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Sunday, October 21, 2001
A Time for Heroes
By SUSAN KING, Times Staff Writer
Though the four Mirabal sisters were unlikely candidates for heroism, three of the siblings helped topple the notorious Rafael Leonidas Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. The regime's brutal murder in 1960 of the three Mirabals resulted in the revolution that lead to the dictator's assassination in 1961. The sisters are so beloved in the Dominican Republic and several other Latin American countries that Nov. 25--the day of their deaths--has been designated as a national day of observance in opposition of violence against women.
"In the Time of the Butterflies," premiering Sunday on the Showtime cable channel, tells the story of the four Mirabal sisters--Minerva (Salma Hayek), Patria (Lumi Cavazos), Dede (Pilar Padilla) and Mate (Mia Maestro). Based on the novel by Julia Alvarez the film also stars Edward James Olmos as Trujillo and singer Marc Anthony as a revolutionary who influenced Minerva Mirabal. The movie also marks the English-language debut of Spanish film and theater director Mariano Barroso. David Klass and Judy Klass wrote the screenplay.
"These women are truly heroes," says executive producer Helen Bartlett. "Even the fourth sister, Dede--who is still alive--she raised [her siblings' children]. I think two or three of them went on to be in the government, including one of them who was vice president."
Bartlett finds their story amazing because the Mirabal sisters were country girls who came from landed gentry. "They had a very protected life, and the fact that they got involved [with the revolutionaries], especially in that period of time as a woman in a Latin American country, is extraordinary," she says. "Minerva was the leader, and she drew every sister in slowly. Patria was known for her connection to the church, and she really got involved in getting the priests mobilized against Trujillo. It was incredible. They got their husbands involved in the cause. Their husbands were part of the cell."
Trujillo, says Bartlett, was a very vain man. Just as Hitler wanted to destroy the Jewish race, Trujillo wanted to rid the country of blacks. "He had this thing about being white," Bartlett says. "He used to put powder on his face. In three weeks' time, I think, he had 15,000 black Haitians killed."
He also gave all the resources of his country to his relatives. "His aunt had all the mineral rights," Bartlett says. "He literally gave the country away to his family." As depicted in the movie, Trujillo, who was married and had a family, would frequently arrive at convent schools and pick out young girls for his pleasure. "He would have them brought to the car, used them and had them put on the street [when he tired of them]."
Hayek was approached a few years ago about doing the film, but she turned it down because she had problems with the script. "I didn't think the project was all there," she says, "so I didn't do it. Then I started a production company and started working on some things. They came back to us and said, 'Would you like to produce it with us?' I said, 'Yes.' Together we looked for writers and directors."
The project appealed to Hayek because it deals with the courage and dignity of women. "They had dreams of just getting married and having children and being in love," says Hayek. "They were very ordinary women who grew up on a farm. Their life wasn't to become revolutionaries." During production in Vera Cruz, Mexico, Dede Mirabal and two of her sisters' children visited the set. For Hayek, it was both an emotional and scary experience. "I thought, 'My god, what if they don't like the movie?' " she says.
"They came on the set, and when they saw my first scene they were crying," recalls Hayek. "It was very emotional. I had to focus because my character is a very tough character. She is very strong, so I couldn't be weeping around. When I saw them crying, my throat just stopped. They were a great source of inspiration. It was great to have them there."
"In the Time of the Butterflies" can be seen Sunday at 8 p.m. on Showtime. The network has rated it TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14).
Political wings carry Hayek's 'Butterflies'
By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
Salma Hayek stars as Minerva Mirabal, instrumental in the fight against Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo's regime.
The Mirabal sisters were heroes, sacrificing their lives in opposition to a Dominican dictator, but actress Salma Hayek wants viewers of In the Time of the Butterflies to see their ordinary sides, too.
"They were just girls who wanted to get married and have children. (But they were) brave women who didn't settle, who didn't look the other way," says Hayek, who is both star and an executive producer of the Showtime movie (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET/PT). "I think every woman has (that) in her."
Despite a comfortable upbringing, the sisters — known as Las Mariposas (The Butterflies) — opposed Gen. Rafael Trujillo in the late 1950s, enduring harassment and prison while seeking social justice. Three of the four were murdered by government forces in 1960, shortly before Trujillo's assassination in 1961.
Hayek plays the most independent of the sisters, Minerva, a bright student who dreams of becoming a lawyer, despite a ban on women attending law school. After ominous encounters with a lecherous Trujillo (Edward James Olmos) — one of which leads to the imprisonment and eventual death of Minerva's father — she wins approval to attend law school. There, she joins others in fighting his brutal regime.
Hayek says the movie can tell a valuable story to viewers who may be unfamiliar with the history of dictators in Latin America. She also believes it has a lesson today, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
"Movies about fighting with dignity for the things you believe in, even though it represents changing your life and taking big risks, are inspiring for the hard times we're going through right now," says Hayek, who adds that they also provide a human connection to those around the world who have taken a stand. (She participated in a USO event in Kosovo in 1999.)
Filmed in Mexico City and Veracruz, Mexico, where the 33-year-old Hayek grew up, Butterflies features Mia Maestro, Lumi Cavazos and Pilar Padilla as the sisters, Marc Anthony as a professor and Mexican actor Demian Bichir as a revolutionary. Spain's Mariano Barroso directs from a script by David and Judy Klass, based on Julia Alvarez's historical novel.
Hayek, who plays Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in the upcoming Frida, is proud of Butterflies' Latin flavor.
"Instead of just complaining that there are no projects for Latin people, I wanted to shut up and do something about it," she says.
Sisters in the Resistance: 'Butterflies' Documents Women's Efforts Against Dominican Dictator (10/19)
c.2001 Houston Chronicle
Showtime's "In the Time of the Butterflies" brings to celluloid Julia Alvarez's 1994 novel about three Dominican Republic sisters who participated in a resistance movement against the terrorist dictator Rafael Trujillo. It's a flawed telling, but the movie captivates anyway.
The most beautiful thing about it is its use, on and behind the screen, of people with Latino surnames. Hollywood, pay attention: Talent with names such as Mariano Barroso (director), Xavier Perez-Grobet (photographer), as well as Fernando Becerril, Pila Padilla, Mia Maestro, Lumi Cavazos and Demian Bichir (actors) do some exemplary work here.
They excel while working with a story containing enigmatic characters. And the movie succeeds without surrendering to Trujillo's grisly methods - most of the violence occurs offscreen.
Curious story, this, one that finds a family of sisters in the cross hairs of a ruling head of state.
The movie focuses on one of those sisters, Minerva Mirabel. Salma Hayek, who also is an executive producer, forgoes her trademark beauty to play a character with grit.
Minerva encountered Trujillo as a teen-ager going to a Catholic boarding school. She potentially saves his life when she foils a girlfriend's plan to shoot him with a bow and arrow, and a bond is realized.
Soon, however, Minerva's eyes are opened to Trujillo's evil ways. She hears tales about husbands, brothers and fathers slaughtered en masse, or forced to leave their families to work for Trujillo.
She also meets Lio (Marc Anthony), a handsome law professor who is secretly a resistance leader. Her infatuation with him coincides with a growing passion for his cause, a passion strong enough to withstand the pair's separation, which arrives quickly.
Trujillo, smoothly played by Edward James Olmos, has eyes for Minerva, as evidenced by an invitation/order for her and her family to attend a royal ball. There, El Jefe makes improper moves, and she slaps him. The next day, Minerva's father (Becerril) is arrested and tortured.
Minerva goes to Trujillo to plead for her father's release. It is here, inside the generalissimo's quarters, that we get a glimpse into the makeup of these two. Without objection from Trujillo, Minerva proposes that a die be rolled. If she rolls highest, her father will be freed and she will be permitted to go to law school, which Trujillo forbids women to do. If he rolls highest, her father will be freed but she will submit herself to Trujillo.
Minerva wins, but as we will soon see, she also loses. She moves to the city to attend school, and there she bonds with a resistance movement - in particular, the movement's leader, Manolo (Bichir). Her principle task at first is to help print and post fliers.
But eventually she will be collecting and stashing guns and ammunition, and all of her sisters - Patria (Lumi Cavazos); Maria Teresa, called Mate for short (Mia Maestro); and Dede (Pilar Padilla) - will be willfully involved, too. The sisters will soon be known, far and wide, as Las Mariposas (the Butterflies).
Their hard work metes them long jail sentences and torture, not the least of which is witnessing a husband's electrocution.
One day in November 1960 they are released, only to meet a fate that will make them an inspiration for revolution.
The story is 40 years old and still inspires, and I wonder if some of that is because we are ignorant or blind to distaff contributions, especially on an island few of us can pinpoint on a map with ease.
The movie has problems. It opens not only with a written introduction but narration. It does not spend enough time developing the stories of Minerva's sisters. Trujillo's crimes lack explicitness. There are moments of inadequate tension.
But I admire the film anyway, for what it has to say to us about standing up to injustice and terror, no matter the price.
Imprisoned, tortured and beaten to death, three ``ordinary'' housewives and mothers became standard bearers against a repressive dictatorship, fueling others to take up their fight.
Within a year of their martyrdom, Trujillo was assassinated. Today, the Dominican Republic is a democracy.
Today, the Butterflies are recognized each Nov. 25 in Latin America and other nations as part of International Day Against Violence Against Women.
Hayek gets serious in 'Butterflies'
John Carman, San Francisco Chronicle TV Columnist Friday, October 19, 2001
IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES: Pay cable movie at 8 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.
"In the Time of the Butterflies" is Salma Hayek's serious movie, after all those action flicks and her coquettish turns on late-night talk shows.
So serious that the Mexican actress is the film's co-producer as well as its star. This one, obviously, is from the heart.
The Showtime movie, on Sunday night, is based on a Julia Alvarez novel about real people -- three sisters who were tragic heroines of the popular resistance to the Leonidas Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic.
That means the movie is twice removed from the real story. Which in turn usually means the skeleton is identifiable, but the flesh has been surgically altered.
Hayek is Minerva Mirabel, the most tempestuous of the three. She leads her sisters Mate (Mia Maestro) and Patria (Lumi Cavazos) into the resistance movement after Trujillo murders their father (Fernando Becerril).
El Jefe -- Trujillo, whose dictatorship lasted from 1930 to 1961 -- is played glumly by Edward James Olmos.
As the movie has it, a world of misery could have been avoided if only Trujillo hadn't invited Minerva to a ball in Santo Domingo, and then pawed her behind when he danced with her.
Trujillo is thinking yummy mistress. Minerva is thinking yuck. She slaps him sharply on the face, Olmos almost manages an expression, the ball comes to a gasping halt, and the die is cast.
Soon Minerva is further radicalized by a revolutionary boyfriend (Marc Anthony) and later by her husband (Demian Bichir). Posting leaflets leads eventually to stockpiling guns.
Hayek is so much the star of this earnest movie that Minerva is the only full-boiled character in the piece, which is one of the film's weaknesses.
Olmos might have been able to stand and deliver some juicy villainy as Trujillo, but his performance is as stiff as his exaggerated military collar.
It's obvious that Olmos is uncomfortable in Trujillo's clammy skin. You sense his personal dissociation from the man he plays, and that in turn sucks much of the dramatic oomph from the film.
But "In the Time of the Butterflies" scores in one important way. With brutal simplicity, it dramatizes the personal toll of political tyranny.
It shows the stark choices faced by any soaring spirit caught in the net of a suffocating dictatorship. It's as if you must live on your knees or hang by your neck -- a dreadful choice of conscience from which citizens of an open democracy are spared.
"In the Time of the Butterflies" succeeds in rustling those emotions, which is probably what its makers hope it will do.
With its nasty ending, the movie is no day brightener. But it matches its conspicuous shortcomings with heart and some genuine merit.
© 2001 LA Times, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle.