We’ve heard of latin artists having arabic descent, such as Salma Hayek or Shakira, but never heard of a latin actress playing an arabic woman, much less a Dominican descent actress. Up and coming actress Lizette Santana scores a role in the film Mamnoh Love, directed by Shanele Alvarez and produced by Archie Bruce.
Mamnoh Love is a drama about a young Arab woman having a secret relationship with a Black man. Her father is stuck in the culture’s traditional ways and forbids the relationship. Winding up pregnant, she is forced to make the ultimate decision of being with the man she loves, and losing her family, or leaving the love of her life and aborting the baby.
INT: You were completely convincing as an arabic descent girl. You even spoke a little arabic. Do you have middle eastern background at all?
L: Actually no, or at least none that I know of. My parents are from the Dominican Republic, and they are a mix of Spanish and African roots. I have friends that have middle eastern background though, and they were the ones that helped me with the accent and some arabic words.
INT: Tell me about your character Jenny, and how was your experience playing this role?
L: I play the cousin of the protagonist. Even though she was mostly raised in America, she is the most traditional of the three cousins. Nadira and Dunya are the other characters and they are more americanized then my character. My character is the most cautious one.
INT: How were you able to personified this character?
L: I did some research on middle eastern cultures, particularly the Saudi Arabia culture, and looked into not only how they dress but also how they think, feel and act when they are raised in America but still rooted in their middle eastern culture.
INT: Tell us a little bit about what your inspiration was for this role?
L: I was attracted to the story line from the very beginning. My parents are from the Dominican Republic and they experienced one of the worst tyrannical governments in the sixties, which was the one of Dictator Rafael Trujillo. The Mirabal sisters were known for their fight for freedom and respect for human rights, they pretty much headed an underground movement against his government, and as a result they were persecuted and murdered on November 25th, which is the date observed in Latin America as “International No Violance Against Women Day”. In researching Saudi Arabia women, it was amazing to me to see similar parallels that exist today in many middle eastern countries, as back in those times in Dominican Republic. I ran into many stories about women that were college educated but could not perform their profession in their native country because they are not allow by the government. The same way, one of the Mirabal sisters studied Law, however the president did not allow her to practice. Today there are many organizations that are fighting against still exisisting governments that undermined the value and rights of women. I am very interested on being involved in films that have interesting story lines such as this one. The ones that have to do with freedom of any kind, courage and spirit. Those subjects touch me very deeply.
INT: In the story she must choose between her love or her family, have you ever had to face a situation were you felt split? Have you had to make a similar difficult decision?
L: Definitely not to the magnitude of the decision that the protagonist on this story has to make. Love or her family… for her is more of a life or death situation. But yes, I’ve had to make difficult decisions and I am grateful that I have had the freedom to follow my heart, even if I have to live up to the consequences later… but those consequences have always led me to some kind of personal growth… not death. I think the story has a universal appeal and many people will identify with it.
You may see Lizette Santana in Mamnoh Love which debuts in the Canes Film Festival on May 3rd at 7pm in the Cosford Cinema. for more info http://canesfilmfestival.com/
Dress and shoes by Rik Rak. Styling: Nulise Santana for Rocstar, Inc. Hair: Kelita St. Lot at Rik Rak. Makeup: Ethian Hugo. Photographer: Lizardo Lopez.