The fine line against the apology of crime in the cinema

The right to tell the story as it is happening is absolutely necessary and indispensable. Definitely few of us see that cinema. But we also have another Mexico. There is a possibility of showing ourselves in another way, with another essence. Mexican people are generous, we receive and cover, while horror may be happening next door. That is the windbreak that we have as a society, it is our dichotomy”.

Gloria Carrasco, film producer.

The video began to be broadcast earlier, since last December, but it became more relevant, it went viral, after the noisy news of the recapture of Ovidio Guzmán López, last Thursday, in Culiacán, Sinaloa. It shows a group of at least three children who do not exceed eight years of age.

They all carry toy weapons. One cut half of a ball to use it as a helmet and with cardboard patches he made a vest that simulates being bulletproof.

They play to control a checkpoint on a highway, presumably in Sinaloa. The video was recorded by a driver stopped by this group of infants. “I’m going to the pantheon, old man”, the adult behind the video is heard saying, and the little boy who wears the imitation helmet answers: “Pass him then.”

If you search the internet for topics such as “children playing hitmen” or “hitman children”, the results number in the dozens, including images, videos or stories of minors simulating a confrontation, a checkpoint or an interrogation. Most of Mexico.

In another of these results, a group of high school students in Zacatecas play with school trumpets as if they were rifles while simulating the submission of a fourth youth as if it were a rival. In another material, a person interviews two little ones in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, and asks them about their plans for the future: “We are going to be part of the Gulf Cartel,” they say, because studying “is for little children.”

National cinema stimuli

The audiovisual entertainment industry has become an extensive and powerful way to establish a myth and an aspirational culture about life in organized crime, its opulence and impunity, even if life is short, it is the easiest or only possible way out.

On images of pistols, “goat horns”, luxurious trucks and effigies of Malverde or ‘Santa’, versions of the same phrase are repeated in the messages that young people show on their social networks: “Better as a short life as a king …”

These stimuli come both from Hollywood, with films that have generated a prejudice of what is Mexican: the criminal who kills and tortures without scruples, and sooner or later will be shot down by the infallible American hero, and from the local industry, with successful series about the drug cartels, their ties, their love life and glamours.

In 2018, The Guardian interviewed actor Benicio del Toro on the occasion of the release of the film Sicario: Day of the Soldado. The text details how the Puerto Rican actor has interpreted “all angles of drugs”, from being the policeman who chases the traffickers in Inhala (2001) to his interpretation of the also exalted Pablo Escobar, in 2014, without forgetting his role as the killer of thugs, of morality redeemed by it, as is the case of Sicario (2015).

“It’s become a genre, as you can see. (These films) are becoming the new westerns (…) and it has been happening for a long time”, Del Toro declared for that interview about drug cartel cinema.

On this side of the border, there are several series, soap operas, and movies that have addressed the issue of drug trafficking, hit men, and the leadership of a criminal organization from a biographical, mythological, erotic, and political perspective. Series such as Narcos: México or El señor de los cielos recover for the Mexican public of all ages drug traffickers such as Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Rafael Caro Quintero, Amado Carrillo Fuentes and Joaquín Guzmán Loera.

But it is only the spearhead of an infinity of content in Spanish that contributes to the myth of organized crime, such as La reina del sur, Rosario Tijeras, Sin senos hay no paraíso, El patrón del mal and El Chapo, to name a few.

The dichotomy of telling our stories

Is there a line that allows viewers to distance themselves from crime and its horrors and empathize with other possibilities of life? Have those borders been dissolved? Is the seduction of crime a response to a failed State?

A visit to the cities traditionally controlled by drug traffickers is enough to realize that it is not just movies and television. The drug culture has permeated music, clothing, cars and architecture. There is an evident civil distancing towards the authority of the State and a romanticization of the “authority” of the mafias, the same with which various social sectors relate and identify more.

The film producer and winner of an Ariel Award, Gloria Carrasco, reflects: “I believe that the artist, in this case, the cinematographic artist, first draws on his reality. Obviously, in Mexico we are not living the best moment. Historically, our worst misfortune is this: death and disappearance, and it is very difficult not to eat and not count it. The responsibility of an artist is also that. If the filmmakers don’t do it, there won’t be a formal record of this, which is also part of our history.”

On the other hand, Carrasco points out that Mexico has tried to consolidate an industry “with the boot on the head of the North American industry.” For this very reason, he argues that from the national cinema “it has not been possible to generate a reflective tradition, with thematic or auteur films. Entertainment films are those that reach commercial theaters and those that are seen by the public”. Hence the dichotomy.

The fine line against the apology of crime in the cinema