AKA: El Valle de Los Negros
Year Released: 2017
Running Time: 52 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Tango Negro, Black Mexicans, I Am Not Your Negro, Aluku Liba, Denying Brazil
-This was part of a 2-disc DVD set alongside Black Mexicans, but they are unrelated films.
-Topics of racism will be discussed here.
-Most of the documentary takes place in Arica, Chile. It’s the 9th most populated city in that country (222K+ people) and it has one of the largest Afro-Chilean communities. Arica is only 11 miles south of the Peruvian border and the city nickname is the “City of the Eternal Spring”. Some famous residents include singer Americo, soccer player Dante Poli, and Chilean Medical College president Izkia Siches to name a few.
-The most famous Afro-Chileno fictional character is Gustavo “Gus” Fring from the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul series. However, to say that’s positive representation is VERY wrong if anyone knows anything about the character.
-The Valley of the Black Descendants is the debut work of Richard Salgado. He’s a Chilean filmographer who co-directed Rectangulo en el Ojo. Some of his other work involves photography.
The concept of the African Diaspora is something that has intrigued me ever more as I get older. It wasn’t something I’ve always thought about for most of my life, to be honest with all of you. As I read more things and even watch certain documentaries, I have become more intrigued and feeling like I have to know about these things regardless if it’s on principle in my case or not. The thing is people of African descent have been scattered to the four corners of the earth and it’s the only diaspora out there that was taken away from their homeland against their will due to slavery as well as colonization. I’m no stranger to covering aspects of that story across different films and documentaries. This example I’m going to cover involves Chile of all places. Technically, Chile did get some recognition on Iridium Eye since it was a co-producing nation for the Colombian drama Land and Shade, but this is the first time with a 100% Chilean film. Getting all of the semantics aside, the Afro-Chilean population is quite minuscule. Chileans with African ancestry rank at just over 8000 people in the whole country which is roughly 0.05%. I know I’m repeating some facts from Tango Negro when I brought up the racial demographics, but there are more Black people in Argentina (several of them being multi-generational Afro-Argentinians) than in Chile. Argentina, the whitest country in South America has more Black people in their country. Let that sink in there. Like other nations conquered in the Americas, there’s been a horrific history of slavery, genocide, and other atrocities going on. Richard Salgado took the initiative to cover this issue in the country.
Will this documentary shed some perfect clarity on this invisible part of the population?
The Valley of the Black Descendants covers a moment in Arica, Chile down in the Azapa Valley in 2016. The census is coming up in the country, so people need to be counted. With that said, the selections of race/ethnicity are very limited. In that census, one can be considered Caucasian, Mestizo (Latinx), Indigenous while naming specific tribes, or “Other”. What’s missing here? Some Afro-Chileans as well as those of mixed descent want to change that, so they’ve been campaigning in the city and in other locales to add a “Black/African” option to the Chilean census to make sure they exist in the wider community. Interspersed with those scenes with these activists, there are also interviews with the local Afro-Chileans who’ve lived in this desert city for several generations as they talk about the history, life experiences, and even the current racism they face in the present day as they try to make their voices heard let alone existing.
I knew there are Afro-Latinx communities across Central and South America, but I legitimately didn’t know how many of them were in Chile of all places. Brazil has a very large population in that regard, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and I even saw multiple Black people in Ecuador when I visited that country (mainly Quito and Guayaquil, but there are communities in other cities). Watching this documentary and doing the research for this review certainly opened my eyes to this situation and how there were similarities to other Latin American nations as well as the United States itself. There were stories of voter suppression, slavery, genocide, forced assimilation, and even the concept of ethnocide is brought up although that word isn’t explicitly mentioned. It was a cultural erasure where they had to have Spanish names, are deprived of their original cultures, and were enforced to be part of “Chileanization” which basically enforced them to dress, act, and behave “like white people” unless they get severely injured or dead. The one thing that really threw a loop to my American mind was the story of how interracial relationships were propagandized to children. One of the Black interviewees mentioned how even in school, they would say that a Black person should marry and start a family with a white person because two Black people in love with each other is like “eating bread with bread”. Even as someone who’s the son of an interracial married couple, I thought that was super problematic and I knew exactly why they would do that. It’s a psychological method to “whiten” out the national population as the Black DNA becomes diluted as the offspring keep marrying lighter and lighter throughout the generations. I would bet my top dollar that they weren’t telling white or Latinx children the same thing in schools, that’s for dang sure. That’s the thing about racism and white supremacy, it’s loaded with double standards as well as false logic. It adds so much real life fridge horror as the population is already small. I do give props to the Censo Afrochileano group for making this an issue as it should’ve been on the census to begin with. They were doing their best to raise awareness as the history and culture was erased from the public. It was interesting seeing some people who definitely looked Black/Latinx mixed owning up to their African heritage and wanting to bring up the history to the masses. The opposition from various political offices were bureaucratic in their bigotry. There was one counterargument one of them said that was so offensive and fallacious that I just have to talk about it. This claim was that if Afro-Chileans got an option on the census, then that’s a form of discrimination and that they would have to have options for the Arab, Jewish, and Romani communities. First of all, they can make those options on the census for those groups. Problem solved. Second of all, Black people are the only diaspora in Chile much less the world where they were moved there against their will in chains. Thirdly, that argument uses the same logic as people who throw around the term “reverse racism”. ERRONEOUS! That argument only works if the Black community enslaved and discriminated against white people with impunity. Oh, wait! That has never ever happened in the history of the world. It astounds me how even adults older and more educated than me forget that racism also involves (sociopolitical) power and privilege. Aamer Rahman was absolutely right in that one stand-up sketch about that subject that I previously referenced in my Top 7 list of Non-Actors Who Should Try Acting. I know I’ve been talking a lot about the content which is very impressive. There were other factors that I enjoyed like the light acoustic soundtrack and the types of interviewees out there. The essence of The Valley of the Black Descendants was paramount and this will certainly inform and enlighten many a viewer over there.
The Valley of the Black Descendants has a few things that discount that film. The visual production was lackluster. I didn’t mind the grittier visuals, but there was a lot of pixelation and aliasing in the camera work. The movie looked more dated than it was and I thought this was made in 2010 or earlier and it wasn’t just because I saw some dated looking cellphones with semi-archaic ringtones in one scene. They should’ve really used better cameras or at least master the visuals to improve the quality there. The subtitles did have some typos in multiple scenes. The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of knowing who the interviewees were. Their names are mentioned in the credits, but I don’t know who was who. Some basic titling could’ve easily solved that problem. They had impactful interviews and not knowing who said these pieces of knowledge and insight was a downer since the content was excellent. I do wish they would’ve improved with the cinematography and giving more props to the people who gave wonderful commentary on this situation.
This Chilean documentary was solid even with some of the production flaws. The history, activism, and personal anecdotes were very engaging as well as relatable. Seeing the erasure of African culture and the rampant denial was frustrating; it was amazing seeing these interviewees calling it out and actually doing something about it. However, the camera work is mediocre and looked low-budget. With all that said, there should be more exposure for The Valley of the Black Descendants as it reveals a lesser-known fact of the African diaspora in Latin America. Definitely recommended.
Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you like hard-hitting documentaries
-Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t like lower-budget cinematography
-Subtract 2-3 points if you feel uncomfortable about ethnocide
-Very informative about Afro-Chilean history and the present day
-Good understated soundtrack
-Mediocre camera work and pixelation
-Lack of identifying interviewees until the credits and even then they don’t say who said what
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Advisory: The Valley of the Black Descendants would get a PG if the MPAA was involved. The topics of racism, slavery, interracial dating, genocide, and ethnocide are all brought up. There are some pieces of art showing slaves that has partial nudity. There’s one scene where a pig is slaughtered off-camera, but you see blood streaming down on the ground.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The Valley of the Black Descendants is property of ArtMattan. The poster is from Digital Film Library and is property of ArtMattan.