January 22, 2021

Diana Peralta’s De Lo Mio Is a Love Letter to Dominican Culture

9 min read

In De Lo Mio, Diana Peralta’s camera moves slowly, smoothly, and sublimely across a lush Dominican landscape, as close-knit Dominican-American sisters Carolina and Rita come face to face with family demons on a visit to DR. The two young New Yorkers—played by Like, Share, Dímelo hosts and real-life, Bronx-raised best friends Darlene Demorizi and Sasha Merci—connect with their estranged older brother, Dante (played by the prolific Dominican actor Héctor Aníbal), as they await the demolition of their deceased father’s childhood home.

Peralta filmed De Lo Mio, her debut feature, in less than two weeks, but she took her time. The shots are generous and sensual. There’s a cinematic luxury to Carolina lounging on a wicker chair surrounded by tall fern plants, or Dante and Rita sitting by a jade-green waterfall. Same for the specific intimacy between Afro-Dominican women when it comes to our hair, as Rita washes and braids Carolina’s curls. The aging but splendid house—Peralta’s actual grandparents’ home in the Cibao region—is engulfed in joyful daylight and rich vegetation. It’s a house that’s loved, but one that also contains family history, heartache, and loss. Demorizi and Merci’s chemistry onscreen is fluid and electric; you share in their laughter when they try on their grandmother’s wigs or playfully dance to old records. The resentment is very real when Dante rages at his sisters for not appreciating his sacrifices. Where were they when their abuela lay dying?

To produce her award-winning first feature, Peralta, who studied film and works as a freelance producer in advertising, started from the bottom and worked across. She enlisted former classmates from her alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, to join her crew. Her younger sister Michelle served as a co-producer. They skipped the typical grants route and directly contacted prosperous Latinx benefactors to invest in the film. Sometimes, a clear-cut approach and bold hustle gets your movie made.

In De Lo Mio, the 31-year-old writer and director depicts the mosaic layers of being Dominican-American while immersing yourself in your parent’s homeland. The Dominicanisms in De Lo Mio are abundant, and those of us who know revel in the nuances onscreen because, as the film’s title suggests, they’re ours: Asking for “una fria” in a local bar and getting handed an icy Presidente. Criticism from family members for having “un greño” when we enjoy wearing our curly hair natural. That seamless, flawless way of jumping from English to Spanish to Spanglish, padded with Dominican slang, because that’s just us and it fits. I can’t wait to see what Peralta, a native New Yorker and daughter of the Dominican diaspora, brings next. Read on as we discuss how De Lo Mio explores loss, filming inside sacred family space, and what Peralta’s doing to stay creative in quarantine.

De Lo Mio has universal themes of complicated family dynamics and resentment, as well as a specific lens—Dominican Yorkers visiting DR. Can you talk about portraying the authenticity of Dominican-American and Dominican culture onscreen?

De Lo Mio was inspired by my own experience as a first generation Dominican-American whose family has been divided by borders. I’m a born-and-raised New Yorker but spent a lot of time back and forth between New York City and the DR, so I grew up feeling deeply connected to both places. The film is a love letter to my Dominican and American identities. I wanted to celebrate both unique cultures but also talk about the clashes that can happen when they come together. It’s a complicated nuance but in order to portray this accurately, it was important for me to cast actors that are authentic to the culture. At the end of the day, even though my film is specific to Dominican culture, it’s also a very universal story. Everyone at some point will live through the aftermath of losing someone. Everyone can relate to that, no matter their background.

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How did you balance autobiographical elements but also create fiction while writing De Lo Mio?

De Lo Mio is fictional but heavily inspired by my experiences and relationship to the Dominican Republic. I lost both of my grandmothers when I was writing the screenplay, so the story around grief and a waning connection to the motherland and culture was something incredibly personal to me. I ended up shooting the film at my grandparents’ house as an homage to them and the place I grew up. I’m also really close with my two sisters, so I definitely pulled inspiration from our relationships in my writing. I basically tapped into all the memories I have of the beautiful people and places I was raised and created a backdrop for this fictional story I wanted to tell.

How did you choose what was sacred in your grandparents’ home and what could be shared in the film?

My grandparents’ house in Santiago is what inspired me to write the film in the first place. I spent every summer in that house and I always knew it was a beautiful and unique place. The rooms, sounds, objects, and people I experienced there became the foundation for my story. When my grandmother passed away shortly after I finished the script, I found out the house was going to be sold and demolished. That’s when things got real because there would be no movie without the house. Once I learned it was going to be gone forever, nothing was sacred. It was all or nothing for me. I selfishly wanted to capture every little detail of the place so I could never forget it. The house was my last physical connection to the island and I wanted to memorialize it all.

What responsibility did you feel in being an Afro-Dominican woman filmmaker directing two Afro-Dominican lead actresses?

It was really important for me to portray Afro-Dominican characters in an everyday, universal story like this. When we are represented in film and TV, our characters are usually wrapped up in some flat stereotype or cliché. I wanted to tell a story about family, love, and trauma where the characters just happen to be Black because that’s just who they are and that’s just who I am. We are just as regular, complex, and multi-dimensional as everyone else, and we deserve to have our stories told humanely and responsibly.

“The house was my last physical connection to the island and I wanted to memorialize it all.”

How did you translate Darlene and Sasha’s comedic chemistry into dramedy for the film?

De Lo Mio is a story about two ride-or-die sisters dealing with the loss of their family. It was important to portray an authentic relationship between sisters, and Sasha and Dee delivered. They are best friends IRL and grew up together, so they already had so much history and chemistry between them. My job was to hone in on that and create an environment where they felt inspired and safe to be themselves.

Part of that process meant making room for improvising. We would run the scenes together as written, but we always made time to get a few takes that were improvised. I would make sure they understood the key narrative and emotional hits of the scene, and then I would give them the space to act it out in their own words. We got some golden comedic moments out of them simply being themselves on camera. Sasha and Dee brought a lightness and joy to the story which balanced perfectly with some of the heavier themes of grief and loss.

Were there moments during writing or production that seemed impossible to push past?

There were a lot of logistical challenges that were tough to get through during the production. We had some pretty extreme time constraints. We had to shoot the entire thing in twelve days because that’s all our budget could afford. We also had the looming deadline of the house being sold. We had one shot to get this movie made and no option for reshoots. On top of it all, we ended up having to shoot during hurricane season. It was an extremely high-stakes situation for directing my first film, and I was a nervous wreck. I got through it by organizing myself and planning every single shot and angle that I needed to capture. I might’ve gone a little overboard with my level of planning, but I found a lot of comfort in the organization. Once I got on set, I just took it one shot at a time. Eventually, I was able to let go of the fear of failing and learned to trust myself. Sometimes you have to throw the plan out the window and just roll with it.

sasha merci and darlene demorizi in de lo mio

Sasha Merci and Darlene Demorizi in De Lo Mio.

HBO

How did your passion for filmmaking start? What are the films that influenced you?

I’ve been obsessed with movies since I was a kid. My dad is a cinephile and he created this routine of going to the movies every Sunday when I was growing up. Going to the movies was my family’s version of going to church. Sometimes we’d spend the entire day at the theater and sneak into a double or triple feature. I loved losing myself in the story. It wasn’t until I went to college and stumbled into the film department that I realized I could maybe make my own films. Getting my hands on a camera and learning to shoot changed everything.

It’s hard to pick a few influential films, but I’ll never forget the day I watched The Shining as a kid. That opened my eyes to the art of filmmaking. Filmmakers like Pedro Almódovar, Ava DuVernay, Agnès Varda, Spike Lee, Eliza Hittman, Sofia Coppola, and Wes Anderson have become huge inspirations for me later in life. They’re icons. I obsess over everything they make.

How are you managing self-care and creativity during these quarantined months?

I’m the type of person who thrives on a routine so I literally schedule my writing and relaxation into my calendar. It seems a little ridiculous but it works for me. I’ll set a timer, listen to music, daydream, and write whatever I feel inspired to write at that moment. My only goal is to make progress. As soon as the timer goes off, it’s strictly pencils down and I get on with my day. I try to keep it low pressure so I don’t burn myself out. I try to make time for moments of rest throughout the day. That can be taking a long walk, reading, eating a good meal. I live with my sisters and our puppy, so I’ve been in really good company. Every night we sit on the couch together, have a drink, and watch our favorite movies and TV shows. Our movie nights have been keeping me sane.

Have you thought about your next Black Latinx story?

I’m taking this time to explore and figure out what my next story is. It’s an exciting and scary position to be in because there are so many directions I can take. I don’t feel tied down to a specific genre, place, or type of story at the moment. Right now, I’m writing a thriller. Maybe I’ll tackle a love story next. Whatever it turns out to be, it will naturally be coming from a Black Latinx perspective because that’s who I am. I just want to continue to tell stories that inspire me without limitations.

Watch De Lo Mio on HBO Max now

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