Demanding Female Autonomy through Cinema. Interview with Director, Andrea Hoyos.
By Ewan Waddell

Demanding Female Autonomy through Cinema. Interview with Director, Andrea Hoyos.

A few weeks ago we found ourselves in the comfy seats of Babylon Kino for the Berlin premiere of Autoerótica, a film by up and coming Peruvian director Andrea Hoyos. It's a beautifully compelling film yet is born from deeply unfortunate circumstances, existing as a protest against lacking abortion rights in Peru. The film itself has been somewhat of a controversial phenomenom within Peru, with its outreach eventually being censored on social media.

Andrea was kind enough to agree to an interview, so a couple of days after the screening, in the warmth of her homely Neukölln kitchen, we talked more in depth about the origins of her artistic impulses, how she managed state funding for such an anti-government film, and how the film went on to become a beacon in the female autonomy movement in Peru before they suffered the blow of censorship.



I first asked Andrea what exactly she explores in her work.

"I enjoy working with my own stories, but I also work with intimacy, pain, identity and sexuality. Those have been really big themes in my life, so all the things I make go through those, in a sense. And I always end up talking about autonomy, and talking about bodies."

She went on to recount her early days of discovering film as a teen.

"I was trying to do a lot of arts back then, and I wasn't really good at any. But I really enjoyed music, poetry and images. Then I started to realise film was a mix of everything… When I started doing film, I was also starting to be in activism a lot. Like it was at the same time I started film that I started my feminist activism."
"I was always choosing to watch films made by women or LGBTQ+ people; I felt those people came from similar identities as me, so I was resonating with them. I felt like I was studying activism through film, in a sense."



A more formal education found its way onto Andrea's path, though, and this is where things started to move.

"My thesis project was to do a dossier of a film, and so that's where I developed Autoerótica. The theme was motherhood. Abortion is a really important subject, but I think one should look first to motherhood. Because motherhood doesn't exactly mean having a kid — it also means taking care of people."

"Bruna is a conflicted teenager in search of exploring her sexuality. Through a dating website, she will start a relationship that overcomes her teenage spirit making her confront the freedom of her body, reconnecting with her true identity." - Autoerótica (2021) [IMDB].

"I started writing it when I was 21 or 20, and at the end [of school] I thought maybe I should give it to funding spaces. The first funding space was the Ministry of Culture, so we applied, and it happened. I really wasn't prepared for that. It wasn't like 'Okay, I'm gonna go to film school and then I'm going to do a film'. Maybe yes, but not that quickly."


Rafaella Mey in Autoerótica (2021).

I was curious for Andrea to reflect, several years later, on the process of developing the narrative in relation to herself, as well as the broader reality of the Peruvian context.

"Autoerótica talks about coming of age, and because it's this teenage girl I felt I had to talk about sexuality also — and so motherhood was tied to sexuality. But at the same time it was tied to friendship. Because it's your friends teaching you about sexuality, and in a Peruvian context I don't think you'll find that information anywhere else."

"After, I realised that a theme of Autoerótica was autonomy, because autonomy has a lot to do with bodies, and for me, I have a chronic illness called Dysautonomia that means 'no autonomy over the body', so I was like, okay, autonomy is my subject I'm fighting for. So maybe I did Autoerótica because of this?"



"In Peru, abortion is illegal. It's a really sensitive subject. It's only legal in one case: if the person who's pregnant is in risk of life. But not a lot of doctors are gonna say this person is in risk of life, because of their moral ideas. It depends on the doctor. So we need to figure out what we're going to do with this absence of Government."

"More than 300,000 people get an abortion each year [source], so that means these abortions are happening in illegal conditions, and there's no sexual education that explains how to have an abortion. It's a really taboo subject in Peru — people don't talk about it. And at the same time it's happening every single day."


Rafaella Mey in Autoerótica (2021).

To add to Andrea's point, it's important to note that approximately 16% of maternal deaths in Peru are linked to unsafe abortions.

"But I didn't want to make a movie just on abortion, because in my activism process I started watching a lot of films on women's rights and sexual rights and I started to realise they were pretty sad and traumatic. I felt like they're important but overly dense, and so I felt I had to do something more fresh. So [in Autoerótica], the abortion is part of it, but there's also the sexual process, and the laughs. I feel like you laugh more watching the movie than feeling sad about her... In a sense, my activism was also making a character that you can relate to, so when she gets an abortion, you are already with her, and you cannot go back."



Considering the contentious nature of the topic, I was curious how Andrea was able to convince the Peruvian government to fund her film — especially considering how fundamentally critical Autoerótica is of their policies.

"I'm not sure they were entirely aware. The [funding] jury was not part of the Ministry of Culture — they chose the jury not even only from Peru but from other parts of Latin America. So this gave me the door, in that sense."

"I was scared of getting banned in the cinemas, because of the subject, but I was most worried about the actresses, because a lot of people who go to commercial cinemas are gonna see them as the face of this — not me. So I was scared for them, because I didn't know how people were gonna react."

What was the reaction? I asked.

"We didn't get banned on commercial cinemas, which was really good, but what happened is they banned our Instagram account. This was maybe only a year ago. And even though it's like, 'Okay, it's social media, who cares', for us, it was really important. Because there came a point after the movie was released that we had people each week writing to us in the situation of an abortion — whether they'd watched the film or not. So [the Instagram] became a really important space."


Rafaella Mey and Micaela Céspedes in Autoerótica (2021).

"There was a point where we started to be more visible about abortion — the account was supporting marches and giving information. And then the Instagram account got banned, when we had more than 5,000 followers. And not a lot of people followed us, they were just writing to us because it was a safe space. So when they banned the Instagram and they banned my Instagram also, I started to realise like, okay, maybe this is getting scary and they're gonna start tracking what we're doing."

It was clear the film had a powerful wake and served as important fuel for the ongoing female autonomy movement in Peru. I was interested to hear more of what that was like before it got shut down. 

"It was important for us when releasing the movie in other towns in Peru that we also went there, were giving information and had a space to talk about abortion."



It's been a couple of years now since Autoerótica's initial, impactful circuit in Latin America in 2021, but in an exciting turn of events, the film has recently found a resurgence on our own continent. The European premiere took place at Locarno Film Festival this Summer, whilst a couple of sold out screenings (which I was lucky enough to attend) took place at Babylon Kreuzberg just before Christmas.

"It's weird because the film was released in pandemic times so we couldn't approach so many festivals, and it was the decision to premiere the movie in Peru. Then [Locarno] approached me to screen the film, and for me it was super weird because I felt like the ending had already come, but this felt like a new start. I didn't think Autoerótica would have this second life. And it also came while I was living here in Berlin, so going to Locarno and other spaces was easier than before."


Rafaella Mey and Micaela Céspedes in Autoerótica (2021).

I wondered what the European response has been like.

"I had a lot of people coming to me, like younger people, but also really old people, feeling super connected to the movie. And I've started to realise this is a worldwide issue. Because even though we have [abortion rights] in some places in the world, it doesn't mean that they can't be taken away at any time."

Thank you to Andrea and the entire cast and crew for your brave work.

Interview and portraits by Ewan Waddell.


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