Mila Cuda ’22 Helps Craft a Love Letter to Los Angeles

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Image credit: Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Good Deed Entertainment
Author  Shannon O’Brien
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Creative writing major Mila Cuda ’22 calls the newly released film Summertime, in which she appears, “a love letter to Los Angeles.” Directed by Carlos López Estrada (who also directed Raya and the Last Dragon), the film is written and performed by 27 young poets. “Young people who have full agency over their own stories,” Cuda said. “That’s not something we get often in filmmaking, or storytelling in general.”

Each poet wrote their individual scenes and chose where and how they wanted to be filmed. Cuda, who grew up in L.A., chose to ride a bus for her scene. “I knew I wanted to be on a bus because I grew up taking public transit everywhere,” she said. “I have lived in a bunch of different corners of Los Angeles, so I was like, if I’m going to represent how I exist in the city, I exist on the bus.” As a queer woman on public transit in a big city, she said, she often made herself smaller in order to avoid harassment. Having the opportunity to create a scene where she could speak freely meant more to her than she anticipated. “Like, we really created a world where I felt safe enough to speak up for myself,” she said of the scene in which she stands up to a homophobe.

Cuda has been writing poetry since she was child (she has a poetry collection from first grade written in crayon), but she became more serious in high school with the encouragement of her teacher Kelly Grace Thomas Vojdani. She has been involved with Get Lit, an L.A.-based arts education nonprofit, since she was 15, as a performer, editor, and educator. Though she came to Wellesley in part because it offered a peace studies major, she soon realized that “creative writing is always what I’m going to be most excited about and what I want to do more than anything.”

Cuda also served as the poetry editor for Summertime, meeting with poets individually and workshopping their scenes in order to thread each vignette into a cohesive narrative while allowing the distinct voice of each writer to shine through. She said Wellesley creative writing workshops have helped her become a stronger editor. “Workshops are all about trust, knowing how to hold someone’s work and enjoy it, but also find ways to balance compliments with questions, in order to challenge the work so it evolves and doesn’t stay stagnant,” she said. She also notes the vulnerability of sharing work for critique. “The Wellesley community—particularly creative writing—it’s a very supportive environment,” she said.

Work on the film began in 2019; the initial release was planned for 2020, then postponed because of the pandemic. Now that it is out in the world, Cuda hopes viewers “appreciate the ambitious effort of all these young people to put themselves out there and be vulnerable.”

When she returns to Wellesley this fall, it will be her first time on campus since March 2020. She said she is looking forward to seeing her friends, sitting by the lake, and experiencing seasons again. And she is quite excited to work on her thesis with Dan Chiasson, Lorraine C. Wang Professor of English. “I’ve been doing a lot of fulfilling collaborative work, but I haven’t really had time to just write for myself in a while. I can’t wait to dive in and develop a collection for my thesis,” she said. “I think it’s going to be amazing.”