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March 3, 2016

SCA Student Stories: Felicia Hilario

By Eileen Kwon

Influenced by the many strong women in her life, Felicia Hilario ’16 is pushing the boundaries of the male-dominant world of crime thrillers. Hilario writes with conviction and a clear vision to empower women of all ethnicities by challenging the gender norms of the thriller film genre. She recently shared her “flavored” storytelling journey and her hopes for the future.

Could you share about your beginnings as a writer? I started writing on my own. I wanted to write but I didn’t know how. My first screenplay was terrible. I just went and bought books and tried to teach myself. I knew I had a voice and I knew that I had stories to tell. So, I applied to UCLA’s professional screenwriter’s program. That program gave me the foundation and a couple years after I finished the professional program, I applied to the MFA program at USC. I knew if I was going to go anywhere to get my MFA, I only wanted to go to USC.

What in your past gives you a unique perspective that influences your writing? I’m Latina and I’m also second-generation so I think that’s really unique to the writing that I do. I love writing about Mexican-American culture. What’s interesting for me is that as a second-generation raised in America, there are Mexican cultural norms that I agree with and others I fight against. I still have one foot in the origin of my culture but at the same time I’m American so there are Latino themes and history that are woven into the stories that I tell. For example, I have a story in development about a young girl who disguises herself as a man to fight in the Mexican Revolution.

On the other hand, there are certain themes that are not Latina themes per se, but are consistently present in my stories. My thesis film for example, is about a woman in the panhandle of Florida, nothing apparently Latina, but she is a strong woman. Throughout the story, she becomes more and more empowered. I come from a family of really strong women. So, typically in my writing, it’s usually stories of female empowerment. The women in my stories have to overcome certain obstacles to become who they want to be.

Could you describe the path that led you to filmmaking? I always knew I wanted to be a storyteller. I majored in film in my undergraduate studies but I had my son when I was 19, so I was going through college and raising him. When I graduated, I planned on launching into the industry. But, having a 4-year-old, I didn’t want to get into an industry where the working hours are very long. I put my plans on the back burner and I became a teacher so that I could stay around for my son as he grew up. After I taught, I moved to Miami and went into sales, selling yachts. Once my son got older, I started writing again. I’ve had a very flavored journey.

As a writer, I have so many different wells to draw from. I have experience being a mom, being a wife, and working like a dog in a man’s world. I have experience living in Miami and being exposed to lots of different cultures. All of these stories I pull from when I write. Characters I remember, experiences I’ve had, and emotional things I have gone through.

In your time at SCA so far, how have your skills and creative vision evolved? My skill set has improved so much. There is such a huge difference between the writer I was when I first entered USC, and the writer I am today. I learned so much here that I would have never learned anywhere else. I’ve grown so much with the help of my professors, including Professor Irving Belateche and Professor Ted Braun, who have given me the tools to effectively tell my stories. All my professors are amazing.

 My vision hasn't changed. My stories are still the same; strong, complex women who have huge obstacles to overcome. It’s those stories that I want to tell that empower and encourage women.

What films have been inspirations to you? Several films have stuck with me and have influenced the way I write. I love crime thrillers. So films like Heat, Carlito’s Way, The Town, The Departed, and so many more. I like people who walk on the edge, who take big risks and who are willing to be outside the margins of what society says is acceptable. They’re complex characters in the sense that they are doing bad things for the right reasons. When I started writing and telling my own stories, I wanted to see these types of films, which are traditionally male-dominant, with female protagonists. I want to break the mold of the thriller protagonist by bringing in the things that a woman would have to deal with in that type of role that a man doesn’t.

With your stories heavily influenced by the strong women in your life, how do you hope your work impacts its audience? I want to bring strong women of color to the screen who will inspire the women sitting in the audience. I hope women will see characters who look like them and have similar stories and struggles. I want my female characters to inspire all women. All my work so far are thrillers and crime thrillers with women protagonists. Hopefully putting women as the leading roles in this genre challenges the audience’s expectations of what a thriller hero is. I want to help and inspire women. That’s what I want to do.

Any advice for fellow writers? I believe that you have to write no matter what type of day you’re having. No matter if you feel inspired or not. This past year, I went through a lot of personal trauma, but I still had to write and I’ve learned that pushing and writing through the hard times is really important. Also, if you have a dream or vision, go for it. Don’t stop until you own it.