Diana Paragas on Immigrant Separation Story with Country Music in Yellow Rose [Exclusive Interview]

Diana Paragas
Diana Paragas wrote and directed Yellow Rose

To many immigrants, the American Dream is the opportunity of being in the United States for a new life.

However, for some immigrants, life as an undocumented immigrant is tough in fighting for the right to be here.

In the touching family separation story of Yellow Rose, director, and writer Diana Paragas brings us an emotional story about a young teenager who ends up being alone in a small Texas town after her mother is detained as an undocumented immigrant. The young woman seeks her own survival as an undocumented immigrant without proper family support and turns to country music and a singer for guidance.

The film stars newcomer Eva Noblezada in her film debut, who was a former Tony Award nominee and Broadway star. She is supported by country music singer Dale Watson and iconic Broadway legend Lea Salonga, who also was the singing voice in Disney Animation’s Mulan and Aladdin. Other cast members include Princess Punzalan, Liam Booth, Libby Villari, and Gustavo Gomez.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Rose, an undocumented Filipino girl, dreams of one day leaving her small Texas town to pursue her own country music dreams. Her world is shattered when her mom suddenly gets picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Rose, facing this new reality, is forced to flee the scene, leaving behind the only life she knows and embarks on a journey of self-discovery as she searches for a new home in the honky-tonk world of Austin, Texas.

LRM Online’s Gig Patta spoke with director Diana Paragas over the phone late last month. We discussed the original storyline, realities of undocumented immigration, a Filipina story, and country music.

Yellow Rose is currently available digitally and VOD today. The film is released on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow.

Read the full interview below. Let us know what you think.

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Gig Patta: So congratulations on Yellow Rose coming out on Blu-ray pretty soon.

Diana Paragas: It’s on digital and on-demand today. That’s the big news.

Gig Patta: Excellent. I understand this all started because of your short film?

Diana Paragas: The short was an idea to kind of raise money or raise the profile of the film as a feature. I’d already written the feature when I did the short. For the short, it was kind of like a proof of concept for the future. With the film, I’ve been working on for many, many years before that. When we met up with an investor, I convinced him to let us do a short that would eventually lead to the feature. It ended up being good since it works. But yes, we did a short performance of the feature.

Gig Patta: Where did the original idea come from when you wrote for Yellow Rose?

Diana Paragas: I’m Filipino and I grew up in a small town in Texas. At the time, I was kind of the only Filipino in my school. As I was writing the script, I saved a lot of my experience on my feelings of being isolated. At the time, I was using music to get through those feelings.

Then I twisted it though. I wasn’t a big country fan when I was in high school, I was more into punk rock. The character was changed into somebody who loves country music because it’s more of a metaphor for the American dream. She held on to something that she loved, but it didn’t love her back. It seemed like a great jumping-off point for the protagonist. The movie was always about immigration. It was always about a young woman being separated from her mother’s at the beginning of her journey

Gig Patta: When you created the script, why did you want to concentrate on the fact that they were undocumented?

Diana Paragas: When they think about undocumented families, they think about the Latin X community, which is a huge part of that situation. A lot of people don’t realize that there are a lot of families from Asia who also go through a similar situation. Certainly, my culture, Filipino American culture, is a huge thing to be undocumented. It’s just very much part of that experience in our community and to make it part of this story. Yellow Rose was to display it very naturally and very relative to what going on within the Filipino community and other Asian communities as well.

Gig Patta: How real was the arrests and raids portrayed in the film? Were undocumented. Immigrants would be assigned a number?

Diana Paragas: That’s all real. My background is in documentary filmmaking. When I started researching the film a number of years ago, I partnered with the Filipino legal defense fund in which they put me in touch with many families who I interviewed and recorded their stories. They brought me into detention centers where I got to go behind the prison to interview people who were currently being detained.

Those were the basis of the stories that you see in the film. Some of them are actually verbatim accounts of what actually happened. It’s very, very real. A lot of the experience that you see on screen was actually happening while we were shooting. There was this scene when the mother gets sent to the first detention center, the Mylar sheets, which is just a piece of tinfoil. Those sheets were being used in Texas at the time. They were featured in a number of news articles, as well as Jose Antonio Vargas, a prize-winning author who wrote a book about being undocumented as a part of his youth in his detention.

It was real. It’s really important to me given my background as a documentarian to make that experience very real.

Gig Patta: That’s a great thing that you managed to link your documentaries into a narrative film like this. Do you do that quite often or do you like to go back and forth?

Diana Paragas: I am also a commercial director. I’m always directing between real people and actors. It’s pretty much the same in my film as I always going back and forth. Now, I’m leaning more into the narrative fiction world. My next couple of projects are scripted, but it’s definitely always in me. It’s very important to me that I make a film about what’s happening in the world.

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Gig Patta: As for the country music side of your film, are all of that original music for your film?

Diana Paragas: Yes, they are. Most of the music Rose performed was written for the film. It’s mostly with Dale Watson, who plays himself. He was a huge part of our musical guru for the film. He’s also a producer. Some of the songs are the music that he wrote for the film or were songs that he hadn’t yet had on any albums. Then the other stuff that we wrote for Rose, we wrote with Dale. Some of the music, I co-wrote and wrote on my own. It was definitely original music written with these characters in mind.

Gig Patta: [Laughs] I thought you said you’re not much into country.

Diana Paragas: Well, I became a fan of country music in the course of making this movie over the last couple of years specifically with the kind of music we feature in this film. I’ve become a huge fan of country music now. It was something I didn’t really know much about when I was in high school. Over the years, I’ve become a huge fan. And certainly for me, by writing the music that I wrote, it really was knowing what this character was and the kinds of music that she would write.

Gig Patta: How did you score Dale Watson into a film like this? After all, he is a known country singer.

Diana Paragas: Yes, he is. I met Dale when we were doing a short film. Actually, I was meeting with him to be more of a songwriter. One of my creative directors, who was a musician from Austin, recommended I meet him when we were going to shoot for a short film. When I met him, I was like, “Oh, my God. He was Jimmy Redburn.” That was the character I wrote in the script. I gave him the part on the spot just because he was how I imagined this character to be but much more.

Luckily, he agreed and he was very supportive of the film over the years. As I said, he opened his world to us. Not only did we shoot at his real gigs at Broken Spoke and C-Boy’s, but we also shot in his house. The recording studio was in his house. And that’s where we recorded all the music with his producer. It’s very much the world we inhabit is Dale’s world. That’s what gives the film a grounded authenticity since that’s really his world. That’s the world of Austin country music.

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Gig Patta: Talk about ever why Eva Noblezada was perfect for this role.

Diana Paragas: Well, I’m really excited for people to see the film. Finally, they will get to discover this extraordinary performance from Eva. I heard about her first when we were testing for our short. She had been cast at the same time to be in the revival of Miss Saigon in London. She would be in that production for three years, which is about the time for us to finish our short and then raise money to get enough money for the feature. She had just been coming out of finishing her run on Broadway in the same role where she received a Tony nomination.

I went to go see her finally in Miss Saigon after I sent her the script that she liked. I watched her for the first time on stage, had dinner with her that night, and offered her the part. It was undeniable that she had to play Rose. When I finally saw her in Miss Saigon, I had no doubt in my mind that she was the person I’d been looking for a very long time. By the way, there were hundreds of girls over the years for this part. It was a very easy decision to cast Eva.

Gig Patta: I want to mention that, you brought in Lea Salonga on onboard this project. Could you talk about her role and moments in the film?

Diana Paragas: For any Filipino-American, Lea is the queen. She was the first person I ever knew who was Filipino with notoriety in the industry. She was the original Miss Saigon. Then she was Mulan and Jasmine in Aladdin with her singing voice. So she was just this icon. I knew I wanted to have her in this movie.

I wrote this part for her and met with her the same summer. She was on Broadway in a play at the time. I offered her this part and she said, yes, as well. It’s just such an honor because she’s such an icon and major figure. It’s the first time she returned to film after 24 years of continuing to do concerts and doing a lot of Broadway and some television. This was her first time back in a film. I’m just really grateful that we got her. It means the world to me Filipinos around the world that she’s in this movie.

Gig Patta: Well, congratulations once again, Diana, for yellow Rose. Thank you for this talk.

Diana Paragas: Thanks so much.

Yellow Rose is currently available digitally and VOD today. The film is released on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive, Yellow Rose Film

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