WARNING: This article contains material of a graphic nature.
Gina M. Garcia is finally sharing her story of thriving after trauma in her new docu-drama biography, Untold: This is My Story, which premieres Sept. 6 at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California.
Garcia, who is Filipino and Spanish, was born in Tehran, Iran. At age 3, she settled in Orlando, Florida, with her parents and three older siblings. When people asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, her father encouraged her to say "awesome."
Today, Garcia is an entrepreneur and keeps busy by remodeling houses, consulting aspiring business owners and Trikaroo, a line of small footprint electric passenger vehicles. Garcia explained Trikaroo is a modern take on old-fashioned technology and it pays homage to the company her mother used to run in the Philippines, which operated pedicabs and jipneys. She also enjoys living on the Gulf of Mexico, watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play and spending time with her "tribe."
When talking about how she got to where she is today and the long-term effects of the traumas she experienced, she stated "the most beautiful things in the world are made from broken things."
"You can't make a cake without breaking an egg," she pointed out. "Mosaics are broken pieces of glass. I wish people could start looking at it that way versus 'oh, she's just broken.'"
At age 8, Garcia was raped, assaulted at knifepoint and kidnapped at the Fashion Square Mall in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 12, 1981. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), 99 percent of all children abducted by a stranger are murdered within the first 24 hours.
Being the 1 percent, Garcia escaped her captor when another car ran a stop sign, slowing down the car that carried Garcia and she had the chance to jump.
Many people believe she was taken by the same person that abducted and murdered Adam Walsh, (son of John Walsh, host and creator of America's Most Wanted).
"I'm not a survivor; I'm a thriver," Garcia corrected.
In 2006, Garcia was once again victimized when her business was burglarized in an apparent hate crime. Triggered from what she experienced as a child, she sought mental health treatment from the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital, where she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Garcia explained that she met different women through the VA system that helped her to learn about herself.
"The power of community, regardless of what it looks like, these women were twice my age, they were all different from me," Garcia said.
In 2008, one of her former employees who was housesitting for her broke into her mother's house nearby, bludgeoned her and sexually assaulted her. When Garcia arrived to a scene at her mother's house with cameras in her face, she did not know what happened or who did it at first. She recalled all the news reporters being puzzled at her strength in the traumatic time. Her conversation with Derrol Nail of Fox 35 News in Orlando, she said, was inspiring. Garcia explained that Nail did not have the camera on her and was human. He also asked her why she was so strong and assertive with the news crews after such a scene, at which point she told him what had happened to her when she was a child 25 years ago. Her response was met with shock.
"I spent 28 days and wrote my scripts and told my story because Derrol Nail told me nobody knows your story," said Garcia, Untold's writer, director and producer. "And I really didn't know they needed to."
In 2009, Garcia attended film school at the International Academy for Film and Television in the Philippines. At an award ceremony for a film project Garcia helped produce, she met award-winning writer and director Patty Jenkins. The movie Monster resonated with Garcia and she admired Jenkins for her work.
Asking Jenkins to direct her story, she declined insisting Garcia was the one who had to tell her own story. According to Garcia, after stating she was not a director, Jenkins responded "you will be when you are done."
"I got to tell my story the way I wanted to," said Garcia. "Because I was able to do it on my terms and I think that's why I finally love my movie. Because when I had everybody in Hollywoodand I do appreciate themeverybody influenced my story, and I kind of caved. I caved to everyone else's influence. We do that as human beings. We cave to peer pressure and we cave to people that you think know more than you do, but at the end of the day, if I'm going to tell my story, it's going to be my story."
After years of self-funding the project and editing, her movie, Untold, will finally make its debut. Garcia's film tells her inspiring true story of the hate crime that triggered disturbing flashbacks to her childhood traumas causing her to seek treatment for PTSD within the VA system and the heavy effects it had on those around her. The Untold cast includes Terri Ivens, Melody Butiu, Jennifer Rubin, Carlos Gomez, Brian Gaskill, Les Brandt, Julie Goldman and civil rights attorney Gloria Allred.
"We watch our gay cinema and expect the characters to die," said Garcia, who is a lesbian. "We don't expect them to live and we don't expect them to thrive. So what does that say about our community when we're making our movies?! We see them as campy comedies and we see dramas, as brutal and ugly. Parts of my movie [are] brutal and ugly, but at the end of it, you see a celebration and you see somebody that actually made it through the other side. That's what I want to showcase in all my projects is that we can make it."
Untold has been adapted into a book called Untold: I am the 1% and launched The Untold Project charity, which provides sexual assault survivors with a safe space to tell their own stories.
"If I had to go through all this just to help one person, it's been all worth it," Garcia said.
Garcia spoke for a moment about the power of jumping. A part that did not make the film, was her memory of Lionel Playworld, which had kangaroos on its sign. When she was abducted, she described, the man took her to the back of the mall where Lionel Playworld was, a place she used to go with her father.
" I just looked up at the sign and I stared at kangaroos," she said. "The interesting part is my company is now called Trikaroo and our mascot is a kangaroo. It's not triggering, it's actually empowering because the kangaroos rewrote my history."
Calling it "trippy," she remembers the kangaroo talking to her and she sang the commercial in her head during that moment.
Kangaroos and, specifically, jumping, she shared, have popped up throughout her life and saved her. Jumping saved her from her captor; her business' mascot is a kangaroo with the joey on top steering; she jumped into writing her film when Nail encouraged her and jumped into directing when Jenkins instructed her.
"I hope to show other people how they can be a Wonder Woman themselves," said Garcia. "Everybody has superpowers and mine right now is just to have a voice and just say 'hey, this really happens; it's okay, you can get through it and what you believe is broken is actually beautiful.' If I can showcase that and call it art or call it cinema, a movie, a book and can get people to realize that, the monsters don't win anymore. For me, I carried this person who raped and assaulted me at the back of my head for 25 years before I started dealing with it. That person took away relationships, it took intimate relationships, relationships with friends and things like that because I didn't know that there were proper coping skills."
To learn more about Untold: This is My Story, which has various upcoming screening dates around the country, visit untold-movie.com .