(Photo by Everett Collection, Imaginal Disc and Labocine, and Touchstone Television)
Four years ago, Rosa Parra wasn’t nearly as well-versed in film history as she is now. She’d just seen Wonder Woman, which sparked her interest in – now a love for – cinematic spectacles and women’s representation on- and off-screen. That was the launchpad for Parra’s film education and career in criticism – and her star just keeps rising.
Parra’s passion is palpable. She’s driven not just by a love of visual storytelling, but by a desire to uplift Latinx stories. She started out writing movie reviews on a site she ran herself. In 2020, she co-founded the Latinx Lens podcast with her co-host Catherine Gonzales, where the two discuss history, icons, and recent releases. She’s also earning a bachelor’s in Film and Media Studies from Arizona State University.
And that’s all on top of her day job as a lab technician. (In addition to her love of movies, she’s a self-identified “science person.”)
“Everything I do with writing and preparing for podcasting, I do it after work,” Parra told Rotten Tomatoes. She dedicates her work commute and weekends to learning about film, too – sometimes with her kids, who she lovingly calls her “movie buddies.”
“Having to balance it all is not easy, but if you are determined and you plan out, literally to the last minute of the day that you’re awake – like, I have five minutes to do this in the morning – it’s doable.”
Have you returned to theaters? What was the first film you saw?
Yes, I did. The day they opened! I had to go in there and watch something that deserved to be watched on the big screen, so I went in and watched Tenet. Man, that was an incredible experience.
Do you have a favorite snack while you’re watching movies?
Ooh. I would probably say nachos. I love nachos.
Are you pro- or anti-note-taking when you’re reviewing?
I will if I’m at home because I have the ability to pause the film and actually take notes, and try to analyze what I just watched. If I’m in the theater, I probably won’t, because I don’t want to miss anything that I’m seeing.
Do you read other people’s reviews before you write your own?
No, I try to do my own thing before reading someone else’s thoughts.
What is your favorite release of 2021 so far?
So far, my favorite movie of the year is Identifying Features. It’s a Mexican film that follows a mother who is seeking the whereabouts of her son who decides to cross the border and come to the United States. But then she doesn’t hear from him, so she takes it upon herself to go in search of him. It’s a smaller independent film, but it’s so moving, it’s so touching, and it’s so riveting that it’s haunted me since I watched it.
And actually, not that long ago, I watched Pig… I was like, oh, it might become my favorite of the year. But just by a little bit – by thin a margin, like a hair – it didn’t make it. It’s my number two, but Identifying Features still holds my top spot.
What makes a good movie?
It’s going to differ from people to people. Because at the end of the day, film is subjective. It’s an art. What I think is good, other people might not. It is a subjective medium.
To me, a good movie is one that leaves me thinking about it hours, days, after I’ve seen it – a movie that’s re-watchable… But also that makes me feel something, whether it’s sadness or it takes me back to my childhood, any childhood memories, or just makes me cry, or just overwhelms me with any form of emotion. I think that’s certainly my definition of a good movie.
(Photo by Everett Collection)
What motivated you to become a critic, and what remains your motivation as you continue your career?
To be honest, I wasn’t raised a cinephile, I didn’t grow up going to the movie theater frequently. If anything, I went to the movie theater once, twice every – I don’t know – three or four years.
As I’ve learned more about filmmaking, and as I’ve learned more about the power of movies – I’m still currently working on my degree, just to build a stronger foundation – I’ve come to love film. I’m doing it because it’s actually exciting. Everything I’m doing, whether it’s covering film or trying to provide a platform for Latinos, women, and Latinas in general. It’s important, of course, for representation, to highlight what we’re doing or what we’re capable of doing, but at the end of the day, I just fell in love with film. And I would rather do nothing else but to just talk about and analyze them.
You’re revisiting film history right now – for your podcast, with your degree, and on your own time. What are some of your favorite things that you learned?
It’s been so fascinating to learn about film history, because all of this is happening literally a few minutes away from where I’m standing right now. Driving down Hollywood Boulevard or Sunset and seeing these buildings, seeing the locations where a lot of these movies were filmed – it’s just mind-boggling to me.
We just recently did this episode on Anthony Quinn, who is one of the very few Latinos to be an Academy Award acting winner. To learn about his story, to learn about the studio system… Seeing that relationship between the actors and how they were pretty much handled as property… Watching those older movies has certainly given me that perspective of always coming to these older movies with a set of expectations.
I cannot be evaluating these movies the same way I’m doing the newly released ones – completely different eras, completely different visions. Just to see how long we’ve come with film history, and how society, certainly sociopolitical events, shape all of that. I’m fascinated by it.
If you could interview anyone, alive or dead, who would you want to speak to?
I would love to talk to Dolores del Río… She was one of the first two Mexican actresses to start in the silent era, successfully transition into the talkies, and when she was done in Hollywood, she went back to Mexico and she was one of the pioneers of the Mexican Golden Age of cinema.
And right now, I would have to go with Guillermo del Toro. I think Guillermo del Toro’s is just a brain that I would like to pick. And just to learn about how his brain is networked, and how he functions on a molecular neurological level.
What is your favorite classic film?
(Photo by Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection)
Is there someone in your life, who is not a critic, whose opinion you regularly seek out on movies?
My oldest daughter… This whole time, she’s been my movie buddy.
Seeing movies from her perspective is very interesting, and talking to her about them… She’s very much into horror, I’m not. Little by little, she’s been slowly but surely convincing me to watch horror movies with her. It works both ways – her getting me out of my comfort zone.
What is your favorite movie from your childhood?
These are the two movies that I remember watching in the theater.
One of them is actually Twister – I’ll never forget watching that movie on the big screen and having that big tornado coming at me.
Selena is another film that I remember watching in the movie theater. I was a big Selena fan, so my mother was able to save a little bit of money, take me to the movie theater and watch the movie. On an emotional and personal level, that movie meant a lot to me.
What is something that is Rotten on the Tomatometer but you love it and will defend it to the death?
I’ve been vocal about this multiple times. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which is the third film of the trilogy and it’s actually my favorite. Nobody is ever going to make me change my mind!
It’s because it’s so big, and it’s no nonsensical… And I guess having a little crush on Jack Sparrow comes in handy a little, too. But in terms of visuals and the spectacle, the CGI on Davy Jones still holds up today and it has one of the most epic third acts I’ve ever seen in a movie. They went all out, and I love it for that.
(Photo by Imaginal Disc and Labocine)
What were you watching the first time you saw yourself on screen, and what did you relate to about that character or that story?
It just happened earlier this year at Sundance with Son of Monarchs – seeing a Mexican, dark-skinned like myself, with Indigenous complexion, be in the medical field. He uses a lot of microscopes, which is something I do on a daily basis. Just to see that, to see that it’s somebody from the same culture that I belong to, who communicates just like I do, who has the same passion for science, that was mind-boggling to me. I had never seen anything like that represented so accurately, and that I was able to relate to. It goes on a journey about finding yourself emotionally, but also spiritually, and it has some beautiful scenery, beautiful imagery. It deals with the monarch butterfly, which is very symbolic in Mexico.
What is the hardest review you’ve ever written?
Certainly talking about The Tax Collector wasn’t easy to do. Because I mean, I’m a Chicana, I was born and raised in East LA. And I guess being a minority critic comes with an additional baggage of, you are in a way forced or expected, per se, to like films that are either about your culture or anything like that. And The Tax Collector wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea. I got a lot of criticism for it because … it’s like going against my own people in a way.
What is the movie or show that you’ve watched more than any other?
I think there’s a tie for TV shows.
I grew up watching I Love Lucy. My mother loved that show. And I think that was the first time I was able to relate to somebody, to some extent, with the character of Desi Arnaz. Every time he would be mad, he would start talking in Spanish and everything. I was like, “oh, I know what he’s saying, this is very interesting.”
And The Golden Girls. I love, I adore The Golden Girls… On the weekends, I watch it on Hulu or just watch it on TV and just laugh my butt off because they’re still hilarious! They were so progressive for their time. They’re one of the very few shows to highlight a lot of issues and challenges that the elders often face.
The movie I’ve seen the most is Stand and Deliver. Of course, it’s from East LA, depicting Jaime Escalante’s story – a Bolivian math professor who believed that low-income Chicano students were capable of learning calculus and passing the AP exam.
I attended that same high school. I attended Garfield High School. I grew up learning about Jaime Escalante. He’s literally a legend in East LA. So, that movie has been the one I’ve seen the most – I’ve perhaps lost count by now how many times I’ve seen it – and it helped me pass my calculus class when I was in college. I owe that movie a whole lot. It gave me the confidence I needed, and the motivation to continue doing what I’m doing now.
What, if anything, do you consider required viewing for everyone?
If I’m narrowing it down to Latino films… I always see these lists of must-watch movies, whether they’re Latino-centric, or during Latino Heritage Month or Hispanic Heritage Month. I never see them talk about Salt of the Earth from 1954, which is a movie that, in my opinion, is the first ever to depict a Mexican-American experience. Sadly, it doesn’t get the attention or the much-needed love it deserves. Firstly because not everybody knows about it – I wouldn’t have known about it if it weren’t for film class! And secondly, I guess it had a little bit of backlash because it was produced and made by blacklisted directors and filmmakers. It had that against it at the time.
To see a movie from the ’50s to be so progressive, so feminine, and telling a story like this, about some zinc miners in New Mexico, was truly something that I had never seen before. A lot of these movies just focus either in New York or East LA. To see something in New Mexico, that was certainly kind of new, innovative.
Rosa Parra is the co-host and co-founder of the Latinx Lens podcast. She is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and the Online Association of Female Film Critics. Her reviews can also be found at In Their Own League and Shuffle Online. Find Rosa on Twitter: @rosasreviews.