Despite her youth, Doris Muñoz has already made significant inroads with her music management company mija mgmt, having helped artists like Cuco and La Doña find their audiences. In a testament to how quickly she’s moving up, in the time since the new documentary Mija was filmed, she’s already made a career pivot to mentorship and her own work as a musician. But director Isabel Castro is less concerned with an easy “look at this inspiring story” human interest focus which movies of this nature all too commonly fall into. It is instead an introspective, low-key, almost gentle look at the interplay between work and family dynamics, specifically within immigrant households.
Notably, Muñoz is the first member of her family born in the US, and matters of legal residency heavily inform the film. One of the first things she did upon achieving success was start her parents on the process of obtaining their Green Cards, with their status still uncertain as Castro begins her shoot. Muñoz’s older brother was deported years prior, and the pain of that event (as well as the constant governmental threat it represents) stays with her, evident both in her confessions to the camera and in pointed shots of family photos. Much of the film follows Muñoz hoping to avoid a rut and ensuring she’s more than a flash in the pan by scouting and working with singer Jacks Haupt, and they bond over the fact that her parents are also undocumented. While many works about children of immigrants explore in-betweenness and straddling multiple worlds at once, Mija delves into facets of that experience not usually captured in film — little moments of professional trepidation or ambivalence, the restlessness that comes from never quite being certain of what will happen next, how even apparent great success might not safeguard a good future for someone and their family.
Castro works with an assuredness that’s impressive for a first feature, not simply adopting a standardized doc approach but actively cultivating an almost subjective point of view. When Muñoz talks aloud to the camera, it can feel as though she could just as easily be thinking out loud. Her interviews are often rendered in voiceover, reinforcing an almost ethereal first-person quality in the film. Its sense of intimacy can even be harrowing, particularly during an emotionally charged phone conversation between Jacks and her mother, who’s skeptical of her musical ambitions and expresses as much in sharp, unsparing terms.
Perhaps most impressive is how Castro seems to have rolled with where her story took her over the course of the production, as what began as a profile of a young entrepreneur becomes a dual portrait when Jacks enters the picture. One can easily imagine another (more conventional, and also worse) version of Mija in which she is relegated to perhaps 15 minutes of screen time, utilized mostly as a plot device which Muñoz can channel her energies into. Instead, though it takes its title from Muñoz’s company, the film broadens itself to explore the idea of immigrant daughterhood in more dimensions.
Mija opens in select theaters August 5.