A decade after she broke records with the success of Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke is hoping to break barriers with Miss Bala. Set for release February 1, the reboot of a 2011 Spanish-language film of the same name centers on makeup artist Gloria Mayer (played by Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez), who has to escape a Mexican drug cartel after her friend is kidnapped. As a female-focused action film, Miss Bala is unusual. In a 2018 study, USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative found that only 33 of the top 100 grossing films from 2017 depicted a female lead; their analysis of 1,100 films spanning a decade revealed that Latinos made up only 6.2 percent of speaking roles. Hardwicke, who grew up in McAllen before graduating from UT Austin, spoke with Texas Monthly about her upcoming film and the fight for more representation in Hollywood.
Texas Monthly: What excited you about the original Miss Bala and drew you to the reboot?
Catherine Hardwicke: I read the script of the new version before I had even seen the old movie, and [writer] Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer didn’t really stick to the original. He took the idea of somebody who has lived on both sides of the border and doesn’t know where they belong. I thought that idea of being too Mexican to be gringo and too gringo to be Mexican was a really interesting identity crisis that so many people face in the U.S. Plus, I grew up in McAllen, a border town, so I’ve always been fascinated with the way our cultures come together.
TM: The U.S.-Mexico border has played a big role in the national conversation on immigration and security over the past several years. Having grown up in a border town, what did you want to do differently with this film in terms of your portrayal of Tijuana?
CH: I wanted to show Tijuana in a way that we don’t usually see [border towns]. Often, you see border towns as these dusty, worn-down places. But what you see in real life and what you see in the movie is a lot of really modern architecture, interesting music, good food, and a beautiful landscape. I wanted to show as much of the richness on the other side of the border as I could.
TM: Texas has such a big pool of talent when it comes to actors, directors, and people involved in film production. What do you think keeps the state from being a more competitive filming location?
CH: One problem in Texas is our film incentives. Because the states on either side of us offer better deals, it’s hard to convince a studio to come here when you could save a million dollars by filming in Louisiana or New Mexico. We hope to change that, because our landscape, our talent—it’s all here. I’m also trying to make a TV series based on my first movie, Thirteen, and it’s all written to be shot in Austin.
TM: With the success of her TV series, Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez has become a big star in the Latino community. This role is a big departure from the comedy and romance of her breakout role. What was it like working with her to play the part of Gloria?
CH: Gina was so passionate about making sure that this character was realistic. Even though she’s dealt these really morally ambiguous situations, she has to figure out the right thing to do to save her friend. She was also such a force for keeping things real, making sure every stunt or action sequence we had was something a normal person could do. Gloria is not a Navy SEAL, she’s not doing roundhouse kicks—she’s a real person trying to survive.
TM: Actress Tessa Thompson recently announced she would be taking part in the 4 Percent Challenge, committing to work with a female director in the next eighteen months and challenging her fellow actors to raise the small percentage of women who have directed Hollywood’s top-earning films. How do you think that initiative would change the film industry?
CH: If actors make that commitment, that would change the whole equation so quickly. I think people have seen men lead for the last several thousand years, but they aren’t the only people who can lead. Women can bring their own experiences to the table and to the film set and forge their own paths forward. If more men and women start accepting that and give us a voice, it’ll trickle down into a more diverse team. I fought to have a female African-American editor [Terilyn Shropshire] on this film, even though they wanted an action guy. We’re going to have to keep fighting these battles until things are even on both sides of the camera.
TM: In 2008, Twilight grossed almost $400 million worldwide, which was a first for a female director. You’ve spoken in the past about how difficult it was to get directing opportunities after that. What kind of obstacles did you face?
CH: I used to hear all these myths about how after someone would direct a big box-office hit, you’d get an office at a big studio and a three-picture deal. I guess I was a little bit naive to think that would all happen to me. It was still the same struggle that I’d had before and I still have. Finding a project that you feel connected to, that the studio wants to make, that people want to see, with a star and the money to do it—it’s why people say any time a movie gets made it’s a miracle. I think it’s getting better because we’re starting to see the success of other women, like Patty Jenkins with Wonder Woman, and that becomes your ammo to say, “it can happen, give me a chance.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.