KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — A low-rent motel near Walt Disney World isn't just the setting for the acclaimed film "The Florida Project" — it's also home for the 7-year-old stand-in for the movie's young star.
An Orlando Sentinel report says Rebekah Wiggins has the same brown shade of hair as Brooklynn Prince, who played the spirited girl Moonee in the film.
The girls are the same age and size. Last year, Rebekah posed on set for technicians adjusting lighting and in scenes where cameras showed Moonee shot from behind.
"I miss Brooklynn," Rebekah said. "She is my friend, which I love very much."
Rebekah has lived for three years in the same sort of Kissimmee motel portrayed in the movie, along a stretch of central Florida highway that is home to hundreds of low-income families. She lives in a $250-a-week room with her parents and four siblings.
The work on set brought lunches with Brooklynn's co-star, Willem Dafoe, and production staffers who held umbrellas over Rebekah's head and placed straws in her bottled water. It also brought in enough money for Rebekah's family to buy groceries for a month and fix up their old van.
The Wiggins family moved into the motel after a pipe burst in the home they had been renting. Their landlord could not afford repairs, and code enforcement officers said the family had to move.
Rebekah's parents both work at nearby theme parks. Her 9-year-old brother, Solomon, said life in the motel has not been easy.
"I feel like the world is ignoring us, like we're the dirty people or something," Solomon said.
The children's mother, Pamela Wiggins, said she has applied for government assistance for food, housing and medical care, but there's no compensation when she has to miss work to care for Solomon. He was born with a congenital defect that has caused countless urinary infections and required over a dozen surgeries.
"People judge me all the time — 'Why did you have so many children?'" Wiggins, 36, said. "But I wasn't in this situation when I had them, and my kids are the future. For me, they're my gift to the world."
The film's director, Sean Baker, says he's been trying to get Rebekah's family into a Kissimmee housing program so they can have some stability.
"But because of the fact that there are seven of them, they didn't qualify," he says. "They're a great family, and we're still working with the (Community) Hope Center, but my hope is to get all those families there into a better situation."
Mary Lee Downey, the Community Hope Center's executive director, said she also has tried to help Rebekah's family.
"Even if her family does qualify, we have such an affordable housing crisis in Osceola County that it's hard to find her — and the many, many others like her — a home," she said. "We definitely need some heroes, some people who own property and own homes, to not just look at the bottom line but to look at the heartbeats."
Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/