Emilio Estefan's 'Change of Heart'

As a musician who went from enduring childhood homelessness in Spain to becoming a Grammy-winning co-founder of Miami Sound Machine, Emilio Estefan can appreciate a good story about attaining the American dream.

Estefan found one in the film “A Change of Heart,” a comedy-drama he produced with longtime friend and director Kenny Ortega. The movie, filmed in Miami, Miami Beach and Aventura, stars Jim Belushi as Hank, a homophobic gringo fearful of diversity who, after a near-fatal heart attack, receives a heart transplant from a Puerto Rican drag queen. After the transplant, Hank begins to experience changes, including sudden cravings for banana daiquiris, inexplicable urges to cross-dress and a new fascination with Martha Stewart.

Reached by phone outside his recording studio in Coral Gables, Estefan says the film came together over a period of 16 years. The movie, which premiered in March at the Miami Film Festival, will screen Saturday, April 22, during the Outshine Film Festival in Miami.

“[The movie] brings a great message about acceptance for the gay community, with a lot of Latino humor, and I don’t think there could be any better timing in this country,” Estefan says. “South Florida, my home, has opened its arms to so much diversity.”

In a way, Hank’s struggle for LGBT acceptance reminds Estefan of his own hardscrabble childhood as a Cuban expatriate in Spain, living off refugee soup kitchens with his father. Before the family relocated to Miami to live with relatives, Estefan would play the accordion for meager tips in Spanish bars.

“I came all the way from the bottom,” Estefan, 64, says. “And that’s where you learn all about acceptance and racism and hate.”

Estefan says he began supporting the LGBT community when he and wife Gloria Estefan opened Larios on the Beach, a splashy Cuban restaurant in gay-friendly Miami Beach, in 1992. He says studios initially rejected the script for “A Change of Heart” and its pro-tolerance messages, written by Luis Santeiro, a screenwriter for the groundbreaking Little Havana-set 1970s sitcom "¿Que Pasa, USA?"

“Every studio I went to, they turned me down,” says Estefan, adding that recent success with “On Your Feet!” the Broadway jukebox musical about the rise of the Estefan dynasty, helped him finish the project. “I’ve always been a fan of people who accept who they are, who aren’t ashamed of who they are, because that’s the kind of person I am.”

Following Saturday’s screening of “A Change of Heart,” the Estefans will receive Ally Awards for their work advocating for South Florida’s LGBT community. Gloria Estefan makes a cameo in the film as Hank’s psychiatrist ("so you think your new heart is literally pumping gayness into you?” she asks Hank), a role her husband believes was a perfect fit.

“We’ve been married for 40 years. She’s always been a Cuban psychiatrist to me, anyway,” Estefan says with a laugh.

“A Change of Heart” is one of 65 LGBT feature films and documentaries screening during the newly rebranded Outshine, returning April 21-30 to multiple Miami and Miami Beach theaters. The name change is Outshine’s third in as many years. Once called the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the LGBT gathering became the MiFo Film Festival in 2016, until president Mark Gilbert realized that the word “MiFo” (an acronym of Miami and Fort Lauderdale) only made sense to existing festivalgoers.

“In Spanish, you would pronounce it ‘me-fo,’ not ‘my-fo,’ the way it’s supposed to be pronounced,” Gilbert says. “If you don’t get it, you’re left out, and you can’t have a company with a name people can’t pronounce. ‘Outshine’ is such a better name, and it says so much about us as a community. We’re LGBTQ, and we live in a place known for beautiful beaches, weather and plenty of sunshine.”

Kicking off Outshine will be the world premiere of “Handsome Devil” (8 p.m. April 21), a 2016 Irish drama about two young men in a relationship at a boarding school, which will screen at the Scottish Rite Temple, 471 NW Third St., in Miami.

“A Change of Heart” will screen at 4:45 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at Regal Cinemas South Beach, 1120 Lincoln Road, in Miami Beach. The Outshine Film Festival will take place Friday, April 21, through Sunday, April 30, at various Miami and Miami Beach theaters. Admission is $13 for all films. Go to MiFoFilm.com for the full schedule.

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