The timeliness of Jim McKay's immigrant story on screen is impeccable.

By Aja Hoggatt
June 25, 2018 at 03:08 PM EDT
Everett Collection

There are no guns, no Mexican cartels, and no maid uniforms. There are just soccer balls, food deliveries, and the fear of being an undocumented Mexican in the United States.

Movie and TV director Jim McKay’s new film En el Séptimo Día follows the story of Jośe, a 20-something deliveryman, and his nine friends — all undocumented Mexican immigrants — living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.

“Part of what I’m hoping is that people can see themselves in my films who haven’t necessarily seen a lot of media that represents them, and usually in a positive way in terms of the films I’m making,” McKay tells EW. “It’s very easy to be afraid of someone, or discount someone, or not really worry about someone’s issues if you don’t know them and if they’re not part of your world. It shouldn’t be very easy, but for people it is.”

Many films about American racial minorities strive to be grand, recounting moments of historic victory for repressed groups or celebrating the heroes who brought forth change. They cement entire groups of people in the past tense, often with tales of pain. Some stories are told from a distance, from voices unfamiliar with the modern-day immigrant or black and brown person’s experience in the U.S. That’s not En el Séptimo Día. 

The narrative film, shot over 19 days in the summer of 2016, aims to shed an authentic light on the Mexican immigrant experience. Jośe’s main struggle is not his treatment in a new country, but rather the possibility of letting his soccer team down when he feels a deeper obligation to keep his job; he hopes to bank upcoming vacation days to bring his pregnant wife to the United States before she gives birth. It’s populated with a set of convincing non-actors and told in both English and with Spanish subtitles.

In the midst of the current political climate, and uproar over immigrant children being separated from their parents, it’s hard to believe that the timing behind this film was not intentional. However, McKay began writing the film more than a decade ago, putting it on hold to direct television shows such as TremeThe WireThe Good Fight, and Mr. Robot. Not only has the film become more relevant, but it seems to be more needed than ever before.

“Everything is so divisive right in this country, just crazily, crazily divisive and yet we’re all yelling about and talking about people we don’t really know or interact with,” McKay says. “Movies and TV are a way for us to travel.”

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In recent years, with television shows like VidaInsecureJane the Virgin, and Atlanta, the conversation around the experience of minority groups is changing, and audiences are finally being given a wider and more honest understanding of stories so often unexplored on screen. But for McKay, this type of storytelling is nothing new. He has been part of this push for many years as the indie director of films such as Girls Town (1996) and Our Song (2000), the latter featuring a young Kerry Washington in her first film role; he’s spent years telling realist minority stories on micro budgets so that people of color can see themselves onscreen.

“When I made Girls Town and when I made Our Song, there used to be actual video stores where you’d go and you’d look through the rows of VHS tapes and you’d look at the boxes, and if you were a young woman — and a young woman of color, in particular — you didn’t see yourself there. And when was growing up, I had tons of shows and movies that represented me as a young white boy,” McKay admits.

En el Séptimo Día provides a rare opportunity to empathize with an experience that may be foreign to your own, something the director says he was keenly aware of in making.

“For audiences that are not represented in the movie, hopefully, they get a look into a community and characters who are not representative of themselves, but who they can relate to and possibly learn something from.”