Who is Ramona? Review of Ramona at the Glasgow Women’s Library

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Words: Fleur Kas (she/her)

CW: teenage pregnancy, sexual assault, domestic violence

How do we perform identities that we are partially or wholly unfamiliar with? On the 11th of April, Aya Films hosted a screening of Victoria Linares Villegas’ film Ramona at the Glasgow Women’s Library. Aya is a UK platform that expands the possibilities of film curation, providing opportunities for those setting foot in the industry to organise their own screening events. As we all settled into the sunny and intimate room the film was being screened in, Aashna Sharma, a Strathclyde film student, recited a poem entitled a performance, written by fellow students Kate Connor and Rhiannon McGovern. ‘To be a woman is to perform’ were its opening lines, capturing the issues Villegas handles with creativity and care within her film. 

When a woman is pregnant, it’s not a reality for her to first try on a belly, to determine if it would suit her; especially not if she is a Latina teenager living in poverty. The opening scene of the film features Camila, the actress cast to play Ramona (a 15-year old pregnant girl), with a belly strapped to her. ‘I really don’t know this character,’ she admits, acknowledging her privileges. The Dominican Republic, the film’s country of origin, currently has the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy and early marriage in Latin America and the Caribbean; a statistic that is given multiple faces as Camila interviews teenage mothers throughout the film. 

In contrast to Camila’s outsider status as a middle-class actress, these girls live in the “hood” of Santo Domingo and normalise the prevalence of teenage pregnancy in their community. Camila’s casual interviewing style opens up the space for raw and vulnerable conversations, uncovering experiences of sexual assault and domestic violence. Villegas herself is often filmed to be an active listener of the interviews, suggesting her role as a mediator. With my own privileges as a Western woman watching this in the Glasgow Women’s Library, I found their stories especially confronting yet engaging. 

So, who is Ramona? On paper, she is a teenage girl who gets pregnant and runs away from home to pursue her dreams of being an actress. But how should this deeply complex character be embodied? While some of the girls picture her as a beautiful yet awkward introvert, others envision a chatty and outgoing rebel. These various imaginations determine Camila’s makeovers, ranging from straightened hair and long fake nails, to a bun and a leopard printed shirt, and to braids and highwaisted jeans. 

Yet there is never a definitive transformation: Ramona is ever-evolving as Camila learns more about the girls and their experiences. She involves them every step along the way, by asking for their honest feedback during rehearsals and directing scenes where they play out the script. Camila eventually chooses two of the girls to act out the same scenes, wearing identical school girl clothes; however, their unique interpretations of the script show how parallel worlds can exist for those facing similar realities.

Notably, this meta-fictional style documentary wasn’t the original concept for the film. As Linares Villegas explained in an interview at the 2023 London Film Festival, she had to constantly rewrite the script due to the sudden changes she was faced with. From the pandemic’s impact on her funding, to the participants being in labour when they were planned to be interviewed, the production of Ramona was as prone to adaptation as the character herself. 

This concept inevitably gives rise to controversy as well, with concerns of sensationalism and classism being relevant points to debate. It essentially follows a woman from a privileged background infiltrating an impoverished community without affecting direct action or systemic change, yet taking on their linguistic features and daily routines. Is it fair for an established actress to play the role of a girl who dreams of having her career, but is impeded by her social status and parental responsibilities? Nevertheless, the self-reflexivity that underpins Ramona shows Linares Villegas is aware of, and aiming to challenge, the social and ethical issues her film presents. In a country that lacks female representation in cinema, Linares Villegas describes her effort as an ‘act of revolution.’ It shows the possibilities of collaboration across class, of blurring the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, of using film as a medium to enact awareness. Above all, at the heart of the film lies the beautiful moments in the girls’ lives. Whether it’s them swimming together, gossiping about their husbands, or celebrating their birthdays, they are not simply labelled as teenage mothers, but girls navigating their way into womanhood.

For more information about Aya’s next screening events in Glasgow:





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