Shortly after Javi and Elsa learn that their grandmother has died, Javi decides to get ready for work instead of taking a day off to mourn.
Elsa reminds Javi of the magnitude of their grandmother’s sacrifices — leaving her hometown, family and friends, and walking barefoot through the desert — to give her children and grandchildren a better life in the U.S.
But for Javi, those sacrifices take a back seat to the pain often caused by their relationship.
“It doesn't feel like a luxury though, especially since she shunned me when I came out,” Javi, who is queer and uses the pronouns they and them, says.
“You know that she came from a different time and a different era. So you're just gonna spit on her death because she didn't love you the way that you wanted to be loved?” Elsa responds.
It's a poignant moment in the new short film “Glimmer,” the directorial debut of Filipino American poet and writer Arianna Basco, who also wrote the screenplay and plays the role of Elsa. The 19-minute short is screening online at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival through October.
“Glimmer” will be available only to viewers in Southern California, excluding San Diego County.
Although Javi is queer, the heart of the story surrounds universal themes, Basco said: family, generational understanding, forgiveness, finding peace. It also unravels grief, healing and identity. Basco said that while she is of Filipino descent and others working on the film are of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, “Glimmer” is a nondescript immigrant story that highlights the experience of loss in immigrant families.
“It's difficult finding our identity in our family sometimes, especially when they've traveled and provided so much for us,” Basco told NBC Asian America in an email. “Their belief systems regarding our 'modern' lives don't always align. How much of their story do we have to continually honor? How much of who we are is ours? On our own merit? And if we are to truly be ourselves, is it disrespectful to our ancestors before us who fought so hard for us to have a better life?”
The scene between Javi and Elsa is one that writer, poet and actor Féi Hernandez, who plays Javi, said strongly resonates: Hernandez was a childhood arrival who grew up in a Spanish-speaking immigrant household and felt it was necessary to compromise different parts of their identity as a queer person.
“There’s such a humanness to this film and it’s beautiful because we're all super complex entities, and I feel like this film shows that,” Hernandez said.
The film also features the voice of Rosario Dawson as Elsa and Javi's mom.
Basco said the film was born out of a class she teaches at Palms Up Academy in Los Angeles' Historic Filipinotown.
Hernandez was also an inspiration for the film. Following a conversation they had about casting and representation during a class, Basco said she was compelled to write a script with roles that could be portrayed by a variety of people, specifically those of color.
Elsa and Javi's relationship isn't explicitly established at any point in the film, though it’s revealed toward the end that Elsa is an aspect of Javi's personality — that they were having an internal dialogue with themselves. Grappling with identity and oneself is another theme in the story, which is what makes the roles in “Glimmer” ones that could be filled by different people, Basco said.
Basco said she wrote “Glimmer” with people like herself in mind, who aren't transgender or nonbinary. She said she was taken aback when the film's editor, Daniel Haff, a cisgender straight, white, conservative male, told her how the film shifted his perspective.
Haff told NBC Asian America in an email he believes there may be an assumption that those like him won't understand or would be uncomfortable with gender identity. But for him, “Glimmer” was a powerful story.
Even though the transgender community is often covered in broadcast and online or print news, written words don't always capture what goes through the minds of transgender individuals, he said.
“So to see this story play out, and the interaction between the two characters I think really projects the mindset of their everyday lives by bringing this human visual representation to that inner voice that lives inside all of us,” he said.
He added that he hopes many people around the world get the chance to see the film because he believes it can have a lasting impact on the perspective people have of the LGBTQ community.
“This is why this story,” Basco said. “It doesn't tell you where the intersection is and why or how you should go there. It subtly leads you to it, and suddenly the intersection is not just 'theirs' anymore. It's all of ours. That's what makes it an intersection. That to me, is the actual experience of intersectionality.”