14 January 2016 - 02:30 PM
Drug Violence: Latin American Oscar Nominees Reward Stereotypes
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The 2016 Oscars will feature just two Latin America-related movies, it was announced Thursday, both of which promote a militarized approach to dealing with drug-related violence: the feature “Sicario” and the documentary “Cartel Land.”

The predominantly North American, white cast of "Sicario" at Cannes, May 2015.

“In Mexico, Sicario means hitman,” explains the trailer. In this movie, the U.S. State Department is “pulling a CIA agent that specializes in responding to escalations in cartel activity and violence,” it says. The fictitious movie is mainly filmed from the point of view of the (white) agent played by Emily Blunt—seeing a female role, yet again, helping to soften the face of U.S. imperialism in movies.

This is not so surprising, coming from Canadian-born director Denis Villeneuve, who is not well known for investigating Mexican drug-related violence, but is known for directing another action movie: “Prisoners.”

The movie doesn't mention the U.S. “war on drugs” policy as a major cause for the violence the Mexican population has had to endure. Instead, the U.S. agents are presented, as usual, as the Latin American country's savior—in search of the “vaccine” that would put an end to every day violence in the Juarez region.

ANALYSIS: The Legacy of the War on Drugs in Mexico

As for “Cartel Land,” although one may hope for more nuance from a documentary, it repeats the exact same line, saying the limits between “right” and “wrong” can be “blurry” sometimes. However, this does not mean the “bad guys” (the drug traffickers) appear somehow more human—for instance explaining the whole political economy that supports drug trafficking—rather justifying a tough and paramilitarized approach on drug trafficking.

The documentary, by white U.S. director Matthew Heineman, makes the dangerous comparison between vigilante leader Dr. Jose Mireles, whose self-defense group is fighting the Mexican cartel Knights Templar in Michoacan state, and a U.S. war veteran leading a paramilitary group in Arizona's Altar Valley to allegedly fight against enemy drug cartels over the same reasons: the failure of state enforcement in this area.

“I believe that what I am doing is good and what I am standing against is evil,” says the veteran in the trailer, following the same black-and-white framework that has been at the core of the U.S. war on drugs.

Both films, while feeding the idea that drug trafficking in Latin America can only be addressed with guns, will likely satisfy all the fans of action movies and special effects.

TIMELINE: Mexico's Failed War on Drugs, Deaths and Disappearances

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