McALLEN — In an era where politics and immigration are synonymous, film continues to be an art form that can change minds — at least according to Alyssa Milano.
Principal photography for the family film “Gift of an Angel” was slated to begin this week in locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
Award-winning director Amanda Raymond rewrote the script and is directing the feature with Pirnia and Andrew Sugerman producing. Milano of “Charmed” fame stars alongside Christian de la Fuente, Angel Parker and Eva Ariel Binder.
The synopsis for “Gift of an Angel,” as described in a news release, involves a young girl played by Binder who’s separated from her mother at the border.
The release goes on to detail that Milano will play a local social worker who places the child in a temporary foster home where the girl will be cared for by Parker’s character, who coincidentally lost her own family several years prior.
“I think the beauty of the entertainment industry is we get to tell these stories,” Milano said.
Aside from coming to the Valley to shoot film, specifically in McAllen and Harlingen, the production of “Gift of an Angel” cast locals for some roles and crew, such as McAllen actor Michael Karam.
“Rather than film this story in our native cities of Los Angeles or Austin, we felt the necessity to create the authenticity of the South Texas area and the real people of the Rio Grande Valley, in order to do justice to the realities of our characters and their environments,” Sugerman said.
The cast and crew of “Gift of an Angel” also have personal attachments to the project, from Milano’s avid critique of the Trump administration to producer Pirnia’s personal experience as a first-generation Iranian immigrant.
“With the current immigration issue that is dividing our country, I wanted to tell a story that shows its impact on a single family. By being up close and personal, it reveals the real struggles these people are being forced to endure, and humanized the situation,” Raymond said in the release.
In order to prepare for her role as a social worker at the border, Milano immersed herself with the Valley: from touring the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, to visiting families to becoming infatuated with local cuisine.
“I thought it was important to get to know the district and understand the different things that go on here.” Milano said.
At the respite center, Milano mentioned that she was able to meet families and play with the children at the center. Previously, Milano had visited detention centers, immigration courts and the border in the last few years.
“I definitely think anytime you see something like this and you’re able to spend time with the families, it motivates you even more to have this film be a success,” Milano said.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, who joined Milano on her tour of the respite center Wednesday, expressed concerns over the stigma surrounding McAllen
Aware of said stigma, Milano added, “The only thing that really ever changes minds is art or music or anything like this. It’s certainly not politics as we’ve seen, so anytime you’re able to tell and shine a light on stories that are different than people normally see, I think it’s really important.”