that quinceañeras have changed since not just your telenovela but your own?
I mean what you find in here is family values. It’s a union, no matter your background or where you come from. It’s just a matter of completing a dream. A matter of acknowledging that the little girl in your family is becoming a woman. And this is the first step she’s taking. And it’s important for a family to celebrate quinceañeras. To celebrate this. We follow five gorgeous, beautiful, souls. These five Latinas from different cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s very interesting and it’s very moving. It’s beautiful. It’s something that we need right now in this atmosphere. I think the world is going through a very dark period and I think we need a little bit of fresh air full of love and dreams.
The stories you focus on here are very hopeful. I was curious to hear about the casting process, and how you arrived at these five young women.
It was almost like an investigation! With Matt O’Neill, the team and myself going to all these different places where we could go and find quinceañeras, girls who wanted to share their stories. It’s been a two year and a half process of finding the right story. We started with so many and then, you start making decisions and narrowing the list until you have the ones that you think “These are incredible stories! They have to be out! People have to know what’s happening behind Rosy or Ashley or Zoey or Jackie and Nina!” These are great stories. And it’s important right now to put a spotlight on this culture and on this community.
What surprised you the most about hanging out with these young girls in the lead up to their parties?
Well, all of them have a special, unique story, I think. Ashley’s was very moving to me, this amateur boxer who lives in Los Angeles. Her mother is a dreamer, her father has been deported. And her coach is also at that moment going through his own deportation process. It is very touching and you’re struggling with her! You want to be there for her and support her. And Zoey’s story is also amazing. She was assigned male at birth and celebrates with her trans madrinas, her godmothers, who never had quinceañeras of their own. So it’s like a whole, incredible story there. For some reason, I identify a lot with Zoey and her mother. It reminds me of my mother and me at that age. Because we went against everything, my mother and I. We were just fighting everything and I see the same in them and it’s very inspiring.
That’s the other thing about these stories. They modernize the quinceañera tradition. Was that always the intention? How did that come about?
Everything was organic. We just went into their lives and put a camera on them. It’s just, the way they are, this Millennial generation. They’re on their phones and they’re so happy, downloading the music they want to dance to, they want to share it. It’s beautiful that this incredible tradition is more alive now than ever. For some reason, everybody is more into it than ever. And it’s just beautiful to see that and to share it with new audiences.
I also wanted to ask you about deciding to get behind the camera for this project.
Indirectly, I’ve been directing my whole career. You know, I’ve been directing my videos or executive producing my albums, or the Thalía Sodi clothing collection line at Macy’s, I just love to direct people, to tell them how I want everything, how I want the lights, the shape, the fabrics. It’s so intuitive for me. So organic. And this was that first step into this world. And I loved it. I was so fortunate to do it with an Emmy winner, with Matt O’Neill. We became an incredible team. And the editing part was so magical. Because it’s like, “No, stop, rewind it! Let me see it again. Rewind! Let me see it again!” It’s just putting all these pieces of this puzzle together and working them to tell a great story.
Can we expect you to keep at it? To see you direct more stuff in the future?
Yes! I loved it. I think it’s beautiful and it feels so good. It’s your extension. I don’t know how to explain it. Physically you’re not there but your whole essence is there. And there’s a sexiness about it that is beautiful and it makes me feel free but makes me feel in control, makes me feel happy.
That’s great to hear because I think especially right now we need more female filmmakers!
Exactly! I’m with you. When I see, for instance, Sofia Coppola, I love the aesthetics of her vision, or Patty Jenkins, I love how she goes to the extremes, you know, from Monster to Wonder Woman. Like, it’s really inspiring.