"Hollywood Is Finally Listening"—Meet Fil-Am Director Diane Paragas Who's Making Waves In The International Entertainment Scene
She’s the woman behind “Yellow Rose”—the first Filipino-American movie to be obtained by a major Hollywood studio for theatrical release in the US
Filipino-American director Diane Paragas gained international recognition for her brilliance in 2019's Yellow Rose—a story of a Filipina teen in pursuit of her country music dreams and self-discovery. Starring Tony Award nominee Eva Noblezada, Tony Award winner Lea Salonga, Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) nominee Princess Punzalan, American country singer Dale Watson, and Gustavo Gomez of hit zombie series The Walking Dead among others, Yellow Rose is the first Fil-Am movie to be obtained by major Hollywood studio Sony Pictures that was set for theatrical release in the US. In the movie's official website, Diane described it as “a deeply personal film I’ve been pursuing for the better part of 15 years.”
The film is supported by New York-based Asian CineVision, Cinematografo Originals (ABS-CBN Global), and was awarded the Ravenal Foundation Feature Film Grant last year by the New York Women in Film & Television. It was awarded the grand jury prizes from the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, the 2019 Bentonville Film Festival, and the CAAMFEST37 prior to its theatrical run.
At four years old, Diane resided in Lubbock, Texas with her family who fled from Martial Law in the Philippines. As a “new girl” in a foreign country, she felt alienated from its people and found comfort in art and music—two things that have become huge parts of her life and constantly keep her creativity alive.
After her college graduation, Diane moved to New York City, where she got into an advertising agency and worked on commercial ads that sparked her interest in video production. “I got the bug,” she recalls with Metro.Style, adding that NYC has always been her dream destination. “I remember when we went to NYC from Lubbock on a trip, I thought that’s where I belong and I never got it out of my head that I would move these as soon as I could. I did and have been based in NYC ever since.”
That didn’t mean she had to bid goodbye to her roots, though. In fact, Diane never fails to incorporate her childhood memories into her work as she introduces the Filipino culture to another heritage, bringing it to a bigger audience. “I am the daughter of immigrants and that informs so much of how I look at the world,” she says. “I actually think Yellow Rose is truly a Filipino-American film first and foremost and there are just simply not enough stories like this in cinema.”
She may be a successful filmmaker now, but getting there was far from easy. There were different challenges that came with it, which included the pressure to prove herself to others. “It’s totally changing now which is amazing, but it was a challenge getting jobs and being taken seriously on set,” she muses. Diane highlighted the importance of a burning passion and dedicated hard work in tough times. “I think just persevering and getting better at what I did so that when you are on set, you can know what you are talking about,” she continues.
There are days she still gets plagued with self-doubt, but she has learned to navigate it better. “In the film business, you are only good as your last project,” she declares. “But I think Yellow Rose has changed a lot of that for me. I went for it with very little resources and it paid off. I didn’t compromise and wait a long time to tell this story. It was worth it, I think.”
Likewise, juggling her career with motherhood used to be a bigger challenge. Over time, however, she has found ways to manage and amp up her efficiency. “I think women have a such a different way of working, I would say. At least for myself being a mom, I know how to multitask and that’s a huge part of directing,” she shares. It’s all about training her brain to master this skill through her day-to-day experiences. “You have to have multiple things on your mind at all times. I also feel like being on set is like a little family and having that maternal calm is really good, too.”
After all, motherhood completely transformed her life for the better. “It’s been such an important thing in my life and shapes so much of how I see the world now,” she explains, saying she’s happy to see empowered girls today through her daughter and her friends. “They seem so confident and self-assured. Compared to when I grew up, I can see that they feel equal to the boys in their class. My daughter definitely has a sense that she can be who she wants to be.”
One of her role models who continue to inspire her to reach her full potential is Ava DuVernay—the first African American woman to get the US Directing Award: Dramatic award in 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival, the first black female director who got nominated for a Golden Globe Award and Academy Award, and the first black woman who worked as the director of a live-action film with a budget that went over a whopping $100 million. “I really look up to Ava DuVernay. We have similar trajectories as she started a bit later in her career and she uses her platform to elevate other POC (people of color) and women,” she says.
Indeed, Ava DuVernay’s incredible go-getter attitude seems to resonate with Diane. When asked what she thinks makes her fascinating, she paused and emphasized how essential it is to recognize one’s own wins and strengths. “I think what makes me fascinating is my range of interests, I’m as fascinated with Science and art and music and politics that’s why film is so perfect for me because I can tackle anything,” she declares.
Everything just seems to be going wonderfully with the film director as she just sealed a deal with Hollywood agent United Talent Agency (UTA) and manager LBI Entertainment. “I’m really interested in doing big budget films whether they are written by me or originated from studios. But that’s yet another mountain to climb,” she says humbly. “I’m just grateful that Hollywood is finally listening.”
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Deeply humbled to be selected alongside Yellow Rose star Eva Maria Noblezada as one of the A100 list of the most impactful Asians of 2020. To be included with fellow film directors Bong Joon-ho Lulu Wang Taika Waititi Jon M. Chu and Cathy Yan is hard to believe. But so proud of my fellow Filipinos like Geena Rocero Dino-Ray Ramos and Jo Koy. This is an important time for Asian Americans who are experiencing record level hate crimes for all of us to use our voices to remind people that we are important and vital members of America. Thanks to Bing Chen and Gold House for amplifying our community. See the rest of the amazing trailblazers like presidential candidates Andrew Yang, Kamala Harris, CNN's Dr Sanjay Gupta, celebrities Awkwafina, KEANU REEVES, BTS, Ronnie Chieng, Nina Yang Bongiovi and so many more. Check out full list here. A100List.com #a100
We’re certainly one with the many people who are anticipating more of her interesting stories. “I think I’ll always be interested in stories of the other,” she shares, letting slip a new project she’s currently working her magic with. “It’s a magical realism coming of age story set in Japanese-occupied Manila during World War II called The Lizard Garden,” reveals Diane. “I’m working with a great team and I’m excited to share this with the world.”
For those who are looking to stand out in their chosen paths, this global Pinay has this to say: “Your time will come. Believe in yourself and keep getting better at what you do so that when your time comes, you will be ready to slay!” she concludes.
Lead photos from @paragasdiane and Unsplash