Curves on a blossoming young woman can be sexy, but not if you are told you have too many of them. Real Women Have Curves is a humorous and warm hearted look at a Mexican American teenage girl coming of age in a boiling cauldron of cultural expectations, class constrictions, family duty, and her own personal aspirations. In this auspicious debut, Patricia Cardoso gives us a cast of characters we very rarely see—working class Latina women—with refreshing human complexity.
Ana, a first generation Mexican American teenager living in East Los Angeles, has just graduated from high school. Because she is a talented writer, a caring teacher urges her to apply to college. Ana secretly is excited about the possibility, but her overbearing and hyper-critical mother, Carmen, insists that it is time for her to help provide for the family by working in her sister's sewing factory. It seems as if Ana's fate is unhappily sealed, but her indomitable will to reach beyond a sweatshop life eventually leads her to burst, defiant and resplendent, through every restriction on her life.
America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros are wonderful as Ana and her mom as they deal with all of the unexpected curves life throws at them. Based on the play by Josephina Lopez, which is rooted in her own experience, Real Women Have Curves gives a fresh new voice to the yearnings of Chicana women struggling against insecurities to love themselves and find respect in the world.
Latinos are the fastest growing minority group in the United States, comprising 17% of the population. Despite their rising numbers, Latinos accounted for only 2.4% of directors in the top ten highest grossing films from 2000 to 2009*. Colombian-American filmmaker Patricia Cardoso was one of the few, and with her directorial debut Real Women Have Curves, she introduced then 18-year-old rising star, America Ferrera, to the world. Cardoso’s film gave voice to a generation of immigrants struggling to reconcile their Mexican and American identities, and depicted a woman of color with intelligence, confidence, and ambition, still a rarity on screen today. Director of Sundance’s Latin American Program for five years, Cardoso helped to promote other Latin American and Latino creators such as Walter Salles (Central Station) and Aurora Guerrero (Mosquita y Mari). Cardoso has continued to direct feature films and television and currently teaches at the Cinematic School of Arts at the University of Southern California.
*Columbia University, 2014: The Latino Media Gap Report
“If Hollywood history is to be believed, visual splendor is most often found solely within the confines of white America, but Real Women Have Curves, a breakout Sundance hit with a predominantly Latin-American cast, expanded an entire generation’s concept of beauty, an impact that’s still felt 15 years after the film’s original Oct. 18, 2002, release. At a time when most films set in East Los Angeles chronicled gang life, Real Women Have Curves instead struck a poetic chord of authenticity with its warm portrayal of a lived-in, culturally rich, cinematically underserved side of the nation.”
—Joey Nolfi, Entertainment Weekly, 2017