15 years later, "Real Women Have Curves" remains one of the most important films for brown girls
Activist, advocate, and actress America Ferrera has displayed her colossal talent throughout her entire career. From her films to her television series, Ferrera has constantly delivered excellence. Beyond her career as an actress, America has been dedicated to fighting for women and her community.
During this year’s Golden Globes, Meryl Streep accurately said, “Tommy Lee Jones said to me, ‘Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?’ Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy.”
America Ferrera has fiercely pushed boundaries and raised her voice, while also raising the voices of others.
Ferrera has strongly dedicated her platform to raise awareness and mobilize communities in an act of support and resistance.
In January, during the Women’s March, America spoke the truth during her speech:
Through concise actions, mobilization and platforms, America has shown her unwavering support.
Before Superstore and Ugly Betty, America participated in one of the most important films of latinx feminism, Real Women Have Curves.
More than a film, the story serves as a document of the socio-political landscape of latinx immigrants in the United States. The story may focus on one family, but it reflects the experiences of many.
Ana García (America Ferrera) is facing life-changing choices as a high school senior moving onto her new life at Columbia University as a first-generation college student. In a cross-generational home – living with her sister, parents, and grandfather – Ana is facing the dichotomy of tradition vs. cultural assimilation. Living in the predominantly latino neighborhood of East Los Angeles, Ana travels from east to west, to the upscale neighborhood of Beverly Hills, where she attends high school. Ana wishes to meet her family’s expectations, as well as help provide support as they face harsh economic conditions. However, she is also enthralled with the idea of attending college and providing herself with new opportunities. Ana’s mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), an immigrant, struggles to make ends meets, and continues to serve as the household nucleus.
Ana wants to excel beyond the borders of her neighborhood, but also meet traditional expectations and support her family. Even with family responsibilities and economic hardships, Ana continues to be a teenager, exploring dating, relationships, and her sexual awakening.
Real Women Have Curves also delves into the labor exploitation of immigrants. During the film, Estela, Ana’s sister, has a factory creating dresses that Bloomingdale’s sells for $600, while the factory is paid $18 per dress.
Amid the pains of extortion, disadvantages, and poverty, Real Women Have Curves is a painful yet warm film, echoing hope and the power of resilience. In a new country, with a new language, where work is the vehicle to economic advancement, Real Women Have Curves spotlights these struggles. However, we don’t see Ana rejecting her culture — rather, she values and cherishes her identity as the daughter of immigrants. America Ferrera’s character reclaims the space of an immigrant in this country, and points out that children of immigrants are the result of hard-working labor and support.
While her family wishes the best for Ana, they are uninformed of college or the value of it – further representing the lack of resources and information available to immigrant communities of color. Ana’s parents have been focused on working, and believe Ana’s future will be molded by her work, rather than her education. As the film continues, Carmen silently understands that a college education is an opportunity that Ana longs for, similar to the economic advancement that Carmen yearned for when arriving to the United States.
Despite their differences, Ana and Carmen are both feminists. It’s a feminism that goes beyond textbook theory — it lays in the intersection of gender, race, and class. In their unique ways, they each shed light on the women who exist in society’s margins, constantly disregarded in mainstream feminist spaces. The movie was released in 2002, and still resonates within today’s socio-political landscape.
America Ferrera is an icon that continues to be one of the women we truly admire. Her role as Ana in Real Women Have Curves mirrors the life of many brown girls, first-generation daughters of immigrants, and hood feminists in the making. Here are some of the most empowering moments of the film that are so representative of latinx feminism in the United States.
After having sex for the first time, Ana is questioned by her mother for her actions. While Carmen has beliefs deeply-rooted in her culture and religion, Ana explains to her mother the value of her womanhood beyond her body.
Carmen: Why didn’t you value yourself?
Ana: Because there’s more to me than what’s in between my legs
Enter one of the most emblematic scenes in cinema, while the women are exploited at the factory – or “sweat-shop” as Ana calls it. When working under severe conditions on an unbearably hot summer day, Ana invites all the women to take off their clothes. More than a refreshing decision, it becomes an open invitation to enjoy their bodies, and revel in the power of their beauty.
Carmen: Are you embarrassed?
Ana: Of what?
Carmen: Look at you, you look awful.
Ana: Mama, I happen to like myself.
Estela: Right on, sister!
It is difficult for Carmen to derail from her traditional background.
Carmen: You would look beautiful without all that fat!
But we see Ana comfortable with her body — not fighting with her mother, but merely explaining her point of view.
Ana: Mama, I do want to lose weight. And part of me doesn’t because my weight says to everybody, fuck you!
Speaking more about her weight, Ana says:
Ana: How dare anybody tell me what I should look like…or what I should be…when there’s so much more to me than just my weight! I want to be taken seriously. Respected for what I think, not for how I look.
One of the most powerful moments of the film comes from Ana, once again. We get to view two clashing worlds, yet not once does Ana judge her mother, nor does Carmen intentionally hurt Ana. They are both in transition, growing and learning; for Ana, growing to be a woman in a country that she now calls her own; for Carmen, accepting a new direction and detaching from traditional views.
While the women are naked, profusely sweating, and only wearing their underwear, they proudly flaunt their cellulite at each other. Ana tells her mother:
This is who we are, Mama. Real women.
Real Women Have Curves is a cinematic gem of culture, race and gender; a reflection of what makes America – and America Ferrera – great.