It’s the coming-of-age film for this generation. Award-winning writer/director Christopher Boone’s ‘CENTS’ is the edgy, badass, and inspiring story of high school student Sammy Baca who is on a quest to fit in with the “cool girls”. She has a knack for getting herself in trouble and has a strained relationship with her mother who is battling her own barriers as a single parent trying to get a medical degree.
After getting in trouble for selling gum in school to raise money to buy her own smartphone and being forced to roll pennies from the school’s penny drive for education for girls in Afghanistan, Sammy is presented with an interesting idea from one of her teachers.
Sammy’s math teacher, Ms. Dyer, gives Sammy an idea for taking the penny drive to the next level. The girls running the penny drive simply need to ask people to donate one penny a day for a month.
The catch is that each person has to ask another person every day to donate one penny a day for the remainder of the month, and so on and so on. If the plan works, the girls could raise over twenty million dollars – in theory.
Sammy is also a math whiz and is able to take this genius penny idea from conception to realization, which also ends up landing her in hot water with some of the “cool girls” she was trying to impress in the first place. The film interweaves three stories lines of Sammy’s strained relationship with her mother, the bullying she experiences from her school peers, and her own internal struggles to understand who she is as a young woman.
Films like this can have a major impact on young women today. A realistic, nuanced and complex portrayal of a high school student. In real life, actress Julia Flores who plays Sammy couldn’t be more different. We had a chance to interview this brilliant up-and-coming actress about her role and her perspective on the themes discussed.
Tell us about your character Sammy and her attempt to balance her desire to be a “cool girl” while also embracing her math brilliance?
Sammy is introduced as an outsider who has a talent unknown to most. She has to overcome some lingering resentments from the past, but she finally gets a taste of popularity and likes it. I don’t want to give away too much of the movie, but this turns around and Sammy is forced to realize and appreciate her gift for what it is. She appreciates the people supporting her (especially her mother and math teacher) and eventually comes to reconcile with some of the popular girls who weren’t exactly the fondest of her.
What did you like most about playing this character?
It was such a challenge for me taking on the role, since the only thing Sammy and I have in common is that we’re good at math and we enjoy sarcasm. We are polar opposites when it comes to most things, her style especially. I’m a complete girly girl who does her hair and makeup everyday followed by a pre-picked/ sorted outfit. (Accessories and all.) Another thing, I’m totally friendly and a super open person who loves to make people laugh.
It seems Sammy is caught at the intersection of a few topics: bullying, entrepreneurship, and mother-daughter relationships. What do you hope audiences will take away from watching her on screen?
Though Sammy overcomes this bullying, it definitely hurt her feelings and caused tension in her personal life. I hope the audience realizes that no matter how small or big the wrong actions of bullying can be, it may end up having a huge effect on the victim. Sammy is beyond any doubt a rising businesswoman with clever tactics and a catching personality.
I assume in the future that she will pursue her career calling. Gum or no gum. Sammy’s relationship with her mother, Angela, is a tough one. I’ve been thankful enough to have two hardworking parents who have supported me in every way, shape, or form. Sammy doesn’t necessarily have that, but she comes to realize the importance of showing and receiving love in her bond with her mother.
There is a rise in cyber-bullying because of social media and mobile phones. We’ve also seen some awful stories about students self-harming because of this. What do you think we as a society need to do to combat this hate?
I think that overcoming bullying of all types has to start, not just with this generation, but all generations. People need to stop filling up on and enjoying the embarrassment of other human beings. There is so much hate in this world, but no reason for it. It takes more energy to be angry and waste time on thinking of something rude to say than it does to smile at people and radiate positivity in your everyday life.
How do you think parents and schools can foster more sisterhood and collaboration among high school girls, rather than competition?
As a student in many high school extra curricular activities, I feel so included doing community service work for National Honor Society. And in our State Champion Concert choir program, which I am vice-president of, I make sure everyone feels included and that we work as a team.
In the recent Thespian State competition, in which we placed first, everyone in the cast worked as one, helping fellow cast members with costumes and makeup. The sportsmanship from the other schools as well as ours was overwhelming. Though it was a competition, I have never felt more praised from our “opponents.” Especially from the other women.
Are there any aspects about your character Sammy that you relate to in real life?
As I’ve mentioned before we both love our moms, math, and a good joke once in a while. Where our differences come into play is our views on embracing your nonconformity. The biggest one being the fact that I am happy to be in advanced placement courses and appreciate intellectual achievement as much as athletic.
Whereas Sammy tries to hide her genius and won’t even allow her name on the morning announcements at school for her record breaking performance at the local “mathlete” competition. I don’t think her initial attitude sends out the best of messages. It would be great if not only teachers, but teens applauded the hard academic work that their schoolmates accomplish.
As a young Latina actress how do you hope to inspire other Latina women and girls who are seeing more and more Latina role models on screen (Gina Rodriguez, for example) in leading roles?
I think it’s fantastic! Speaking of Gina Rodriguez, I appreciate how she stays true to her Latina culture, while at the same time declines role which would typecast her. I feel this is what Latina actresses struggle with the most, and I admire Gina and other actresses trying to break the norm.
I hope the recent amplification of Latina role models will get younger Latina girls more interested in pursuing their aspirations. Not only Latina girls, but all minority girls should embrace their race. I look forward to a time where society no longer says “Latina Actress” but instead just “Actress.”
What do you hope to accomplish in your acting career?
Though I do enjoy acting, while it is a fun experience to meet other people in the industry that you will always remember for the rest of your life, my true ambition is to become a environmental lawyer. I am hoping this is achievable while also pursuing my other passions such as acting and singing.
What are your academic goals while you are in high school?
I would love to maintain my 4.1 GPA and to be in the top 25 of my graduating class. National Honor Society has been a wonderful opportunity, helping me become a role model I would like to look up to and encouraging me to achieve success in my studies. Plus, I really do enjoy performing with my school’s concert choir as well as performing in my school’s musicals.
Who are your female role models in life and why?
Definitely Audrey Hepburn and Michelle Obama. Ms. Hepburn appeals to me because of her acting career, but also her charitable efforts working with and becoming an ambassador of UNICEF. I look up to Mrs. Obama primarily because of her successful law career, but also how she is an excellent female role model who has devoted time to encouraging women around the world to getting an education.
What projects do you have coming up in the future?
I’m always happy to work on new projects, especially in the film industry! Currently I am focusing primarily on my schoolwork, but always welcome job opportunities.
You can watch ‘CENTS‘ on Google Play, Amazon, iTunes, Vimeo and VHX. Schools and organizations can also screen the film by going to the website and requesting a license to view. See an exclusive clip from ‘CENTS’ below: