Mia Xavez’s voice is a rising in the film industry. At only twenty one years old, Mia is the youngest female director we interviewed for Film is Female. She grew up as a child actor in Santa Barbara and spent her youth with a camera in hand, filming and editing on iMovie.
Informed by her identity and community organizing, Mia is bringing a fresh and too-often overlooked perspective to the director’s chair. CONVICTS caught up with the precocious NYU student and got her word on the importance of failure, solving the gender imbalance in film and the way that artists and filmmakers are the real legislators of culture.
To start, could you introduce yourself?
Hello. My name is Mia Xavez. I am a woman of many trades but of course, I consider myself a film director first.
How did you end up in the film industry?
It’s interesting because I’ve been in this industry since I was fourteen years old. I was a child actress first and had a really a lot of beautiful experiences in that realm but also a lot of experiences that were really uncomfortable for me and made me think that film wasn’t something I wanted to do at all. Filmmaking found me at an interesting time in my life when I was sixteen and just messing around with a camera. I’ve kind of always been filmmaking. I always had my little DV camera and was making these little movies on iMovie. It kind of just happened to me and really led my life. In a lot of ways, filmmaking saved my life. It changed my life. All of the above.
Was there a specific person that you looked up to?
I’ve had a lot of different mentors and leaders in the industry. Someone who has been recently inspiring me to take control of my gift as a writer is Mo Ogrodnik, a screenwriter and also one of my professors. She has a beautiful approach and understands the screenwriting craft. I’m also taking directing classes with her specifically to learn what it means to work with an actor and what that relationship is. A lot of the conversations opening up with Mo have been about creating spaces where everyone feels safe enough to bring their most talented self to the table. Talent feeling comfortable is a priority of mine, so Mo has helped me a lot with that.
How do you bring your identity into your work?
My identity and my story are both inextricably linked to my work. Specifically, a lot of my recent work has focused on the story of my childhood, or growing up in Santa Barbara and kind of negotiating identity in a specific place. That’s a perspective I bring to everything, whether it’s commercial work or narrative work. It allows me to see things that haven’t always been allowed to be seen. I’m always trying to open up diverse narratives and help people tell their story. That also factors in my work outside of filmmaking, specifically, like more organizing community events and putting together different community organizations. That’s my goal with all of it: cultural equity and introducing media to different perspectives .
Why is it important to allow a diverse group of people telling their stories?
It should go without saying, but for some reason it needs to be said. Media and film and television and anything that people are watching in a day-to-day in their homes or the cinema are the original the first legislators of cultural policy….before any laws are written. The reason laws are being voted in is because of the ways people understand things through media. So it’s important that there isn’t a homogeneous narrative. If a homogeneous narrative comes into people’s homes and onto people’s screens and into their ear buds, it results in a homogeneous perspective and that’s not at all what our society is.
In the past 20 years the top 2,000 grossing films had crews that were three quarters male and one quarter female. As someone in the industry now, do you notice a large gender imbalance?
Yeah, of course. The gender imbalance is palpable. It’s really frustrating to be in spaces where someone makes assumptions about me and what I can do and what I know and my qualifications based on my outward appearance. So I think that even as we bring more women in, it’s important to make sure that the men we have on sets understand how to respect these women, because some of the smartest and most talented crew members I’ve ever worked with are women.
What advice would you give to young women who want to break into the film industry?
I think my advice for any women, especially young women entering in this industry is to Learn everything that you can, but have this second skin that allows you to hear what other people are saying to you but not necessarily take that as fact. It’s really important to remember why you want to be in this industry. To remember why your story is important and why it’s important for you to share your story. If you hold on to that core, you can get through even the uncomfortable situations that we have to face. Ultimately, one day, if we keep powering through, we won’t have to deal with any of that.
Have you received any really good advice over the years that’s stuck with you?
Something I could share is how important failure is. I have felt like a fucking idiot so many times in this process, just like an absolute sham or hack or whatever you want to call it. It’s important to take those moments when things just don’t go right or you’re four hours over schedule and think: what did I get myself into? Just use that as a funny story. As a moment to bond with the crew. Failure so important. Remembering that we’re making a living, breathing piece of art makes failure so much more exciting.
What are concrete steps we can take to create a more gender-balanced industry?
The first thing is just hiring practices. That is so ignored. In the music video sector, for example, I cannot believe how many ‘smash the patriarchy,’ so-called radical videos I see who are still directed by men or even if they’re directed by a woman, the DP is still man. It’s about focusing on hiring practices because the producer is ultimately the person who makes these calls. Even if it isn’t some like radical whatever manifesto, it’s important that we hire women in positions we don’t traditionally think of them as occupying. That’s where it all starts.
Have you seen a shift in the industry already?
I’m a pretty young person. I’m only 21, so I’ve only been on sets for so many years. It’s hard for me to exactly mark how much of a shift I have seen on sets. But what I can speak to is the shift in the attitude and conversations that colleagues and women in my industry are having. That shift is Monumental. Even having the space and safety to have these conversations and address them in an open way is tangible progress. I’ve seen that shift in the last few years and I’m very happy because I think that is the first step.
That’s awesome. Thanks Mia.
Watch the trailer for Mia’s short film Murder, They Wrote below.
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