Deadline reported that Eiza González is set to star in and produce a film based on María Félix’s life. For those of you who are unfamiliar with La Doña (her main nickname, which translates to “The Dame” and is inspired by her film Doña Bárbara), she was one of the stars of Golden Age Mexican cinema in the 1940s and 1950s. What was so special about María Félix for many of us was that in many of her 47 films, at a time when most female characters adhered to more traditional gendered roles, she portrayed unruly women. If you were to watch any of her interviews, you’d see that the real María Félix, like many of her characters, was not a timid woman. One of my favorite quotes from María Félix is, “Yo soy más cabrona que bonita, y mira que soy muy bonita,” which translates to “I am more of a bad bitch than I am pretty, and damn, am I very pretty.”
This is María Félix: bonita and cabrona.
Why would La Doña be worthy of a biopic? Not only was she ridiculously beautiful, stylish, and had an attitude that made young Violeta want to be a badass, her life was cinematic. She was born the ninth of 16 children (of which 12 survived) to a middle class family in northern Mexico. Her father was abusive to his children, physically to his sons and emotionally to his daughters. Her first of four husbands was a traveling salesman for Max Factor Cosmetics and they met while he demonstrated his products to her. They had a child, Enrique Álvarez Félix, who studied to be a diplomat but who would eventually follow in his mother’s footsteps and become an actor. Her second husband was the Agustín Lara, one of the most revered Mexican songwriters of all time (per her New York Times obituary, “The marriage was to Mexicans what Marilyn Monroe's marriage to Joe DiMaggio was to Americans” - meaning, it was a big deal). Her third husband was the Jorge Negrete, another Golden Age Mexican cinema star and crooner who died soon after their marriage when he was just 42 years old.
María Félix is such an icon that songs were written about her by her own husband Agustín Lara (“María bonita”) and by another one of the great Mexican songwriters of all time, Juan Gabriel, who told her she was “The María of All Marías.” The Muralist (and Frida Kahlo’s husband) Diego Rivera was at one point obsessed with her, though this obsession was not reciprocal as she is quoted saying that, ''He threw himself on me like misery throws itself on the poor.''
Mexican novelist and essayist Carlos Fuentes (another great in his own right, considered a great influence not just in Mexico but as part of the Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 1970s) based a character on Félix in his novel Zona Sagrada and dissected La Doña again in a play 15 years later, much to her disapproval. He responded to her critique by saying that ''María has a mythic quality, and she's a great national symbol...That's why I could dare to have a character impersonate her: only a myth can inspire imitation.”
This is María Félix posing for the Diego Rivera.
But the reach of her beauty, style, and attitude went beyond Mexican borders. While she turned down offers for Hollywood roles because she did not want to play the stereotype of the “fiery Latina,” she worked with directors abroad such as Jean Renoir and Luis Buñuel. Even after her death, La Doña influenced Ralph & Russo’s Spring 2019 collection and fashion show and inspired Cartier to create a watch collection worn by the likes of Celine Dion. It is no accident that Cartier is a fan of María Félix and that María Félix was a fan of Cartier, since she commissioned the jeweler to make her a custom snake necklace in 1968 and then one with crocodiles in 1975, both of which are now part of the “Historic and Exceptional Pieces from the Maison Cartier.” Between the jewelry, career, and marriages, it’s hard not to compare her to Elizabeth Taylor. (Here’s hoping that this film doesn’t turn into a Lindsay Lohan Lifetime biopic.)
So I was excited to see the headlines about this film because, as I said, María Félix is an icon. When I was growing up, there were certain women who showed me I could be strong and confident, that I could defy the expectations people would have of me as a woman. María Félix was one of them. I’m sure if I were to watch her interviews some of her words would be outdated, but when I was growing up in Mexico, to see a woman like her on the screen, in her movies or interviews, who projected such strength, helped me think I could be strong and capable, too.
Because she is such a Mexican icon, I can’t help but compare her to another Mexican icon who also got the biopic treatment--Frida Kahlo. I wonder if this film will do for María Félix what Salma Hayek’s portrayal did for Kahlo. A renewed interest that will transcend borders. Will María Félix go pop in the United States in the 2020s? Will it inspire a Netflix series? Will it influence more fashion like the Ralph & Russo collection? Will Cartier release another collection of jewelry inspired by La Doña’s style? Will we see more pop art (stickers, pins, prints, etc.) in small markets, etsy, or Instagram? For some of us, María Félix has been a Chingona legend along with Frida and Selena since we were little, so the rest have some catching up to do. Which reminds me, I’m really mad I didn’t buy this print when I had the chance:
I also wonder what this movie will mean for Eiza González. Like Salma Hayek, González started her acting career in Mexican telenovelas. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2013, she has been working steadily in the United States. One of these roles was Santánico Pandemonium in the series From Dusk Until Dawn, a role that was originated by Hayek in the film version. Will portraying a Mexican icon do for González what it did for Hayek and take her to the next level?
But what if I am getting ahead of myself? As I was wrapping up this piece and trying to verify some information about Walter Rivera, who is named as the film’s executive producer, I stumbled upon the conflict between him and the María Félix estate. Despite the Deadline story, the executor of the estate claims that González and Rivera do not have the rights to make this biopic. Will there be a legal battle ahead? Is this a play for more money? And if the movie gets made (according to an interview with Rivera, the movie’s production is still going forward) will they find a Latinx screenwriter who will know and love La Doña well enough to do her justice?