In his 1973 book “The Open Veins of Latin America,” famed Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano wrote, “For the world today, America is just the United States; the region we inhabit is a sub-America, a second-class America of nebulous identity.” President Hugo Chavez infamously gave this book to Obama at the Americas Summit back in 2009.
There is a perception of Latin America that, in many ways, simplifies its entirety into an anarchic landscape of continuous turmoil. While there’s some truth, like anything else, it’s not entirely accurate. But then you have films like “Sicario” and Netflix’s “Narcos” prevailing in the media, and it’s easy see why Hollywood is so fascinated with this — mostly because there are big bucks to be made in portrayals of drug wars.
People love hearing about the morbid decapitations, the gruesome hits, the bombed attacks — and what’s more, they love seeing it. That’s why the cult of Pablo Escobar prevails, and that’s why movies like “Sicario” keep coming out. Like anything else in Latin America, the violence is up for grabs, and it has been terribly easy for Hollywood to take advantage of this easy onscreen action. Of course, Latin America is a region that has been continuously exploited over the centuries, a region of those who are not human beings but human resources, not names but numbers. Those who, as Galeano puts it, “do not appear in the history of the world but in the police blotter of the local paper.”
The actual representations are not only inaccurate, but unfair. Never mind that this isn’t just entertainment, but a brutal reality for many. I myself remember fearing those gunshots during the height of the drug wars in Monterrey. There are many ethical dilemmas in glorifying and cashing in on violence.
Latin America is not like audiences would imagine. Yet Anglo-Americans like Don Winslow still write books like “Savages,” which are made by Hollywood into even worse movies, with Blake Lively’s breezy voiceover there to explain everything.
“Sicario” and “Narcos,” both notably better than “Savages,” show a grittier reality, but they still don’t get it. “Narcos” couldn’t even get the Paisa accent right for Pablo Escobar and most of the “Colombians” weren’t even Colombian. Moreover, none of the “sicarios” were actually Mexican.
It’s easy, being on this side of the border, to accept the media’s representation of what’s going on in Latin America. If glorified violence sells, then do it right, do it authentically — don’t demonize different groups and bunch them all together to call them Mexican or Colombian. Good art is about telling singular truths, not showing generic cliches. If Hollywood focused on specifics instead of stereotypes, they’d be telling a story worth telling.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday Oct. 22 print edition. Email Eugenia at [email protected]