The Light of the Moon:
Stephanie Beatriz x Jessica M. Thompson

In conversation 

“The Light of The Moon is the first film depicting sexual assault
to be written, directed and have cinematography by a woman...
I want it to not be true.” 

— Jessica M. Thompson

The Light of the Moon
Written, directed and co-produced by Jessica M. Thompson, The Light of the Moon is an American drama film about a woman coping in the aftermath of sexual assault. The film stars actress Stephanie Beatriz as Bonnie with a supporting cast including Michael Stahl-David and Catherine Curtin. The Light of the Moon won the Audience Award in the Narrative Feature Competition at 2017’s SXSW.

Stephanie Beatriz
Best recognized for her portrayal of detective Rosa Diaz on the FOX comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine and for her recurring role on Modern Family as Sonia, the sister to Sophie Vergara’s character. Stephanie Beatriz is an Argentine-born American actress. She currently stars in Jessica M. Thompson’s film The Light of the Moon (2017) as a woman dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault.

Jessica M. Thompson
Emmy-nominated Australian writer, director, producer and editor Jessica M. Thompson lives in New York City. Thompson released her directorial debut The Light of the Moon this year, starring Stephanie Beatriz and Michael Stahl-David. She has previously directed several award-winning short films and is the co-founder of Stedfast Productions, a collective of visual storytellers. Thompson’s editing work includes the award-winning HBO documentary Back on Board: Greg Louganis (2015) and Liz Garbus’ Love, Marilyn (2010).

Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Created by seasoned comedy writers and producers Dan Goor and Michael Schur, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a FOX comedy starring Andy Samberg as an immature but skillful NYPD detective in Brooklyn’s 99th Precinct. The cast includes Stephanie Beatriz, Andre Braugher and Joe Lo Truglio. Since its debut, the series has received critical acclaim and awards including two Creative Arts Emmys and two Golden Globes.

When Jessica M. Thompson teamed with up-and-coming actress Stephanie Beatriz for what would be the first feature length film for each of them, it was as much for a cause as for their careers. Written, directed and co-produced by Thompson and starring Beatriz, The Light of the Moon digs into the aftermath of sexual assault, bundling denial, emotional havoc and relational disconnect into a painful and realistic story. Spurred by a shared passion for gender equality and social justice, Thompson and Beatriz’s portrayal is equally ambitious and poignant—and the first story of its kind written and directed by a woman.

Beatriz was on set for her series regular role in FOX’s hit comedy show Brooklyn Nine-Nine when Thompson rang to catch up. They discuss the impact of The Light of The Moon, the catch-22 of film piracy and the need to break through minority and gender stereotypes in film.

Jessica M. Thompson: How’s Season 5 going?

Stephanie Beatriz: It’s going good. We’re on location today. There’s a bunch of fun guest stars, and I’m having a good time as usual. How are you?

Initiated by UN Women, HeForShe is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of women. Rooted in the principle that equality affects everyone, HeForShe’s goal is to encourage men and boys to partner against gender inequality faced by women and girls.

MenEngage is an international alliance formed by hundreds of non-governmental organizations and UN partners. As its name suggests, MenEngage seeks to provide a collective voice on the necessity of men and boys advocating issues of gender equality. Members are committed to working individually and together toward the advancement of gender justice, human rights and social justice.

New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault is a social services organization formed in 2000 by rape crisis centers in New York City. The organization supports sexual assault survivors and the programs available to them by providing access to resources, public education, survivor advocacy and the pursuit of legal and policy changes.

JT: I’m at UN week in New York. I went to HeForShe this morning, MenEngage this afternoon, and last night I went to the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. I’ve met a lot of incredible humans—women and men, but a lot of awesome women. We’re going to partner with them all for the film release, which is fantastic. There’s so much support for the film.

SB: I’ve been getting a lot of really nice messages online about the trailer that just got released. It looks really beautiful. It’s very representative of what the film is.

JT: I think so too. I’m glad that the feedback has been positive. It’s always nerve-wracking releasing things like that.

SB: Yeah, because you had the final say, but you didn’t cut the trailer together, right?

JT: No, it was actually Oana [Galloway], a woman I trained as an assistant editor way back when in Sydney. She’s from Romania, and she’s an incredible trailer editor. I was like, “I want her to edit my trailer.” She did a fantastic job. Are you excited about the release?

SB: Yeah, I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never had a film with a theatrical release or been the lead in a film. I mainly want people to see the movie because I think it’s going to start conversations that otherwise might never happen, between friends or partners or people who want to talk about what it means to people that they love. I’m hopeful that it starts discussions between survivors and their loved ones. If people haven’t been able to share what has happened to them, maybe this film will give them an opening that other films about the same subject haven’t been able to do because it’s been approached differently.

“There’s a place for flipping the sex or gender
of the protagonist to be female.
But there’s also a huge place…for seeing
a story through a woman’s perspective
and having a female voice and
journey as the center of that movie.” 
— Stephanie Beatriz

JT: I think so. Even yesterday, there was a woman named Maria. She’s a survivor, but she blocked the memory, and then six years later it started to surface. She is a grad student at NYU, and she’s developed this incredible magazine called Survivors. It’s all pictures and photographs and artistic interpretation from survivors. It’s a beautiful and powerful piece of art. It’s more than a magazine, it’s so beautiful.

She spoke at the event last night, and I spoke to her afterwards about the film. I just thought it was such a great way to help people, using art as a form to get through their pain and their trauma. And also, representing it in a way that allows it to be approachable and allows people to discuss it openly.

The film already has [had an impact] from our audiences at SXSW and the other festivals, but theatrical is a big deal where even more people will see it. Also, our college campus tour is starting, and it’s hopefully going to create new dialogue and strengthen the ones that are already there.

SB: When does the college campus tour start?

JT: We’ve got an organization, New Balloon, who’s already started speaking to campuses about it. This is kind of what they do. I’m away for a month traveling to festivals and will join when I get back.

I don’t want to be the whole person talking about the film. I want to partner with organizations and women’s programs at universities, so we can talk to students and create a dialogue with them about how to better support survivors and things like that. I hope you can join us, but I know you’re a busy beaver.

“Diversity comes even in the writing,
not just in the casting process.”
— Jessica M. Thompson

SB: I hope I’m available. We have a little break for Thanksgiving. I was going to try to go home to Houston because, if nothing else, I would like to just be there with my parents. I also want to do some something, organized volunteering or throwing another fundraiser, because there’s so much city rebuilding that has to be done since the hurricane.

JT: It’s like everywhere there’s work to be done.

SB: It’s like the whole planet is like screaming for us to slow down and stop. It’s really intense.

JT: I think Mother Earth is very angry at us at the moment.

SB: She’s so livid.

JT: It’s only been five and a half months since SXSW, and so much has happened in that time. Winning the award, selling the film, getting it out there, making the trailer, posters. It’s a whirlwind. What else is going on with you?

SB: Work is great. It’s weird because we’re about to premiere this fifth season, and I still feel like I’m in an in-between spot. The show does really well, and it does exceptionally well overseas, apparently. We had a bunch of journalists at the studio yesterday interviewing us for the Australian premiere, which is about two days after the US premiere. They were psyched because we’re really big in Australia, which I did not know.

JT: Because I’ve been here since the show’s been on, I’ve only seen the American media perspective, but all of my cousins 100% know who you are. They know you from your first and last name, as opposed to your character’s name.

The show’s quite large in Asian countries as well. The number one country that pirates episodes: China.

SB: Stop it!

JT: Can you believe it? Supposedly the new thing around town is you know you’ve made it when you’ve been pirated.

SB: That’s flattering, slash annoying.

JT: For independent films, it could really hurt a film because it’s a smaller budget and you rely so much on [revenue]. You can’t have the convenience of X amount of your budget going towards piracy.

“If people haven’t been able to share what has happened to them, maybe this film will give them an opening that other films about the same subject haven’t been able to do because it’s been approached differently.” 
— Stephanie Beatriz

SB: True. For The Light of the Moon, it’s such a tiny film. Compared to a big budget studio, we don’t have space for people not to see it in the ways we hope they see it, either a theater or purchased at home.

JT: Our distributors were saying that word-of-mouth pirating is actually very powerful. There is a magic ratio to how much it can be pirated, and supposedly we’re still under it. So in a way, there’s a maximum you want it to do for independent films. Supposedly, we’re still under that.

SB: So weird! The world is a weird place!

JT: Young people don’t really go to the cinema as much, and they are very active on social media, so they’ll pirate and spread the word. So I’m like, “Maybe it is okay.” It’s not like either of us made a film to get rich, did we?

SB: I did it because I love the story, and I’d never seen this story told this way. And rarely do I see a female protagonist, specifically a woman of color, much less a Latina. To me, that was so important. Latinos are the largest minority, and the amount of us who go to see films is insane, and yet we rarely see ourselves in the lead roles. The roles that we do see are often regulated to stereotypes. Watching the Emmys was incredible, and we’ve made so many leaps and bounds forward, but I was still disappointed not to see many Latinos represented among even just the nominations.

JT: And it’s so hard not to get stereotypical roles.

SB: Literally all you have to do is write a great role, and then just say, “Your lead: Veronica, a Latino woman.”

JT: Yes, that’s it. I totally disagree with some filmmakers who say you shouldn’t put those things into writing. I’m like, “No, because automatically, unfortunately, the industry is still majority white men who are reading and funding films. If you don’t put it in, they won’t see it like that.” I think that diversity comes even in the writing, not just in the casting process.

I think it was Diego Luna, the other day, who said he refuses to take on any more roles where he’s a stereotype of a blue collar, mechanic, migrant, unless it’s got like a really interesting story to tell that we haven’t seen before. It’s just perpetuating stereotypes.

SB: I agree. I wasn’t always in a position to only take jobs that didn’t stereotype me, and some of those jobs were really wonderful because they did tell a story in a different way. I guess that’s what I gravitate towards. It was the same character that we’ve seen, but I wanted to see a different side of it or a different journey. But I haven’t always been able to do that because at the end of the day, I’m always a working actor. There were times when I needed the money, and I would have rather gotten the money acting and doing what I know I’m good at than waiting tables. Not that there’s anything wrong with waiting tables, except I’m horrible at it.

“Latinos are the largest minority, and the amount
of us who go to see films is insane,
and yet we rarely see ourselves in the lead roles.
The roles that we do see
are often regulated to stereotypes.” 
— Stephanie Beatriz

Doctor Strange
Based on the Marvel comic book hero, Doctor Strange (2016) is an American superhero film directed by Scott Derrickson. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, a pompous neurosurgeon whose crippling accident leads him to seek the help of a commune of sorcerers lead by The Ancient One, portrayed by Tilda Swinton. The film met with positive reviews worldwide and earned an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

JT: With any exposure you get, you’ve always been so good about bringing these issues up, whether it’s LGBT or diversity in casting Latinos.

Just the other day I was giving a pitch, and the lead was a male. But I was like, “Why don’t we just make him a woman?” We’ve seen this type of role before, but not with a woman. Look at all the kick ass roles that women are getting. In Doctor Strange, Tilda Swinton’s role was originally written for a man. She took it on and did an incredible job. Why can’t we just do that more where we just flip the gender and allow women to play more with these different characters and see what they do with it?

Wonder Woman
Based on the DC comic book heroine, Wonder Woman (2017) is an American superhero film directed by Patty Jenkins. The film starrs Israeli actress, model and former soldier Gal Gadot as Princess Diana, an Amazonian woman who leaves home to battle the forces of evil in a World War, discovering her identity as Wonder Woman in the process. Wonder Woman set numerous box office records, including being the highest-grossing film directed by a woman, the biggest domestic opening for a film directed by a woman and the highest-grossing superhero origin film in America.

SB: I do feel that one of the best things about the Emmys this year was the reflection that female-centered stories are really important. Yes, there’s a place for flipping the sex or gender of the protagonist to be female. But there’s also a huge place—and I think our film does this quite well—for seeing a story through a woman’s perspective and having a female voice and journey as the center of that movie. That is exciting to me because I live my life as a female. I walk through this world living that way, and I want to see those stories. I don’t want to just see the same recycled stories over and over that I don’t identify with necessarily—or that I’m desperate to identify with. Sitting in the theater watching Wonder Woman, I got this elated, joyful feeling from the women around me like, “Finally, there we are!”

JT: You’re right, it was such a joy. Even the men, I saw it with my filmmaking team, and it was an elation of “We have arrived! We are here! Look how powerful we are.” The first thing my niece did after she saw it was buy those little metal arm things. She’s running around being Wonder Woman. How much is seeing this woman going to change her as an eight-year-old?

SB: It’s going to be be huge!

JT: When I was young, I didn’t know I could be a Jedi!

SB: I didn’t either! I wanted to be so badly, and I kept getting told “no.” That’s going to be the huge difference in the generation of women coming up. And even us, we’re not dead. We’re still building ourselves as human beings. We’re seeing: “The instincts you had about being just as important and just as valuable as the men around you and their stories are right. You are valid.”

“Our distributors were saying that word-
of-mouth pirating is actually very powerful.
There is a magic ratio to how much it can
be pirated, and supposedly we’re still under it.”
— Jessica M. Thompson

JT: I’m still trying to validate these comments because I just want to make sure, but from my research, I think The Light of The Moon is the first film depicting sexual assault to be written, directed and have cinematography by a woman. Can you believe that? I want it to not be true. I can’t believe there’s been a male gaze on such a woman’s topic, and I think of what Reese Witherspoon said at the Emmys: “Empower us to tell our own stories.” I’m glad that Variety, Star, Reporter and all the great reviews we’ve gotten have acknowledged that this is a purely woman’s gaze on this subject matter. It’s surprising to me because the subject is such a woman’s issue. I think it’s a human issue, but it’s definitely a woman’s issue.

SB: It is a human issue, for sure. There are men and others that have been victims of sexual assault. But the main story that resurfaces over and over is a woman being a victim of sexual assault. To think that a woman hasn’t been leading the storytelling on that is terrifying to me.

JT: I’m like, “This surely can’t be true!” But unfortunately, I think it is. But I think more and more we’re going to see more empowerment of people. Not just women. People of color, minorities, LGBT, telling their own stories.

SB: Under-represented groups.

JT: I can’t wait.

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