Boca Chica Rings True to the Immigrant Experience (REVIEW)

As a first-generation Dominican American, Boca Chica was the film I most looked forward to watching at this 2023’s Tribeca Film Festival. It’s so rare for there to be films from the Dominican Republic to be screened at festivals whose main demographic isn’t Latinos. Gabriella A. Moses‘s directorial debut follows 12-year-old Desi (Scarlet Camilo), who dreams of a life bigger than the one she’s currently living in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. It’s a coming-of-age film that rings true to the Dominican experience.

Desi shares a home with her mother and aunt whilst her older brother, Fran (Jean Cruz), tries to make a life for himself in Manhattan as a food delivery guy. Her cousin Elvis (Ricarson Diaz) has a life of his own in Texas. When he decides to come home to marry his American fiance, it does nothing but stress out the entire family, especially Desi. As a 12-year-old girl, most people see her as a woman solely on the fact that she has breasts. It’s a rare depiction of the toxicity that happens in Dominican households, where you’re expected to mature mentally as your body physically matures. She is a child and yet is hit on and catcalled by men old enough to her father. The worst part? She’s told that it’s a good thing. There’s no wonder that she desperately wants to leave to pursue her dream of becoming a singer.

Lia Chapman as Carmen, Scarlet Camilo as Desi, and Xiomara Rodriguez as Nena in Boca Chica (COURTESY: Selene Films)

Camilo’s performance is an incredible debut. She fully embodies the experience of a Dominican adolescent and carries the film – you can feel how essential it is for her to get pursue her dream, and you want to see her get out and achieve it.

The film highlights the beauty of the island’s beaches. It spends little time showing the tourist aspects of the city and instead focuses on what it looks like for the average person. As someone who spent most summers as a child in the Dominican Republic, it made me so happy to see the island my family comes from in such a beautiful way – its everyday form. If an American created this film, it would probably use that hazy yellow that they slap over footage of any Latin American country. Instead, we get to see the true vibrancy of the beach and the city.

The other highlight of the film? The main character isn’t light-skinned. If Hollywood made this film, she would be nearly white-passing, with fine hair. Hell, most of the characters would’ve been white-passing. Still, because Dominicans create this film, it takes advantage of the opportunity to highlight the beauty of all Dominicans.

What works about Boca Chica is the fact that this story isn’t just ‘The Dominican Story’ – on the contrary, it’s a story that most immigrants can relate to. They want to get away from where you are because you’re aware that there are opportunities for you elsewhere, and having that be solidified when the relatives who do have those opportunities come back to the motherland and prove it. Hopefully, you’ll see a part of yourself in Desi, too.

Rating: 8/10

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