Director Aitch Alberto On Bringing ‘Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe’ To Theaters

Adapted from Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s 2012 award-winning young adult novel, Blue Fox Entertainment’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a beautiful coming-of-age film that presents a perfectly imperfect world that we all should strive to live in.

Directed and written for the screen by Aitch Alberto, Aristotle and Dante centers around the evolving friendship between two Mexican-American teenage boys in El Paso, Texas during the late 1980s. Both being somewhat of social outcasts, Aristotle and Dante (played by breakout actors Max Pelayo and Reese Gonzales) quickly form a natural and simplistic yet strong bond, as they navigate together through adolescence surrounded by cultural expectations and their rather opposite family dynamics.

Following the recent success of other LGBTQ projects like Heartstopper and Red, White & Royal Blue, Aristotle and Dante will give audiences all of the same feels of hope, heartache and optimism that its predecessors have, but effectively goes the extra mile with its well-layered narrative to deliver an unforgettable story that audiences from all walks of life will come to appreciate.

For Alberto, getting her film ready for a widespread release in select theaters starting this weekend has been an elaborate journey all its own. She told me, “It started back when I read the book in 2014. I just really fell in love with this story in a very visceral way. I thought it handled identity and culture in a way that we hadn’t seen before. I thought it was really gentle and soft. It played against troupes and stereotypes, which was really important to me.”

She went onto tell me that she decided to then write a script and reached out to the book’s author Sáenz in 2016, coordinating a meeting between the two minds that would last four days. After discussing together the story on the page and how Alberto would effectively bring it to the screen, she recalls Sáenz saying to her, “These boys were mine – and now, I give them to you.”

From there, Alberto said that it was a seven year journey and sometimes uphill climb to actually get this film made, adding, “I don’t think the industry saw the value in a story about two brown boys that go on a very gentle journey of self-discovery, but I think through the cultural script we had, it made it undeniable.”

Another component that Alberto had hoped to make possible during the filmmaking process was getting Hamilton superstar and two-time Oscar nominee Lin-Manuel Miranda attached to the film, as he was already the narrator for the audiobook.

Alberto said of her initial pursuits with Miranda, “I tried to reach out to him the traditional route – nothing came of it. So, I tweeted at him and he replied, and then three months later, he was in LA, agreeing to be a producer.”

Due to the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, Alberto said that it has been difficult being unable to have notable artists like Miranda and the film’s well-known actors including Eugenio Derbez and Eva Longoria joining her on the promotional circuit before the film’s theatrical release.

“I’m really tired but also having fun with it,” Alberto said of having to lead this international press tour primarily on her own, including an appearance just yesterday at The White House alongside Sáenz. “I’m not tired of talking about the stories – I see the value in it, but it hasn’t been easy. I am hoping that it doesn’t limit the audience, and that’s what I’m most worried about. I’m okay with going through this temporary pain of being exhausted, but in the back of my mind, I’m scared we’re not reaching all of the potential audiences because the limited way we’re having to promote. There are people involved in this film that have really big platforms that could’ve helped expand the opportunity. That is a real sort of fear that I’m having, but I’m also believing that people will be inspired to tell their friends to go to the movies.”

With Alberto having already been included in The Black List’s inaugural Latinx list, as well as NALIP’s “Latinx Directors You Should Know” list, I wondered what this moment means to her within her blossoming filmmaking career.

“I’m also the first trans person to be on Variety’s ‘10 Directors To Watch’ list, which is like ridiculous that it hasn’t happened before. It’s validating – I’m living it as authentically as possible, without thinking too much about the communities I’m representing. I’m representing myself – I’m trying to not talk about that or make that my identity. I don’t think we ever say, ‘Male director directs movie.’ I don’t love when people are like, ‘Trans director did this. Latinx director did this.’ It’s like I’m a director, first and foremost. I’m really passionate about existing during this process as that and hopefully with how I exist in the world, the fear of people like me lessens because they realize that we’re all not that scary.”

As Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe arrives in theaters, I concluded my conversation with Alberto by asking her what she hopes audiences from various backgrounds will take with them, after having the chance to see her new film play out up on the big screen.

“I would hope that people not only start seeing things a little different from the cultural specificities of the film – I’m hoping this is the beginning of a conversation amongst families because they’re inspired and they see the importance of what it means to use our voices. I often think we don’t use our voices to tell people we love that we see them, that we are okay with who they are because I think once we get that affirmation from people, the war inside of us becomes a little less.”

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