It is perhaps one of the most impactful works of visual art we have seen in a post-Hurricane María world: PA’LANTE, featuring news music from Hurray for the Riff Raff and directed by Kristian Mercado Figueroa. Telling the story of a Puerto Rican couple (and a Puerto Rican people) trying to press forward from destruction, we are left transfixed.
In her first public comments about this powerful piece, Alynda Segarra of HFTRR told Latino Rebels why she decided to partner up with Mercado Figueroa (aka Kris Merc) and why is was so important to feature Puerto Rican actors Mela Murder and Kareem Savinon as the leads.
“Making a video for ‘Pa’lante’ was not an easy task, I wanted to be sure we put this song in the hands of a director that truly understood it,” Segarra said. “When Kris and I first spoke on the phone, I knew it had to be him. He had a passion and a personal connection to the song, and most of all a vision. We wanted to convey a big story in the everyday heartbreaks of a family.”
“There is so much to cover, so much to say, but what was most important was making the humanity palpable. This is a story of one family, but many from all over the world can relate,” she added. “Kris and I both knew we had a responsibility as Puerto Ricans of the diaspora to use our platforms and amplify the stories of our people. So with this video I feel very proud. The actors Mela Murder and Kareem Savinon brought this song to life and I’m so grateful for that. The struggle continues as Puerto Rican people continue to fight for their education and for their future on the island. We stand with them.”
In a personal statement shared with the media around the time of his film’s release, Mercado Figuero shared his vision about the collaboration:
The origins of the project really came from my reps and Alynda’s management connecting us. It felt a bit surreal, it was early in the morning and I woke up to find this song from Hurray for the Riff Raff in my inbox, I barely read the title of the song and as I clicked still half asleep, the song captivated me instantly. I was moved to the point of tearing up a bit.
It felt like the song was speaking directly to something bigger, something bold. It made me linger on thoughts and emotions about working class life, about struggling day to day, and connecting to those roots. Finding something beautiful and sad in struggle.
Alynda’s words really resonated, and I felt I had to make this film. It played a bit in my head as a current, a rush of all the faces and lives I’ve seen, the weathered souls, and hands, and faces. I even thought about Maria, and its impact on our community. Recently my family had been displaced by the hurricane. Everything about it has been trying. My grandfather had passed and as a filmmaker I was struggling to find ways to tell stories about Puerto Rican’s in a time that desperately needed it. I found that with that pain and courage and the track, it was all like a guiding force to bring to life something that felt honest, raw.
Getting on the ground and finding the narrative and emotion was important. The story is a small intimate narrative, but finding that real emotion was important. With Maria it was clear to me that people have an easier time relating to smaller moments, that speak to larger human problems. The working class struggle is a universal struggle a lot of us can relate to, I felt by connected to one family, we are able to identify and understand the Puerto Rican experience in a powerful way.
The production was a bit of a small miracle, with the emerging conversations on diversity in Hollywood, we really wanted to showcase talent of color, stories by people of color and worked on by people of color. For those reasons it was important to have the film be shot in Puerto Rico, and have lots of diverse hands working or helping in the piece. We had a lot of Puerto Rican talent working on the film. It was important to me to make sure this was a diverse production that had Puerto Ricans working on it. Mela Murder (The Florida Project) really brought a lot of power to the project. She has a presence, and an earnest quality that really tapped into strong emotions. Single motherhood is a serious powerful experience, one which I could connect to thru my own experience, and Mela’s current experience. We shared a lot of thoughts on our histories, and lives and experience as Puerto Ricans. We decided to shoot collaborating with Mela’s real family, her Niece and Daughter playing characters in our narrative.
The process for filming was always seeking the truth, or something real, a lot of the moments emerge from real moments, Kareem Savingon who played Manuel was always finding the moment with Mela, and we really focused on naturalism and being present. A lot of times surrounded by the island, and the raw landscape, it would bring us both peace and a sober feeling.
Shooting Alynda our goal was to capture a bit of a spiritual energy, it was a really quiet set and playing the archival footage over Alynda in the Julia De Burgos Center felt like we were tapping into the very root of our history as Puerto Ricans. It was a chilling moment to just watch, and hard to explain how powerful it hits. The footage of the Young Lords, playing over her face, and then seeing Pedro Pietri young, alive, saying such powerful words, it made me feel like Alynda is the spiritual daughter of Pietri. There was a layer of realism too in just shooting Alynda’s father as part of the portraits. As we shoot him and I got to speak to him, there was a beauty to the moment. It reminded me of my own grandfather who also served in the military and how complex our own histories can be. It felt like home in a way, like I hadn’t left Puerto Rico at all.
The conditions on the island are still very poor. I think everyone knows this, everyone can feel it. During the production we could all feel how painful it all was. How it’s been so long without enough help. The island is still strong, the people always positive, but you can’t help but feel the desperation and pain of the colonial condition, the sense of abandonment. Without going too deep into the narrative we built, I think sometimes tapping into that emotion was important to me. The feeling of being abandoned, or neglected, or not connecting. I think that emotion carries the piece, in a complicated way. Wanting to connect, struggling to do so, and ultimately feeling empty and abandoned, but finding the power and strength to continue. To always move forward.
Pa’lante is a very Puerto Rican mindset/philosophy, that is very understood within the island. The idea that no matter how bad things get, we must move forward. Be it a family struggling to stay together, to recovering from the hurricane, the Puerto Rican people are strong, and they will always stand, move forward and there is a beauty to that. That was my hope, to capture that essence.
Murder also took the time to open up about her involvement in the project as one of the leads:
“I can’t say thank you enough to Kris for having me a part of this project. I am so proud of him for going through this process, committing to create something so raw, personal, in depth and so beautiful, I have never been more proud to be a Puerto Rican woman but what is currently happening to our island and our people is appalling,” Murder wrote in an email to Latino Rebels. “I’m grateful beyond words to be able to express my built-up frustration of what is happening in Puerto Rico through my art. This film so desperately needed to be created to shine light on the people of the island who have greatly suffered and continue to live in a reality of loss and devastation. The world needs to know the truth about the conditions and how Puerto Rico is being neglected.”
“I met a women, the age of 23, a single mother of two small daughters, who shared with me at the time of filming that she did not have electricity in over six months,” she continued. “Can you imagine taking care of two little girls on a hot island with no way of preserving food other than lining up at your local grocery store at the crack of dawn just to buy ice to keep your food from spoiling, imagine no fans or air conditioning to keep cool on an island that reaches temperatures well over 100 degrees, or no hot water to wash in? None of what most people take for granted. She explained how much of a struggle it had been to survive in the conditions of the island and how desperate she was for help. She was so strong I had to hold back my tears in that moment. But inside my heart broke for her, her children and for all the people of Puerto Rico going through the same exact situation or worse. It’s unacceptable. Help needs to happen and FAST.”
“The upside of it all though, 100 percent is the love of the Puerto Rican people. Again, it made me feel so damn proud of my Boricua roots! The love is just so deep and electrifying, The island is alive with love so strong you can feel it in the breeze coming off the ocean, in the palm trees and mountains, its captivating and contagious,” Murder concluded. “A sense of hope people would have to go there for themselves to experience and understand what I mean. That feeling is what carried me through the process of filming. The character Milagros deeply resonated with me being that I am a single mother, our lives are entirely different but the fuel that keeps women like us going is exactly the same and has been for generations before us and that fuel is called LOVE. There is nothing in this world more profound than that fact. Love is what I wanted Milagros message for the world to be when watching Pa’lante. If we have a heart full of love and can share that love with others despite what cards we’ve been dealt then our lives feel worth living. Even in the most painful of situations, the fuel to carry us on has always and will always be love.”
The video, out for over a month now, has already been named a VIMEO Best of the Month selection. The creative team is raising funds for Puerto Rico through the Prima Relief Fund, a collective dedicated to sustaining Puerto Rico’s Independent Music Community following Hurricane María.