Director Aitch Alberto says there's "something for everyone" in her new film "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe"
Director Aitch Alberto's new film tells a story not typically seen on the big screen, but the themes are "universal" to all, she says.
Based on Benjamin Alire Sáenz's 2012 YA novel, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a coming-of-age tale about 15-year-old Aristotle (Max Pelayo) who's accepted that he's not good at making friends. That is, until he meets Dante (Reese Gonzales) one summer, and their unique friendship gradually develops.
Alberto, who also wrote the screenplay, tells PEOPLE she approached the film through a "lens that feels gentle, specifically when it comes to Latinx stories in a way we haven't seen before."
"I wanted to make this because it so plays against the tropes we've seen and the stereotypes we've seen. I just refuse to play into that," says Alberto, 40. "That's not the work that I want to put out in the world."
The film does deal with topics of violence and bullying, but Alberto was careful not to "perpetuate trauma porn in a way that we've seen redundantly over and over again," she says. Her intent, instead, was to present a relatable film about discovery that is "not straightforward" in the way other movies about the subject matter tend to be.
"It's time we start pushing that narrative," she says, "redefining those things to reflect the world we live in and just give people a different option of how they can look at themselves, how parents could look at their kids."
Alberto says there's "something for everyone" in Aristotle and Dante, as evidence by the varied responses audiences have expressed to her after screenings.
"Everyone has such an individual experience to the story, which is such a compliment because it means it is universal — people who I don't think realized they would connect with an aspect of this. It's a reflection of the painful journey of self-discovery, of growing up, which I think is relatable across the board," she says. "That's been really beautiful to see."
While Alberto recognizes the universality of the project, the impact of its trailblazing representation isn't lost on her either. The filmmaker calls the movie "important and urgent," especially as some segments of society take measures to silence and ban LGBTQ stories.
"People are hungry to see themselves, to see a version of themselves on the big screen," she says. "This is a story about people we don't often see on screen. This is a story made by people we don't often see behind the camera."
Alberto, who is transgender, says she "went through my own difficult journey while making this movie." That personal self-discovery was "so important to do in order to be fully capable of approaching this story in particular with a lens that was rooted in love."
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These characters, she says, are a "celebration of the nuance of my own lived experience."
"For me to be sitting in this chair is also an important moment," says Alberto. "... [This movie] is inviting people to dream bigger and to not limit what their aspirations are. I refuse to let my identity hold me back from any aspect of what I want to be or who I want to be and what I want to do in the world. I hope that that's inspiring to folks now as well."
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is in theaters Friday.
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