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Driving social impact through movies

In this segment of So Hot we feature Filipino American film producer Cecilia Mejia. In our recent interview with filmmaker PJ Raval – https://youtu.be/DME5TQkvq8U – he noted that the common denominator of recent successful Filipino American films – “Call Her Ganda”, “Lingua Franca”, “Yellow Rose”, and “Come & Take It” – is #socialimpact producer Cecilia.

Having no formal qualification or education in film, it is hard to believe that she is one of the most sought after young film producers of today.

Cecilia opens by saying that she always loved film but she didn’t really aspire to build a career in it. Instead, she started with working in non-profit organizations, with the help and guidance of Filipina billionaire, lawyer and philanthropist Loida Lewis.

Cecilia recalls getting her start in films when Filipina American director Diane Paragas came to her office to research about a movie Diane was working on at the time. Diane asked for Cecilia’s help in researching for her film #YellowRose which is currently out in commercial theaters – the first Filipino-led film to be released by a major Hollywood studio (Sony Pictures). Cecilia says that by helping Diane, she met even more Filipino American artists in the industry and her film-producing projects snowballed from there.

The common denominator of all the films she has produced is that the main topic always revolves around social issues. Cecilia says she uses film as a tool to put a spotlight on social issues that she is passionate about in order to create awareness. And this is how she says she justified working in film to her parents and to herself, because she says growing up as a young Filipina, her parents always wanted her to pursue a “more practical career.”

She thanks PJ Raval (director of “Come & Take It” and “Call Her Ganda”) for inspiring her to produce films that are socially impactful. She also teaches Social Impact Producing at NYU (New York University) to educate students who are interested in pursuing the same. She says she believes that film reaches people in a way that no other medium can. And she says she believes that the purpose of social impact producing is to prolong the topic that is being communicated in films. According to her, “Art is a way to leverage change.” “

Most people don’t care unless it [the issue] personally affects them, she explains, adding that this has been her mantra when producing socially impactful films. Coming from a non-profit background, she has built this understanding of how people operate.

Cecilia gets almost-giddy when talking about how excited she is about the release of all her films especially “Come & Take It” because it’s presently relevant. She says she believes that there needs to be more films like this because of Jessica, main activist/character in the film. She says more people should be inspired by films that fight gun violence so that they can also take action.

Cecilia also talks about “Yellow Rose” and says she did not really expect the film to be picked up Sony Pictures. She explains that she always dreamed of it but it wasn’t until she reached out to people of influence when the film got enough traction. She thanks the Alvarez family and ABS-CBN for being involved. She says her main goal at the time was to get the film made and be seen by her friends. According to her, “To me the goal was already achieved. Everything else was just icing on the cake.”

She goes on to share some of the projects that are in the pipeline for her. 1) She and PJ are excited to be launching a digital series called “Kapwa” which will debut at the Centre of Asian American Media. 2) She adds that they are also revamping the “Call Her Ganda” campaign given the recent judgement on the case. 3) She is also currently working with director Clarissa De los Reyes for a couple of projects. 4) And amid all this, she is also working on a non-profit called Art of Me where she works with underrepresented high school students in Cleveland and New York City. Art of Me has a couple of films coming out as well – “Blood Hana” is one, a centerpiece for the Asian American International Festival, directed by Mary Evangelista, also a Filipina.

She ends by sharing a pandemic message to viewers, that we have tone resilient. And while many have lost a lot during this time, there are also some gains. But we have to take action.

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