RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

More than half of the people who live in Peru are of indigenous descent, and many of them are poor. But that's changing. Peru's economy is booming. Its democracy is gaining traction, and indigenous Peruvians are finally beginning to move into positions of power. The most prominent example is the recently elected president.

Annie Murphy has a profile of another rising international star.

ANNIE MURPHY: A few years ago, the Peruvian film "The Milk of Sorrow" received top honors at Berlin's film festival. And onstage, Magaly Solier, the actress who plays the film's protagonist, did something surprising - she chose to accept the award by singing in the indigenous Quechua language.

MAGALY SOLIER: (Singing in Quechua)

MURPHY: Solier grew up in a family of Quechua farmers in Peru's highlands. Whether speaking or singing, she often calls on Quechua, in addition to Spanish. But even though more than half of Peruvian's are indigenous or have indigenous roots, she says she was cautioned against speaking Quechua in public.

SOLIER: (Through translator) People thought that I would be laughed at. My family, my friends, they told me, don't speak in Quechua. You'll be humiliated. You'll get knocked down. You'll be made fun of. I said, why do I have to beat around the bush. Why can't I speak whatever language I want?

MURPHY: Solier clearly has her own take on how to do things. She says that had a lot to do with growing up in a place that was affected by violent repression during the 1980s.

SOLIER: (Through translator) You always had to be quiet when I was growing up. If you made noise, the Shining Path guerrillas would come, take you away and kill you. And in the end, it was the local people who got rid of the violence, who began to arm themselves and make rounds to keep the community safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE MILK OF SORROW")

SOLIER: (as Fausta) (Foreign language spoken)

MURPHY: In the film "The Milk of Sorrow," Solier plays a young woman affected by the rural violence of the '80s living in modern day Peru. During the time of Peru's armed conflict, some Peruvians believed that campesina women who were raped had passed their fear onto the children through their breast milk. Solier's character is one of those children grown up.

In this scene, she angrily asks why city people don't grow potatoes, which are a symbol of rural life in Peru.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE MILK OF SORROW")

SOLIER: (As Fausta) (Singing in foreign language)

MURPHY: The movie catapulted her into a successful international career. Throughout the film, she also sings, and she's since become a professional singer, too.

SOLIER: (Through translator) When I got to Lima, the music I'd sung growing up was looked down upon. It was something that people thought was only good for getting drunk and getting into fights. I said to myself, people in the capital and foreigners, they don't know what the music is really like where I'm from. I wanted to do something different.

MURPHY: Solier is part of a larger cultural shift in Peru. That shift is also visible in the election of Ollanta Humala, who's of indigenous descent, as Peru's next president. Nonetheless, many people were jolted by his election. Magaly Solier believes they should wait until Humala was actually in office to make up their minds about him.

SOLIER: (Through translator) Whether he'll do good or bad, no one knows yet. Human beings that haven't had the same opportunities, you have to give us a chance in order to find out what we'll actually do.

MURPHY: For NPR News, I'm Annie Murphy in Lima, Peru.

MONTAGNE: And you can hear more of Magaly Solier singing on our website, npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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