La Negrada @ Montreal International Black Film Festival

Mexico has a small black population which makes up 1% of their total population. As a result, they are largely ignored and even worse fall victim to racism. They are not officially recognized as an ethnic group so are seen as outcasts. La Negrada by director Jorge Perez Solano (La Tirisia) is the first fictional film that features this small segment of the Mexican people.

In Oaxaca or more precisely in the area of Costa Chica lives a segment of the Mexican population who are largely ignored or even worse, fall victim to racism of the personal or institutional nature.

The story centers around two women, Juana and Magdalena, are both in love with the same man, Neri. Both are married to Neri, which is accepted in this society. The dynamic between the two women changes when Juana is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Despite the subject covered here, the film is surprisingly funny at times. Like many countries, in Mexico class is tied to race. Meaning if you are of a different skin colour, cultural background or other differences you will be placed behind the eight ball when it comes to education, social services and the economy.

A film like this attempts to give a largely ignored people a voice. Though it is a work of fiction there were no professional actors used. As a result, the film has an authentic feel to it. You know and, even further, feel that those involved in the film have dealt with the issues and situations brought up here.

It is a film done in a pseudo Cinema Verite style in that the characters sometimes speak directly to the camera. Slightly blurred is the divide between fiction and reality. It hedges on being a documentary at times.

Some criticism has been directed towards the film in regards to a perceived stereotypical depiction of blacks. Director Solano is not black, so there is that. Yes, several of his male characters are hyper-sexual and terrible fathers while the women are generally submissive to the men and only valued if they are mothers. I question whether this is a stereotypical portrayal or just the way it is due to the racism and denial of government programs or structures. Also, Mexico itself is a rather macho society. Stereotypical or just shining light on larger social issues? A question to be pondered.

It is the first ever Mexican film in which the entire cast is black. Blacks in Mexico have long suffered from neglect and discrimination from fellow Mexicans and even the government. Now they are attempting to get some screen time to gain some visibility which they hope will translate into understanding and discussions about race. Afro-Latino identity and how they see themselves tied to Africa are among the many issues touched upon.

A highlight of the film is the way it is shot. Cinematography is top drawer here. Director of photography Cesar Gutierrez Miranda is to be applauded. The scenes of sunsets, vistas and fishing endeavours all look beautiful and add to the emotionality of the story. An incredible eye is shown in regards to bringing beauty to the film.

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