M-M-M-M-M YYY LLORONA!
How to annoy Mexicans, let me count the gueys.
One of the best gueys, other than to insist that we are all criminals who need to be deported — even if we are citizens — is to appropriate a beloved part of our culture and act as if you are entitled to do so. You may ask us why are you upset about this The Curse of La Llorona movie? Aren’t there brown people in it? Shouldn’t you be happy that one of your legends is getting the feature film treatment? Doesn’t the director have what sounds like a Latin name? WHY AREN’T YOU MEXICANS EVER HAPPY? WHY DON’T YOU JUST EAT A TACO? WHY IS EVERYBODY SHOUTING?
Well, you asked.
This movie, I’m not calling it a film, is problematic for a number of reasons.
First of all, WHERE ARE THE MEXICANS? The cast does have some Latinos, specifically East LA’s own Raymond Cruz, of Mexican descent, and Patricia Velasquez, who is Venezuelan, but the lead actress, Linda Cardellini is Italian, German, Irish, etc., and she is playing a character named Anna Tate-Garcia.
She is a widow with two children and since her surname is the hyphenated Tate-Garcia, it is logical to believe that she is white and the former wife of a Latino man, who is conveniently dead. The actors playing her children are Roman Christou and Jaynee Lynn-Kinchen whose characters have the Anglo names of Chris and Samantha in the movie. Christou and Kinchen are names from Greek and German extraction respectively, and while it is possible that either of them could have Latino ancestry, it seems likely that they do not, since it is not mentioned anywhere in their biographies.
Like Cardellini, they are brown-haired and just close enough to looking Latino without being obviously NOT MEXICAN. The Wikipedia entry actually calls Cardellini’s character “Latin born”, whatever that means, so obviously they are making an attempt to make her character seem Latino. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence.
Okay, so why is this a problem?
The problem is that this movie is a modern retelling of the Mexican legend of La Llorona.
It’s our beloved scary story that was used to frighten many of us as children. It is ours.
It might be a good idea to cast Mexicans, or at least some Latinos, in a movie in the leading roles about one of the most famous Mexican stories.
What is not okay is letting the Mexicans and other Latinos fill out the supporting roles, the help, while casting white people as the main characters and deep-sixing the one main character who is obviously Latino in the script by killing him off before the movie even starts; thus leaving the white woman as the protagonist with her, likely, white children as the other main characters.
It’s high handed since this movie is intended to add La Llorona to the “Conjuring Universe” as intellectual property.
So not only were the main roles of a Mexican story given to white people, La Llorona – as a souped up monster – is now added to their “Universe” to be used as they see fit.
It’s a cultural appropriation and an insult to our people.
As always, they like our culture, but they don’t like us or think we are good enough to star in our own story.
They like the idea of being able to sell it to Latinos, but we’re not needed to introduce the story of La Llorona to the world. Yes, that’s what they think they are doing, as if La Llorona was totally unknown to most of planet Earth before their movie came along. Instead of like, I don’t know, thinking up something of their own, they decided to take what is ours.
Maybe they will let us star in the second movie or the Conjuring Universe movie (the director of The Curse is scheduled to direct The Conjuring 3) that they shoehorn La Llorona into? Gee, I hope so! At least some Mexicans got to be the monster and the human villain! Wow, that’s progress!
Then there is the matter of the writing.
There are no Latinos or Mexicans or Chicanos there either. The script was written by the writing team of Tobias Iaconis and Mikki Daughtry. No background is included on Mikki Daughtry’s, her name has a English-French heritage, but Tobias Iaconis is referred to as a German-American in his Wikipedia bio. The writers previously did a remake rewrite of a Spanish film, Mientras Duermes, so I guess that makes them qualified to adapt La Llorona.
Sadly, in Hollywood, that’s exactly what that means. Writers can do research, of course, but usually, the purpose of a remake script on a foreign film to adapt it for American audiences means to make it “white” and “open the concept up” to the American market.
They aim to retro-fit an idea or concept from another culture to fit American cinema.
The studios and producers know that they can just pick what they want from world cinema and other cultures and do what they like with it. They might have to pay the original filmmakers a fee, but La Llorona doesn’t have an agent.
Do you see the riverbank where La Llorona weeps?
You take a beloved Mexican story, throw the Mexicans/Chicanos/Latinos out of the lead roles, and turn it into the story of a white woman triumphing over the scary Mexican female ghost and then you make the actual Mexican and Latino women actors play the villains. Got it.
Then there’s the marketing campaign, which makes me want to get La Chancla out.
They advertised for curanderos and sent an email to curandera Grace Sesma who decided to share their promotional idea with us all after being outraged at reports of limpias being performed at screenings.
Their idea was to have curanderos come to theatres and do limpias on the people entering the screening to Mexican it up, I guess. AUTENTICO! Too bad it’s more disrespect of that culture that they don’t seem to value or understand except as a money-making enterprise.
“I found it quite shameful,” Sesma said. “It heightens the fear factor around a traditional practice and commodifies and exploits our culture just to get people to see their movie.”… A limpia is something performed for those suffering from trauma like sexual abuse, Sesma said. “It’s not supposed to protect you from being scared at the movies.”
University of New Mexico professor Eliseo “Cheo” Torres, who hosts an annual conference in Albuquerque on curanderismo, said the tale of La Llorona has nothing to do with curanderos, even if there are curanderos in the film. “I don’t see the connection and this probably will be offensive to those practicing traditional healing,” Torres said. “Whoever put this promotion together likely has no idea what they are doing.
Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and a scholar who has studied spiritual practices in Mexico, called the movie promotion “reprehensible” and harmful.
“It will only serve to further stigmatize curanderismo as something to be feared” since it’s associated with a scary movie, Chesnut said. “That’s dangerous, especially because of the climate that Mexican immigrants face right now.”
The director is Michael Chaves, which I believe is the Portuguese spelling of the name, and the movie is produced by James Wan, of Malaysian Chinese ancestry from Australia. Both of these men should know better, but they clearly don’t or worse, they simply don’t care. I am sure they are probably nice guys, but in this, they have shown a great deal of arrogance and disrespect to a people that has been burdened with such things for too long. Chaves and Wan, you do not get invited to the carne asada. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
It’s another example of non-Mexican and non-Latino people deciding to take the fabric of our lives and use it for their own benefit.
The movie made in the neighborhood of $20 million off of a $6 million dollar budget, so they got our legends for cheap and made some bank.
According to them, we’re the dumb ones who won’t notice or won’t object to this kind of cultural appropriation. They will sell our own legends back to us and laugh all the way to the bank. Don’t let them do it. Don’t give them your money.
They haven’t earned it.
- Dolores Quintana is a Chicana actor and activist who lives in Los Angeles and who works in immersive theatre and independent film. She occasionally pours the contents of her brain out in written form to bedevil those who stand against righteousness. Please feel free to come and argue with her on Twitter
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