La Playa DC Review

AKA: La Playa, The Beach, La Playa Distrito Capital, The Beach Capital District
Genre: Drama
Year Released: 2012
Distributor: ArtMattan
Origin: Colombia/Brazil/France
Running Time: 89 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: R
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: El Bola, Land and Shade, Otomo, X500, La Sirga, The Missed Round, Snowfall, We Are the Heat
-La Playa DC was packaged with tango Negro in the 2-DVD ArtMattan set known as Blacks in Latin America, but both films are unrelated.

Fun Facts:
-The DC in the title refers to “Distrito Capital” meaning Capital District in Spanish. No, it has nothing to do with Washington DC (funny enough, I had to explain that the C in Washington DC had nothing to do with Colombia to a few Colombian visitors I’ve talked to). The action takes place in Bogota which is Colombia’s capital and largest city with over 7.4 million people living in the city proper. Their airport is called the El Dorado INTL Airport and it is named after the “El Dorado” myth since it was allegedly in pre-colonial Colombia. Some famous people associated with that city include actor John Leguizamo who was born there, cumbia band Bomba Estereo, cyclist Egan Bernal, film director Rodrigo Garcia, and visual artist Esperanza Cortes.

-La Playa DC was directed by Juan Andres Arango. Some of his other work consists of The Seven Last Words, X500, and was a cinematographer for the documentary Esperanza PQ. Arango is originally from Bogota, but he currently resides in Montreal, QC, Canada.

-The main character Tomas is portrayed by Luis Carlos Guevara in his debut role. He would eventually be in Our Brand is Crisis 3 years after his acting work in this film.

-The Afro-Colombian population in Colombia is 6.76% according to their last census. In Bogota, the city population of the Black community is 0.9%.

It’s been a very long time since this has happened, but we’re back in Colombia with Iridium Eye. This time around, I’ll be dealing with a story that takes place in Bogota (no, not the city in New Jersey) and also involving prominent Afro-Colombian characters. Since this is an ArtMattan work, this really shouldn’t surprise me given how it’s a Black-owned distribution company and focus on stories involving the diaspora with a majority of their catalog. I did have some high expectations from them after watching and reviewing the Angolan/Argentinian/Uruguayan music documentary Tango Negro which got a 10/10 since I liked it that much. I knew this wouldn’t be related, but I still wanted to give this Colombian movie a chance.

Will this movie do Bogota, Colombia proud?

La Playa DC involves the life of a Black teenage boy named Tomas. He and his family are originally from a smaller town on the West coast, but were forced to move to Bogota since his hometown was infested by guerrilla fighters and terrorists due to the Colombian Civil War. Although he’s free from that sort of danger, another one replaced that war-torn part of his life. Tomas and his family hive in the impoverished areas in the city, his single mom is being exploited by a white baby daddy who is the father of her infant son, and his younger brother Jairo has gotten into a lot of trouble. Jairo ends up missing for days at a time, but his big brother finds out that he’s gotten involved in drugs as well as being affiliated with local gangs. Meanwhile, Tomas’s older brother Chaco is reunited after he was deported while trying to migrate to Europe, so they work odd jobs like shining hubcaps in some traffic-ridden parts of the city. Tomas eventually has a desire to be a barber especially with making custom haircut designs during this time. Unfortunately, Jairo keeps getting into trouble and it’s up to Tomas to stop it as he’s trying to make a living in Bogota.

I’ve been getting exposed to more movies involving the Afro-Latinx community which has been a learning experience in and of itself. Besides the documentaries I’ve watched and reviewed, I’ve seen Good-Bye Momo, Black Mexicans, Natal da Portela, and other movies this year as far as dramas are concerned. Sure, there were a few Black Colombian background characters in Land and Shade, but this time I get to see some in the forefront. Tomas was a likable enough protagonist who wants what’s best for his family even with the situations he’s dealing with. I certainly sympathized with him getting profiled at the local upscale mall even though he wasn’t doing anything (that’s happened to me before when I shopped somewhere, but nowhere near as intense as how he dealt with it). I know some people would balk at him wanting to be a barber, but it’s an essential skill and I wanted him to improve in doing haircuts as well as making custom designs like stars, logos, or text. It is definitely a good thing seeing people like him doing constructive things. The camera work was certainly competent with clear shots and nice usage of darkness with some of the abandoned buildings or with one funeral scene (spoilers avoided). The soundtrack worked with the usage of Spanish-language rap music as well as marimbas used at different points. In the ending, it was good seeing Tomas actually doing his best to succeed in his goals even though he had a ways to go.

La Playa DC could use some cleaning up. There were subtitle errors in the DVD which got quite distracting. Besides Tomas, I didn’t think most of the characters developed that much or felt an impact. I thought the romance subplot with Tomas interested in dating a girl from one of the shopping centers felt shallow and didn’t go anywhere. My biggest issue with this film is how it played up “hood film” stereotypes. Tomas and his family living in an impoverished part of Bogota is one thing, but the fact he has a (SPOILER ALERT!) dead father, a brother getting into the trap game, goes to a nightclub with some ratchet action on display, or at one point Tomas smokes a crack pipe to ruin the gang’s stash as revenge for hurting Jairo was overkill. Sure, Tomas doesn’t get into gangbanging, trapping, or doing drugs besides that one scene, but that really did no favors on the portrayal of the Afro-Colombian community. Showing poverty isn’t necessarily a bad thing if done right, but it is infuriating seeing some ghettoization going on even if Tomas does something constructive with his aspiring barber endeavors.

This Colombian movie was just average to me. It certainly wasn’t as good as Tango Negro even though they were completely different movies. I did like how the main character was doing something positive with custom haircuts, but so many of the other characters weren’t so great. It really didn’t help by playing up some negative imagery that isn’t much different from what Hollywood has been producing for decades. La Playa DC did have some high points, but I couldn’t recommend this to those who want positive representation in the Afro-Latinx community.

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you like gritty dramas.
-Add 1 point if you enjoy Colombian cinema.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t like harsher dramatical works.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you can’t stand hood film tropes.

-Tomas is a likable protagonist
-Good soundtrack
-Realistic depiction of anti-Black racism (the mall profiling scene is VERY relatable if you’ve got a good amount of melanin)

-Negative hood stereotypes on display
-Forgettable background characters
-Subtitle errors in the DVD

Final Score: 5/10 points

Content Advisory: La Playa DC is definitely for older teens and up. There’s strong language there and very intense themes. The family fled from a warzone during the Colombian Civil War which was still going on when this was filmed, some gangbanging, and some deaths that happen. The nightclub scene features some very suggestive dancing and there are a few scenes involving hard drugs being sold or used. There’s implied prositution with Tomas’s mom with that local security guard.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. La Playa DC is property of ArtMattan. The poster is from IMDb and is property of ArtMattan.

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