I watch a lot of movies. Whenever there is one I really like, I write about it. I’m very lucky in that there are websites that publish my writing and share it with the internet-reading public. I never thought what I did was such a big deal until I started reading statistics on the demographics of those who engage in film criticism. A recent study found that 80% of all online film reviews are written by men. Even worse, when it comes to Latino film critics who write for a major mainstream publication, you can probably count them on one hand. So, as a Latina who writes about movies I’m an anomaly. Taking into consideration that identity and worldview will always make its way into anyone’s writing whether they want it to or not, a diversity of voices in film criticism is paramount. I read movie reviews about Latino and Latin American films that piss me off all the time. Sometimes, it’s the movie itself that provides a warped view of my parent’s homeland.
As a Mexidoreña, I am not really a fan of films that make Mexico or Central America (or any part of Latin America for that matter) look like a terrible place to live especially since the news does that just fine on its own. I’ve spent a lot of time south of the border and what the news doesn’t tell you is that behind the stories of poverty and violence are beautiful landscapes which are home to bustling cities, geological wonders, amazing street food, a rich history, killer beaches, volcanoes, pyramids, ancient ruins and thriving music and art scenes. I often feel like a cultural ambassador trying to combat the damage done by American news stations. I am constantly telling gringos that, “Well, people do actually live there. Some parts are dangerous if you are a drug dealer or a gang banger. But otherwise, it’s pretty safe.” And then comes a film like Manos Sucias.
Executive Produced by Spike Lee and directed by NYU film grad Josef Kubota Wladyka, it’s a flick the movie biz has been buzzing about since its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last week. It will undoubtedly get even more attention now that it’s helmer was awarded a prize for Best New Narrative Director.
Manos Sucias, set on the Pacific coast of Colombia, tells the story of Delio, a naive Afro-Colombian teen, who gets caught up in drug smuggling. Along with his older brother, he’s enlisted to take a bale of drugs upstream in a rickety, old fishing boat. The journey is, of course, filled with heart-pounding twists and turns and frightening close calls. Yes, there are moments of stomach-wrenching tension and disturbing violence but to be fair, the movie really is about much more than just drugs and violence. We see the lush, green landscapes of the Colombian coast, are provided a glimpse of an Afro-Colombian community that is often ignored and marginalized, and get to see the intimate moments between two young men who spend countless hours just sitting on a boat. They talk about life, relationships, soccer, and music. Plus, the director, although not Colombian, spent a significant amount of time in the country to work on the movie and develop his script. He even taught a production workshop for local residents.
So, it’s been pretty frustrating to see the press coverage of the movie typecast Colombia as a savage, war-torn drug haven. Yes, the country has its issues but as this movie shows, some Colombians exist in this environment and are often able to live normal and even happy lives. Plus, the violence is concentrated in certain areas. One interview in particular left me incensed. In a post called, “So Not a Rom-Com: Meet the Female Producers Behind One of the Tribeca Film Festival’s Most Intense Movies” Glamour Magazine focuses on the stuff that us women are interested in, like asking the female producers how scared they must have been while filming in a perilous country that is “overrun with drug lords” and where “dismembered body parts wash ashore” regularly. Yeah, those are real quotes. Instead of focusing on the drugs and violence, how about asking some probing questions about the story, the characters or the protagonists’ complicated relationship? Well, they didn’t. The entire interview is mostly about how much it must suck for a woman to live in Colombia. I went ahead and highlighted every single negative, stereotype-ridden word used to describe Colombia and its people. Plus, I added my own commentary. Enjoy!
I can’t be sure if this writer has ever been to Colombia but she makes her opinion on the country very clear, it’s basically just a holding place for narcotics and the terrifying people who sell them.
Besides it being a dangerous place, don’t forget that the people are really poor too! Also, don’t be surprised if random body parts just wash ashore, totally happens. ALL THE TIME. No biggie.
In case you forgot, she’s gotta point out AGAIN that Colombia is a really scary place. Never mind that they are making a movie about drugs not selling them in real life.
Umm, can we get back to talking about drugs and poverty again? We want to make sure and emphasize that point because we think people should know the truth — that our social class and privilege allowed us the ability to visit a very poor country and make a movie about it but thank God we don’t have to live there! AMIRITE? USA! USA!
They gotta make sure we know that it sucks to be a woman in Colombia. Never mind that this interview privileges the opinions of the American female producers. Why not interview the two female Colombian producers about, I don’t know… what they think about their own country?
Let’s get back to talking about ourselves. The people in Colombia are super-poor, like malnourished and stuff. That was super hard FOR ME to watch.
Yes, I am totally being a snarky jerk but us children of immigrants have to deal with this crap every single day. We are bombarded with sensational news stories on TV, the internet, and even conversations with friends about the places our families come from. As a result, we absolutely deserve the chance to be mad and speak up about bullshit stereotypes without being called overly P.C. or too sensitive.