Princess Nokia’s debut mixtape, 1992, was named in reference to the year she was born, while her baggy outfit and the design on the cover art was an on-point nod to the culture of the decade. And so the East Harlem rapper travelled back in time with ease for her acting debut in Angelfish, a love story set in the Bronx in 1993, which premiered last night in New York City, and hits streaming services on 19th November.
Nokia, aka Destiny Nicole Frasqueri, plays Eva, a down and out Puerto Rican city girl who is faced with a challenge – to choose between her family priorities or to follow her aspirations of becoming an actress. Directed by Irish filmmaker Peter Lee, the coming-of-age romantic drama captures a time when the Bronx was rougher due to drug dealer culture and financial disparity that cast a dark cloud over youth culture.
According to Frasqueri, the filmmakers strived to break out of stereotypes and represent Latinx people authentically. “It was important to bring my character, Eva, to life as a wholesome, hopeful, sweet girl who is everything unlike of what I was like in high school,” she tells The Face.
“I really wanted to create a new character and not make something relevant to Princess Nokia or have myself on the screen,” she adds, “to bring something new to the screen, and I’m happy.”
Eva is a high school graduate reluctant to study accounting in college, while falling for Brendan (played by Jimi Stanton), a dropout living with his alcoholic mother and troubled brother who winds up in jail. Their romance kicks off at a movie theatre, and they continue to serenade down a sprawling staircase (the Joker staircase in the Bronx). Things get complicated when Eva’s ex-boyfriend returns from Puerto Rico, who wants to reconcile, and it doesn’t help that Brendan’s mother thinks that “the Latina girl just wants to be taken care of”.
But love prevails in this New York love story, which is riddled with pre-internet charm – rotary phones, grunge-era garb and boom-bap hip-hop blaring in the background of New York nightclubs. “This is a love story that is so definitive of New York culture, inter-racial love and inner-city living, regardless of race, but also those instances between cultures and family, and individuals, we have more in common than we have different sometimes, and that’s a really beautiful thing,” says Frasqueri.
“These are just two New York teenagers who are people, one summer of 1993, just falling in love. I think that’s a universal message – people fall in love in an instant with certain folks. Two different people from two different worlds who end up having a lot in common.”
“It’s not a tough girl drama, it’s the total opposite,” Frasqueri says, insisting that the film avoids Bronx movie clichés. “I basically took who I was at 18 and flipped it and that’s what you see onscreen.” When Frasqueri was two-years-old, her mother died from complications of AIDS, and she bounced around foster homes before finding a stability. “Eva is a wholesome girl, not fast or wild, she doesn’t have any interest other than acting,” says Frasqueri. “She is one of the girls I went to school with that I was very envious of, I wish I could have done that. I feel like I’m more like her now.”
Frasqueri is an executive producer to the film. “There’s a lot of things I wanted to contribute to the film, and collaborate on, and it’s always so important to have female producers on board,” she says. “Since I’m a born New Yorker, it was important to use my knowledge of the city, and the areas we shot in, for the film, too.”
There’s a new Princess Nokia album coming out in 2020, as well as a photobook that documents the past five years of Spanish Harlem’s Puerto Rican Festival. “I grew up being really involved with my cultural roots, having pride and love for yourself,” she says of the book. “I wanted to create a healthy visibility for people from my culture, to make my sisters proud. I make music about what I know and New York is one of those things.”
Following S.H.I.T. (Sugar Honey Iced Tea), her bold recent track, which references a situation where footage of her throwing soup at a racist man on the subway went viral, Frasqueri drops her new single Balenciaga today. “It’s a weird song about being whatever you want and not caring,” she says. “The music video was shot in Chinatown and was taken entirely in one shot. The best part I that I get naked, too. It’s fun.”