The Immigrant Struggle in ‘Boyhood’

11189929_ori‘Boyhood,’ the 2014 film that spans twelve years of a boy’s life, from age 6 to 18, won Best Motion Picture at the Golden Globes.  The acclaimed movie takes the audience through the growing-up process of Mason, a boy living in Texas with divorced parents. Throughout the film there are a couple scenes that prominently feature Hispanics. The first features a teenaged Latina girl who appears with Mason’s sister as they flip through fashion magazines after school. The second Latino portrayed is a Mexican immigrant who does some work for Mason’s mother on her new home. Mason’s mother recommends that he go to school. A few years later he comes up to her at a restaurant to tell her that he took her advice, got a degree, and is about to be promoted to a managerial position at his job.

Latinitas provided me with the opportunity to attend a Google Fiber Q&A session with the film’s main actor, Ellar Coltrane, who plays the role of the boy Mason. While there I asked Ellar why he believes the Hispanic immigrant’s role was included in the film.

He had two answers for me. Firstly, because the film takes place in Texas it just wouldn’t make sense if no Hispanics were featured, particularly those who recently immigrated. Secondly, the Hispanic immigrant provides a direction comparison to Mason’s mother, a single mother struggling to support two children. Both immigrants and single mothers, Ellar said, battle difficulties in achieving their dreams for themselves.

Most would agree with Ellar that a Texan film should present Hispanics to be credible. After all, recent statistics from the United States Census Bureau show that Texas is about 40% Hispanic. Pew Research Center demographics show that 88% of those Hispanics are Mexican, while almost half of all Texan Hispanics were born in their native countries.

Most would also agree that both single mothers and immigrants face financial and social difficulties that others do not. While the factors vary greatly, depending on the unique situation of the individual, both single mothers and immigrants occupy spaces outside of traditional society that create or complicate difficulties. Single mothers struggle to take on both their maternal role and an additional financial one. Immigrants, thrust into a starkly different country, must adapt to a new job, a new language, a new culture entirely.

However, after Mason’s mother suggests Enrique go to school he does not reappear until years later, when he is all smiles and boasting of his achievement. His brief explanation leaves the viewer with unanswered questions, wondering about the difficulties not portrayed in the film. How did Enrique pay for school? How did he balance work and study? Did he have a family at home needing immediate financial support? Did he struggle to understand and read English? Was he undocumented, and if so how did it complicate his schooling and career search? These are but a few examples of real-life scenarios that could have affected Enrique as he pursued his dreams. So while it’s glad that Enrique took the advice of Mason’s mother I’m aware that ‘Boyhood’ did not portray the many struggles he must have faced along the way.  ‘Boyhood’ is not a film about an immigrant’s triumph over struggle. I get that. Still, the simplistic picture painted of Enrique’s success reminds me that for those Americans unfamiliar with the struggles faced by immigrants, the movie did little to educate them further. Nonetheless it’s never a bad thing to portray the American success story of a Hispanic immigrant.

Review: Spare Parts

 213957Spare Parts, directed by Sean McNamara, is a film that was released in theaters in January 2015 and is now available for purchase. The movie stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Alexa Vega, Carlos Pena, and George Lopez, who is also a producer.

Spare Parts is based on a true story about a group of Latino high school boys who join an engineering club. These boys, with the support and guidance from their teacher Fredi Cameron (George Lopez), strive to build a robot that they hope to enter into a robotics competition in which they would face-off with championing schools such as MIT and Stanford. Winning this competition means beating the odds, though, because these students have practically no funding and a limited amount of resources in order to get the job done.

Although science and robotics is one of the reasons why this rag-tag team formed, it is not the only theme within the movie. This film covers the heart-warming bases like family and friendship as well. However, this film does not shy away from the hard-hitting issues that can be relevant in the lives of hard-working Latin American families in the Southwest United States. Carlos Pena’s character, Oscar Vasquez, hopes to join the U.S. Army, but his plans come to a halt when he learns that he cannot do so as an undocumented immigrant. Undocumented immigration, financial struggles, and tough life choices are the foundation for a film like this, a film about how dedication and ambition can take you places you wouldn’t have thought possible.

Spare Parts is definitely a film worth checking out! It is well paced, running just under 2 hours. The plotline is easy to follow but not without its shocks and surprises throughout that will make you want to lean just a little bit closer to the screen, wondering…who is at the door, who is on the phone, who will win the grand prize?

Review: East Los High

EastLosHighKey

Hulu released its first and only original series in 2013, East Los High. This short series is one of a kind, an English-language show with an all Latino cast. With only two seasons under its belt, it is making an impression. East Los High is produced and directed by Carlos Portugal, who’s worked on other Latino projects such as East Side Story and Pop Star. Portugal called for help from Advocates of Youth, Voto Latino, and the California Healthy Family Council to create a series that is informative, educational, and realistic to its audience.

East Los High is a teen drama based in East Los Angeles, an area with a reputation of being tough and dangerous – a stereotype the show wants to discourage. The show follows a group of students at the local high school and focuses on many common situations that occur in a high school setting: friendships, love, sexual encounters, and peer pressure. However, even though many of these matters can be found in other teen drama series, the difference with East Los High is their focus on Latinos and their way of addressing the issue in an honest and upfront manner.

In Season 1, a student finds that she is pregnant and viewers get to see her discuss her options with a counselor. The information provided to the character is not limited to her and can be information useful to any adolescent outside the TV screen. This situation repeats in season 2 when a student is discussing her encounter with an abusive relationship to a counselor. These scenarios, which are rather serious in nature, are seen in today’s society and are able to be addressed to a young audience watching the series.

“The wholesome kid show, the polished teen drama isn’t real life,” said Danielle Vega, East Los High’s Ceci, in an interview with LA Times. “‘East Los High is gritty, it’s in your face because the world out there is in your face. But it’s also teaching something, which is incredibly important because you look at kids these days and they don’t look up from their screens. So at least this show gives them something to think about when their eyes are glued to their devices.”

Telanovelas are known for its popularity in Latin American cultures and East Los High reflects this in their Latino-focused show. With a telanovela-esque plot and character dynamics, the series does not have a shortage of entertainment and drama. There are love triangles, revenge, mean girls, and the classic, good girl losing her way in the face of popularity. Each of these situations touches on a realistic aspect found in a teenager’s journey through high school – and there is no sugar coating.

The team of writers reflects the demographics in cast: predominately Latina. Only two men grace the writers’ desk and one African American woman. Portugal, Director and Producer, has stated that he wanted to write what he knew and encourages his writing staff to do the same. The storyline is to reflect daily lives and connect to its audience through authenticity. Admittedly, some characters and the vernacular do seem to embody a stereotype found in Latinos. However, it is fleeting and is cancelled out by the wide range of perspectives, personalities, and conduct presented by the characters.

“Since we are the culture, it never feels like, ‘Oh, we’re creating stereotypes,’” Portugal said in an interview with LA Times. “Stereotypes exist. I think one of the reasons why we are doing this is we present them, and then we start exploring them. My hope is that the people from East L.A. see themselves being portrayed as diverse individuals.”

East Los High succeeds in its uniqueness in teen dramas that are dominated by Caucasian actors and actresses. Hulu’s original series brings in a handful of new faces to the screen – freshness amongst the overdone big names. And it excels in bringing real life situations and addressing them in an educational way that takes the viewer outside the classroom. This show can be seen as a teaching method, which is a goal achieved through the help of the numerous organizations that have played a role in its creation. However, some incidents and character portrayals do seem exaggerated and it can distract from the purpose of the show. Even though the series’ main characters are the youthful faces, it has been overlooked that the counselors, doctors, teachers, and other professional in the series are Latino.

This teen drama does illustrate genuineness to American-Latino culture, a nice change to shows like George Lopez and Cristella that relies on comedic scripts. It is serious, honest, and mysterious.

East Los High has been renewed for a third season; bringing in a new set of characters as each season focuses on a new group of students. The series airs weekdays on Hulu and entire seasons are available for Hulu Plus members.

TV Review: The Fosters

the-fosters-290x400I remember sitting in the small theater in my neighborhood, large drink in one hand, while shoving handfuls of popcorn in my mouth with the other, the ad for “The Fosters.” ABC Family was presenting a new series, “The Fosters,” and among the many teenage faces on screen, I saw the familiar faces of Cierra Ramirez (“Girl In Progress”) and Jake T. Austin (“Wizards of Waverly Place”). I was a former Wizards fan, so, yes, my interest was sparked.

That was the exact memory from the summer of 2013 that played in my head when I was scrolling for something to watch on Netflix. “The Fosters” appeared before me. I clicked. And boy, I do not regret it.

“The Fosters” is a show that entangles drama, addresses social issues, and gives life lessons through background stories and character development – just like the classic ABC Family TV-show should. However, the story follows a multi-ethnic family composed of biological, adoptive and foster children. A lesbian couple heads the home full of teenagers. The show, whose executive producer is Jennifer Lopez, is rich with love, trust, and family. Think of ‘The Fosters’ as a more modern ‘7thHeaven’.

The show follows 16-year-old Callie, as she enters the new foster home. Her and her 12-year-old brother, Jude, have had multiple fosters homes during their six years in the system – all terrible and full of problems. But this foster home is different. Vice Principal Lena Adams (Sherri Saum) and police officer Stef Foster (Teri Polo) are in a domestic partnership and built a home through honesty and compassion. Brandon Foster (David Lambert) is the 16-year-old son of Stef, from her previous marriage, and is the “golden boy” with his good looks and musical talent. The adoptive 15-year-old twins are Mariana (Cierra Ramirez), who embodies the classic teenage girl just wanting to fit in, and Jesus Foster (Jake T. Austin), the more rebellious out of the teens with ADHD.

The ethnic diversity in the cast makes the show much more unique than most. From the multi-racial Lena to the Latin descendent twins, the diversity is acknowledged and embraced. Most shows with minorities in the cast always resort to having an incident with racism and bigotry to produce a discussion. However, this has not been seen. Instead, the show introduces situations that subtly express their diversity, such as a quinceañera episode, the twins carrying conversations in Spanish, and Lena sharing how she was called an ‘Oreo’ in high school. The variety of races in the family is not something that is blatantly said – which by now, it really doesn’t need to be – but is displayed on screen beautifully to the audience.

Another hit for this tv-screen family is Lena and Stef’s relationship. The two mothers face some obstacles in a world still adjusting to the LGBT community. But despite a father failing to accept a daughter’s lifestyle, the couple is seen immersed with the love from friends and family members. The success of the couple parallels the success of ‘Modern Family’s’ Mitchell and Cameron – just minus the constant comedic quips. The couple demonstrates kindness and selflessness as the raise their children.

This television series thrives with its breaking of boundaries with the “non-traditional” family.  The show relies on realistic problems that can occur rather focusing heavily on the apparent uniqueness of the family. The classic ‘let me show you rather than tell you’ applies greatly to the storyline.

It’s a show for all ages – adults and children alike can watch and learn from the Foster family. It powerfully confronts serious issues such as child abuse, drug abuse/dealing, and teenage sexuality. While most can criticize these instances, in this day-and-age, the realities of the events have proven to occur. ‘The Fosters’ deal with these issue that is suitable for any age – no need to cover a child’s eyes. Even though you may not be able to relate to every occurrence in the show, the character’s actions and emotions allow an understanding of the dilemmas they face and the morals they abide by.

“The Fosters” is an excellent TV show that leaves you hooked. Its ingenuity and one-of-a-kind storyline brings a freshness to the television realm, full of bad reality TV shows and the over-played teenage love triangles.

Seasons 1 and 2 are currently on Netflix.

Film: Life on the Line

Photo Credit: http://finelinefilms.org

Photo Credit: http://finelinefilms.org

In the documentary, “Life on the Line: Coming of age between nations” by Jen Gilomen and Sally Rubin, the life of a young eleven year old girl, Kimberly Torrez, is portrayed in the story to show her family’s hardships in life facing difficulties in two different worlds. This documentary will be aired during Hispanic Heritage Month, in September on PBS.

Growing up is hard as it is, with all of the different changes happening, especially when you have to grow up in two different countries. In the life of Kimberly Torrez, the oldest of three children, she is faced with drastic changes in her life living in Mexico and going to school in Arizona. Each morning she wakes up early to walk across the border to go to school because she does not drive.

At such an early age of only 11 years old, she is faced with many responsibilities, has to wake up extra early, takes care of her little siblings from time to time to help out the parents, and, most importantly, is being brave through this passage of growing up.

As if it isn’t enough, she also has to deal with the ongoing violence occurring in Nogales; from hearing gunshots to police sirens nearby, at an early age in her life, she has many worries at such a young age.

In addition, she also has to cope with her parents going through a rough patch. Her father has Hepatitis C from getting several tattoos, which he later realizes were done with unsterilized needles. In need of a liver transplant, it became difficult for the father to find a reliable job in Nogales.

Because of the father’s sickness, the mother became the only one that could work to provide for their family.  She worked in Mexico because she was never a U.S citizen; she had crossed a long time ago illegally to have her children, but returning was not possible.

Times began to get more difficult, and the father then decides to cross the border and find a job in the U.S, which he did. He found a job in construction in Arizona, which was hours away from his family. He took the job and was separated from his family for months, in order to earn more money to be able to support his family through these difficult times.

After a while Kimberly’s mom got her Visa in the mail, which allowed her to finally cross the border to the U.S.. To add to the good news, Kimberly’s family finds out that a liver became available for their father’s transplant

Growing up is hard, and living in two worlds is difficult, but with Kimberly’s family supporting one another and always trying their best without giving up, they did it, together. For a tale of perseverance and the obstacles that come from immigrant families, this film is a must-see this September.

REVIEW: Instructions Not Included

11175771_800Instructions Not Included is the 2013 directorial debut of Eugenio Derbez. While Derbez also stars as the main actor, the film serves as the acting debut of 9-year-old Loreto Peralta who plays his daughter. In a 115 minute bundle of laughs, anger, and tears, Derbez is successful in entertaining his multicultural audience and providing a different take on the father daughter dynamic.

Warning: the following may contain spoilers.

The movie begins by introducing Valentin (Eugenio Derbez) as a crazy, single bachelor in Acapulco. Throughout his journey, he meets Julie. What he does not know though is that Julie gave birth to a daughter. And sooner than later he finds out that he is the father to Maggie – Julie’s daughter.

This turned Valentin’s world upside down – literally. It so much fun to watch how Valentin was forced to change right away and become a more responsible adult. He began to do more stunt work and began getting more money to give Maggie everything she wanted. This includes the loft in which they live in where a fantasy land exists.

The reason Valentin does this though is because he does not want Maggie to know her mother left her when she was just a baby. He worked tremendously hard on keeping the truth hidden from her. He does this by writing letters to her every week pretending that they were actually from her mother — one letter even said that she knew Batman.

Within each letter Valentin writes to her different things, always making sure her mother is not always doing the same thing so Maggie would not question her mother’s absence as much. He also photoshops Julie into different photos to add to the idea of her being out meeting celebrities and protecting the world.

Thinking about this in real life truly makes your heart break. How would you feel as a mother or father having to do this for your child? How would it make you feel knowing you had to lie to your child every single day?

Even with all the hard work Valentin  put into preventing Maggie from finding out the truth, she grows to become very uneasy with the reality of not having ever met her mom. This comes after a powerful scene at a carnival where a woman confuses her as her daughter that then makes Maggie think about what would happen if she really was this woman’s daughter.

Peralta (Maggie) does a great job at conveying such raw emotion. It so easy to see her heart break right after this scene. This scene really emphasizes the gap Maggie must feel by not having a mother, also bringing out more reasons why Valentin is very important to her.

He will literally do anything for her. This passion and love is greatly seen when Valentin goes out of his way to hold an open call for an actress to pretend to be Maggie’s mother. He was determined to find the perfect actress that most resembled Julie. While that proves to be unsuccessful, Valentin soon after receives a call from Julie out the blue letting him know that she was going to go “see her daughter.”

This however, ends up in Julie wanted to take Maggie back to New York with her and her girlfriend, but Maggie does not want to go. After being raised by Valentin all her life, Maggie does not how to live life having a mother even after she longed one for so long.

While this is where the movie takes a twist that you will not see coming the film, it nevertheless does a fabulous job in capturing the relationship between a man and his daughter. It truly shows you how much a father will do for his daughter just to keep her safe and be able to have her taken care of.

The film’s story line is also one that is not really seen a lot, which makes the film a bit more special.

But I have already told you too much. What happens next in the movie will make your heart ache – be warned. As emotional as it is though, you will be satisfied with this conclusion and the movie as a whole.

My rating for the movie is: A-

Instructions Not Included is available via DVD, Blu-Ray, and Netflix.

Review: Cesar Chávez

Cesar_Chavez_2014_filmIt’s only appropriate that around the time of Cesar Chávez day, that we reflect on the work of Chávez and the strides he made for Mexican American workers. He founded the United Farm Workers in 1962 and supported various worker strikes in California and Texas; his impact is still felt today.

Diego Luna’s film, “Cesar Chávez,” premiered nationwide on March 28th 2014; it is a biographical film that celebrates the life and accomplishments of Chávez. The film stars Michael Peña as Chávez and John Malkovich as the owner of a grape farm who leads the opposition to Chávez. The film includes great Latina and Latino actors, such as America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson, Yancey Arias, Jacob Vargas, and cameos by Gael García Bernal and Hector Sanchez. The film mainly focuses on Chavez’s efforts to organize farm workers in California, many of them being braceros.

The film screened earlier in the year at various locations in the US but the most noteworthy film screening was in Los Angeles, California. A group of 1000 migrant workers sat in folding chairs and watched “Cesar Chávez” on an inflatable screen outside of the union hall where the first contracts were signed in 1970 between workers and the company owners.

Diego Luna does a great job at executing what he set out to do: he paints a portrait of Cesar Chávez that audiences will admire and respect. Throughout the film we get to view Chávez not only as a pacifist leader, but also as a human being.  The film starts with Chávez in jail explaining who he is and where he comes from. The audience gets an idea of his life and what he stands for and throughout the film we are introduced to his relationships with his wife and his children.

The film captures the time period of Chavez’s life starting with his organization of the United Farm Works all the way to the 1975 Modesto March,which established the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act. Through the portrayal of events, we get a sense of what Chávez had to endure and the sacrifices he had to make throughout his life in order to achieve his goals. All of the actors do great jobs, especially Michael Peña as Cesar Chávez and America Ferrera as Helen Chávez.

“Cesar Chávez” had a lot of heart touching moments; particularly the fasting scene. Seeing Chávez having to starve day by day in order to get his union to become dedicated to non-violence was a touching moment that moved the audience. It’s important not only to view Chávez as a rights activist but also as a human being with faults. The scenes in which Chávez is seen as a husband and a father displays a different side of his persona that we don’t usually tend to see.

All in all, the film was a great ode to Chavez and his life work. It’s important that a film encapsulates the hard work and dedication of not only Chavez, but his wife and Dolores Huerta.  It is highly recommended to watch this movie; it is a reminder of all the struggles that minority workers faced up until 1960s. Learning about the story of Cesar Chávez riles up all sort of emotions, but it mainly acts as a reminder of Chávez’s inspirational sense of duty and the importance of dedication.  It’s impossible to walk away from this film without feeling motivated to make a difference in this world.

Underrepresentation of Minority Heroines

It is no big revelation that women of color seldom see themselves in powerful positions in the media, oftentimes making them feel homely and irrelevant. But according to some experts, the lack of representation of minorities in cartoons could also be causing a similar effect for young girls of color.

Today’s Youth in Media

Maria O. Alvarez, the Hispanic media consultant at Common Sense Media,  a non-profit organization that studies the effects that media and technology have on young users, believes the lack of colored girls in youth media leads to low self-esteem among minorities.

“We do know that all these messages have a direct impact in all their behaviors and how they see the world,” said Alvarez. “You feel that you’re in a lower level in society when you see that people like you, your skin color, are not in powerful positions.”

Her thoughts are supported by a 2011 study by Nicole Martins and Kristen Harrison, which found that minorities tend to feel worse about themselves after watching youth media.

The study found that unlike white male characters, who are often presented as highly educated and powerful, which tends to lift white boys’ self-esteems, girl characters are often simplistic, sexualized beings, while characters of color tend to be more violent.

But this particular study, like many, lacks to demonstrate how youth media represent young girls of color.

According to Hugh Klein, who has been studying the underrepresentation of out groups in animated cartoons for the past 20 years, it is difficult to break down the representations of girls of color in animated cartoons because there are too few of them to analyze.

In Klein’s ongoing study, which examined more than 4,000 cartoon characters, he found that only 3.6 percent of the characters were African American, 1.8 percent were Latinos and 1.0 percent were Asian.  Out of the 27 Latino characters in Klein’s research, only one-third, or 9, of them were Latina.

“In the process of leaving people out of the media, you communicate a message to viewers just as much as if you were portraying them in a positive or negative way,” said Klein. “They’re so few in number probably because they’re unvalued in our culture,” said Klein.

According to his research, because animated cartoons are likely to be among the earliest media types to which young people are exposed to and because they are exposed to these messages on a daily basis, animated cartoons end up being “one of the earliest and most influential sources of negative messages.”

Minority Heroines

Some have argued, though, that with minority heroines like Doc McStuffins, Dora the Explorer and Kai-Lan, non-white children are now unburdened by stereotypes and underrepresentation.

But just as mainstream films or music videos feature the token colored gal, Doc McStuffins, Dora the Explorer and Ni Hao, Kai-Lan are some of the only programs on TV with leading girl cartoons of color.

The halfhearted gesture to include a single leading Black, Latina and Asian cartoon character, according to Alvarez, sends the message that although several little white girls can be pop stars (Olivia from “Olivia”), mechanics (Widget from “Wow Wow Wubbzy”) and mathematicians (Milli from “Team Umizoomi”), there’s only room for one visionary girl of color.

“It’s not just cartoons. It’s all over. And it has an impact on how we see ourselves and how proactive we are,” said Alvarez. “We all have great value to share with the society; we can all be in powerful positions. It’s hard to believe that when the media doesn’t show you like that. But if together, parents and community, can share those messages with kids, that’s going to help.”

Alvarez believes that young girls need role models outside of the media.

“There’s a huge gap in reality and what they see in the media. We need to help them see that what they see in the media is not reality.”

Here are a few tips for young girls from Alvarez and Common Sense Media to help with self-image:

  1. Limit media consumption: Limit the amount of media you expose yourself to every day. Set limits. The earlier you start, the better.
  2. Become a media critic: Pay attention to ads, magazine covers, billboards—and talk to your parents about how these messages make you feel and ask them about their own reactions.
  3. Look for role models that look like you: Ask your parents or older relatives about professionals and community leaders who look like you do.
  4. Find everyday role models: Role models don’t need to be famous. They can be teachers, neighbors or family members. You just need a positive influence to look up to.
  5. Understand your value: Even if you’re not seeing people who look like you in the media, understand that race doesn’t define value. Compliment yourself and your peers on all of your/their wonderful talents, like your/their creativity or thoughtfulness.

Documentary: The Battle for Land

The Battle for Land, the fourth installment in a documentary series directed by Juan Mejia, aims to expand on the complexities of Afro-Colombian displacement. Told through a hybrid of documentary and animation styles, it tells the heartbreaking, but inspiring stories of Afro-Colombians from the Pacific coast of Colombia who have been displaced, as they foster community and organize to fight for their land.

Internal displacement, or the forced removal of peoples from their land to other parts of their respective country, is a growing global concern. While many activist organizations discuss displacement as a result of civil war, genocide, and ethnic cleansing—all absolutely real occurrences—this analysis fails to capture the complex nature of the displacement process. Mejia’s film aims to reveal that behind the  progress, lie the economic interests that see the land Afro-Colombian communities live in as opportunity for profit-making. Mejia works to uncover the darker underside of progress by showing how large corporations exploit the conditions of civil unrest, and how Afro-Colombians have organized and resisted.

At the center of this exploitation is FEDEPALMA, a national palm oil producer featured in the film that uses local farmers, many of whom are Afro-Colombian, to grow its oil palms. Oil palms have a devastating effect on the natural environment. Despite this, palm oil is seen as a symbol of progress by the Colombian government, and is touted for producing jobs and products that will supposedly boost Colombia’s economy. Palm oil is also hailed for its “eco-friendly” biofuel capability.

The film is still undergoing edits, and has only been officially screened twice. This explains why it felt a bit disorganized in parts. Afro-Colombian displacement is an extremely complex issue, and The Battle For Land needs more editing in order to more efficiently narrate this story. Mejia sheds light on an important and tragically overlooked issue. At the end of the screening, an audience member tearfully thanked Mejia for giving Afro-Colombians a voice. The Battle For Land is definitely worth a watch, but its rawness is not suitable for the lighthearted. An official release date for the film has not yet been set.Using infographics, animation, and interviews, Mejia takes us through the lives of several Afro-Colombian community activists, as they battle systematic racism, nurture each other’s empowerment and fight to gain back their land. They have seen cruel and senseless violence destroy their people, and threaten to do the same to their culture. The testimonio-style narrative allows the viewer to become immersed with their struggle, and does an excellent job of bringing light to the strong resistance movement that has taken shape in Colombia over the last several years. Although the subject matter is tragic and difficult to watch in many parts, especially the violent animated scenes, this film is no sob story. The activists are strong and resilient despite the heavy obstacles they have yet to overcome.

For more information on this film, visit the film’s site: http://www.battleforland.org/BFL/language.html

Film Review: “Sleep Dealer”

Award-winning independent film by Alex Rivera, “Sleep Dealer,” takes the viewer to a futuristic, dystopian society through the eyes of oppressed migrant workers. Luis Fernando Peña stars as Memo Cruz, living in Oaxaca and Jacob Vargas as Rudy Ramirez, a U.S. military drone pilot.

The film written by Alex Rivera and David Riker explore a technologically advanced world where water resources are no longer local rights, with corporations controlling its distribution. Memories have also become a luxury in the sci-fi setting. Trading companies buy memories and people sell them through what is called nodes, a digital way to enter networks and work in factories.

Set in mostly Mexico and along the California border, both the lives of Memo and Rudy intersect. Memo helps his father grow crops while he’s self-taught in technology¬— his passion. When his knack for hacking results in U.S. retaliation, Rudy takes control on his first mission and targets unknown “aqua-terrorists,” resulting in the death of Memo’s father.

The plot explores both lives as Memo flees his hometown and Rudy copes with the realization that the enemy has a face. Memo then meets Luz Martinez, portrayed by Leonor Varela, who makes a living by selling her memories. She helps Memo by acquiring nodes illegally to allow him to work. Her friendly gesture has ulterior motives as she uploads her encounters with Memo per request of an interested memory buyer, Rudy.

“Sleep Dealer” approaches immigration on a whole new sci-fi perspective. Drones improve military tactics and also replace skilled laborers. Many migrant workers however, work in factories that power the drones. Nodes are also an example of exploitation, where those who need money, succumb to selling their personal memories for the benefit of others. It resembles unfair labor trades.

Memo’s character endures exploitation, much to the benefit of the interested U.S. audience. Such examples of commodifying migrant labor underlie throughout the film as American television shows amuse audiences with attacks on “aqua-terrorists” — a term given to anyone who threatens their water supply.

It instills the paradoxical thought that both may exist as a result of the other. Similar to present politics, immigration is considered for the labor but the equality is negated. The film resonates the idea that immigrants are very much “othered” by the majority, an idea that translated into the future.

“Sleep Dealer” was released in 2008 and is rated PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned) for sexuality and violence. This film was reviewed for Latinitas Magazine. 

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