Mother of Color, the first feature from queer, Mexican American filmmaker Dawn Jones Redstone, tells a very personal and very Portland story. Jones Redstone calls it the “origin story” of its central character Noelia (Ana del Rocío), a single mother who reconnects to her past via connections with her ancestors. And those communications prepare her for future transformation.

Just don’t call it magic realism. It is much more than that to the writer-director.

“I just wanted to bring enchantment to this story. The idea of talking to our ancestors is something I’ve had a journey with." Jones Redstone told the Mercury. I wanted to bring that in and then when I started thinking about it, I also wanted to go beyond just a straight up social drama. The idea of having this eerie vibe added in was much more intriguing."

As for the significance of Portland in the story, it's more than just a backdrop. Mother of Color grounds itself in elements, like real footage (and a reenactment) of racial justice protests and an appearance by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty (as "the Commissioner"), to name a few. 

“It tells a story about Portland’s long history of striving for justice,” Jones Redstone said. “It’s not Portlandia, Pig, or other characterizations that people associate with the city. This is a different side that is saying 'we’re here, too.'”

In the process of making the feature, Jones Redstone not only filmed and crowdfunded within the city, she also pulled from local talent to staff a diverse film crew. 

“The age-old argument is: I don’t want to hire that person because they don’t have enough experience," she explained. "And then that person can never get experience. You have to hire people that don’t necessarily have experience. We hired people who were ready to step up and into a new role. We provided training for them along the way.”

Jones Redstone pointed to how she had shadowed director Debra Granik on the lauded Leave No Trace (2018) as an example of a time she herself had been given a shot and why she felt it was so important to pay it forward.

Ana del Rocío (left) and Patricia Alvitez (right) in "Mother of Color."

Mother of Color premiered at the Tacoma Film Festival this past September, but said the upcoming Portland screening at the Hollywood Theatre is more important to her. 

“Even though we’ve screened at these places, in some ways I think Portlanders in particular will appreciate what we’re talking about in this film. I think women of color will appreciate it—there weren't that many at the festivals.”

Jones Redstone says she has actually continued to edit the film, trying to get it precisely how she wants it. It's a family effort, as she continues to collaborate with her brother James Jones—who also edited many of her short films. “He’s definitely the editor. I don’t mean to take that away from him," she said of their back and forth approach. 

Ideas of feeling undervalued for work are a main theme in Mother of Color, where Noelia works for a demanding nonprofit before she decides to seek change and new direction.

“Nonprofits can suffer from poor management just like any other workplace, but it’s just particularly ironic when someone, like the character in the film, works to connect with the community, she wants to make change, but she ends up being tokenized and held back,” Jones Redstone said, earmarking My Grandmother's Hands by Resmaa Menakem as a specific inspiration.

“He talks about how we carry the trauma of living in a white supremacist culture in our bodies," she explained. "He’s not just talking about BIPOC folks, he’s talking about everybody. What I really want to talk about [with this film] is how one can be aware of systemic racism, but still be complicit—with this wound we’re carrying that clouds our thinking. This is what people talk about when they talk about decolonizing the mind, but really it’s just healing the body, healing the mind. What I’m interested in doing is providing catharsis about how we can heal, so then we can get on and do the work that needs to be done to make our world better.”


Mother of Color shows at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy, Fri Nov 4, 7 pm, tickets here, $10