Some years ago I traveled to the southwest to research a film about the US-Mexico border and the uprooted men and women who risk their lives crossing it. While driving in south Texas, I got hopelessly lost in a maze of new housing developments. It was boom times then – and new houses rose up in every direction, giant billboards jutting up behind boundary walls, promising a piece of the American Dream.
On my way back to the highway, I came upon a rundown trailer park, and saw an Anglo woman walking to her rundown car. Behind her, just beyond reach, a wall rose up, and behind that, new houses as far the eye could see. Suddenly it dawned on me: the border was right here – in every billboard, each new subdivision, and the endless rows of walls within walls.
I began to think about what it means to live in the very epicenter of the American Dream, and feel not hope – but trapped. My focus shifted, and I began to imagine a film not simply about the borders of geography, but about human borders – of class, culture, attitudes, and ideas. This was the starting point for The Girl.
First, the character of Ashley began to stir. Alone, her child taken from her, she feels that the world is against her – blaming everyone but herself for her situation. Angry and mistrustful, she believes that all she lacks is money to escape the quicksand of her life. She makes a desperate choice – and the film traces the consequences of her decision.
Next came Ashley’s counterpart in Rosa, a young girl who loses her mother while crossing the Rio Grande. At the border, their two worlds collide – and the destiny of each is forever altered. Rosa wrestles with Ashley, forcing her for the first time to take responsibility for her actions. When Ashley finally brings the young girl back to her village, she is given the chance to return home herself, but now with the possibility of a different future.
Above all, the film is the story of a woman’s awakening – to herself, her past, and to the world around her. It is a journey of redemption, from darkness to light. Ashley, from the north, can only move forward when she breaks the cycle of her past. Rosa, from the south, is the force that makes this possible.
In fits and starts, an unlikely relationship develops between them, a relationship that neither expects and neither is looking for. But somehow, in spite of themselves, an Anglo woman from Texas and a young girl from the south of Mexico come together, change each other, and finally discover that they have something profoundly in common – that they are, in a way, sisters. Their relationship, and the journey they make, turns the central myth of the border upside down – that hope flows north.
Set in south Texas and the borderlands, The Girl is rooted in a desolate and hard reality – on both sides of the border. Yet the inspiration for the film has never been the extreme hardship or violence that flares up at this fault line between two worlds. Rather, the story is inspired by the deeper realities and truths of the border.
The tone of the film is lyrical, rather than journalistic. I am not interested in the most sensational or violent aspects of the crossing, and have avoided those stories that grab headlines. It is a story of people whose lives are changed by crossing the border in both directions.
There is no doubt that over the past two decades the border has become increasingly dangerous. Thousands have died or been killed in the crossing. And it is just such a tragedy that sets in motion the story of The Girl. But the film is as much about a Texas woman’s rebirth as it is about the death of a woman from southern Mexico. The heart of the story lies in the fact that these two events are profoundly connected.
When I say that the tone of the film is lyrical realism, I am not trying to soften or romanticize the hard realities that our characters confront. I am instead choosing a language – both in the story and in the way of telling it – that focuses on the humanity of our characters and seeks to express this in universal terms.