When I first heard of La Negrada, the first fictional film with an all Afromexican cast released earlier this year, I was excited. Finally, a movie that visibilizes a community that has been historically erased from Mexico’s national identity. But after reading an interview in La Jornada where the director, Jorge Pérez Solano, calls Black Mexicans “savage,” my excitement fell short.
“The skin tones that I use in the movie don’t get to the degree of being totally black that I would have liked. They told me that If I went in deeper I could have found more blacks but they are more savage. Maybe next time I’ll do it — there they call them blues or reds because at a certain hour they seem to shed a glow with those colors; very pretty. But they were either too shy or too savage and they didn’t even want me to get close to them, or they told me they were too embarrassed.” — translated excerpt from the Spanish-language interview in La Jornada.
I watched the movie and felt that the director’s comments were reflected in the film. In an attempt to represent the inclusion of Blackness in Mexico, the film actually does the opposite — it exoticizes and otherizes Black skin tones and Black experiences. Blackness is used as a prop, as a joke. The costeño accents of the actors are rendered as “funny” for mestizo audiences.
The film tells the story of a “queridato,” a man who has a wife and a girlfriend, his “querida.” The casual machismo in the film made me uncomfortable. When the main character talks down at the women in his life, the audience in my theater laughed — a testament to the normalization of violence toward Afro-Mexican women.
Though there aren’t really signs of “blatant” racism in the film, it does reproduce colonial ideas that have been around about Black people for centuries, following a tradition of Mexico’s uneasy relationship with Blackness. Afro-Mexicans are portrayed as an anthropological subject rather than as a pueblo with its own determination.
Likewise, many Afro-Mexicans here in Mexico have denounced the film, saying that it reproduces the stereotypes that the Afromexican community has long fought to erase. A group of collectives posted a statement heavily criticizing the film.
#LaNegrada El cineasta Jorge Pérez Solano, director y guionista del filme “La Negrada”, llama salvajes a las personas negras @LaJornada @CONAPRED @CinetecaMexico @revistaproceso pic.twitter.com/0VBa2txAi2
— Afrodescendencias (@afrodes_mx) August 12, 2018
Afro-Mexicans and organizations have passed out this criticism to the public at Cineteca Nacional, the theater where this film was screened. Today at 5 pm in Mexico City, a group of us at PanAfricanistas Mexico will be posting a workshop about racisms and reflections on the film.
Black Mexicans people deserve a film that represents the nuances and complexities that come with being Black. In this film, they’ve shown that they are good actors. There is no reason why we can’t develop a story that will allow their acting to shine.
Blackness is not a monolith, and I can understand the euforia that someone from La Costa Chica might get from seeing their community on the big screen. In a country where the Afro movement is so heavily wrapped around visibility (Afro-Mexicans are still not represented in the National Constitution), it’s easy to see how this film can represent a milestone. But when we look a bit deeper, perhaps we can take this as a lesson that not all visibility is good visibility.