AKA: La Negrada
Year Released: 2018
Running Time: 103 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: R
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Alamar, August the First, The Valley of the Black Descendants, Mano, Land and Shade
-This was part of a 2-disc DVD set alongside The Valley of the Black Descendants, but they are unrelated films.
-Black Mexicans takes place in the Costa Region in Southwest Oaxaca state. It has one of the largest Afro-Mexican communities in the country. It is on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca state and features a high-quality coffee known as Pluma Hidalgo.
-It is the third feature film from director Jorge Perez Solano. He has also directed films such as Perpetual Sadness, Playback, and En Ambiente. Solano graduated from CUEC-UNAM with a degree in film directing and screenwriting.
This year has featured some low-key themes with various reviews and articles. One such pattern that I didn’t realize was a thing until recently was covering topics involving the Afro-Latinx community. Last week, I reviewed the Chilean documentary The Valley of the Black Descendants which was a quality film. Other such examples I reviewed this year (all from ArtMattan, no less) involved Candombe, Good-Bye Momo, Natal Da Portela, Abdias do Nascimento, La Playa DC, and the masterpiece documentary work Tango Negro. I’m not sure if anyone knows this, but did you know that there are Black people who’ve been living in Mexico for several generations? I’m not talking about those who moved to that country like Lupita Nyongo’o, but the descendants of slaves who were taken by the Spanish crown at the time to be used as chattel for the colonizers at the time. There are still communities in different parts of the country, but they are a small minority in Mexico. They face discrimination by Latinx and Mexicans of direct Spaniard descent in that nation even to this day. Jorge Perez Solano decided to make a film which would be the first in Mexican history to feature several Black cast members and the whole film consisted of non-professional actors.
Will this film be a respectful look into Afro-Mexican culture or will it be an exercise in ethnic exploitation?
Black Mexicans covers the lives of some Afro-Mexicans in the rural coastal town of Correlera, Oaxaca. There’s a fisherman named Neri who is living in poverty while doing his best to make catches for the local fish markets. Outside of his fishing job, he is with his terminally ill wife Juanita, yet he’s been cheating on her with another woman by the name of Magdalena. The mistress looks to become Neri’s main squeeze as Juanita succumbs to her disease in the local hospital. The family becomes even more dysfunctional and the family falling even more in debt certainly isn’t helping. The lives of those in the community are affected in different ways in and outside the town.
I saw the trailer prior to purchasing the DVD set, and I was instantly impressed with the cinematography. This looked way too good to be an indie film with the clear and crisp shots with expect lighting. The underwater scenes were gorgeous with the tasteful usage of slow-mo and the hues of the clear blue water (Oceanlab reference not intended even if that is a great song). I could tell people this was a big-budget production and anyone could believe me. Salgado really knew what he was doing when it comes to handling the camera work and pure depth of the visuals without feeling superficial or showing off. While I wouldn’t call Black Mexicans a neorealism work, some of those facets are there with the nonprofessional actor and the more earthy storytelling going on which is a nice touch. The actors and actresses are actually locals from the Costa Region which gives a sense of authenticity. They even did a great job with acting despite not having that professional background. Seems like I usually strike it gold by covering movies with “amateur” actors who do a better job at emoting and delivering lines than a good portion of those from Hollywood, that’s for darn sure. Some of the facts mentioned in the credits were insightful for realizing the plight of the community in Mexico. There is one scene of direct racial profiling which was scary, yet quite relatable especially if one is Black. Negra (Neri’s daughter) and the other Afro-Mexicans on a bus are forced to leave the vehicle at gunpoint by policemen in town. The Latinx and whatever white people were on the bus didn’t have to do so. The police humiliate them and have a chance to avoid prison time by singing the first verse of the Mexican National Anthem. The response was awesome as she sings her home country’s national anthem alongside a montage of other Black Mexican women singing different lyrics of the song. That scene was a major highlight for me. Even though I’m not Mexican nor have a I been to Mexico in my life, I related to this so much because I’ve been racially profiled by cops before despite not doing anything and there was one time where I was in Jacksonville, Florida where a soldier who just came back from serving in either the Iraq or Afghanistan war questioned me whether I was an American citizen or not which I found to be extremely insulting especially since he didn’t ask my white friend that same question who was next to me at that time. As ridiculous as it was, I oddly found that situation to be believable because those who have a good amount of melanin are treated like third-class citizens in so many countries. Good on everyone for making such a powerful scene like that. I also enjoyed the acoustic instrumental music and ending them, so they get a plus over there.
Black Mexicans has some immense issues as a whole though. While the acting was good and there was a ton of effort in the filming process, I would be lying if I thought it was an example of positive representation. I thought it would be some kind of story of people rising above their condition or at the very least living their lives, but this plays up some stereotypes. If I wasn’t clear about this in some other reviews, let me be even more crystalline in my clarity: I HATE the depictions and implications of the BMAS (Black Men Ain’t [Spit]) portfolio. Neri sadly fits the qualifications with him cheating, being laissez-faire about everything, and not seeming to care for his family as much as he should. Also, he’s a baby daddy for another woman (spoilers minimized) which really doesn’t help his image. Say what you want about Second Coming, but they never did this garbage with Idris Elba’s character in that movie and that’s saying nothing how the plot isn’t the guy’s fault in that British movie. Going back to the family issue, I’m not against having a dysfunctional family as a plot device on principle, but this felt mediocre and adds to the imagery that Black families are nothing put drama fodder for everyone to detest each other. My Neighbors The Yamadas was a rare case of a dysfunctional family being written the right way and everyone still loving each other despite driving each other crazy, and Black Mexicans was no where near that level regardless of genre. I feel like the plot and the message seem contradictory. I mean, Solano wanted to make a movie involving Afro-Mexicans as main characters and how their government oppresses them, but the storylines could only add to the negative imagery of Black people worldwide. The facts were still good in isolation, but they felt so tacked on.
The execution of Black Mexicans certainly didn’t match the target. If one wants to see a positive story regardless of ethnicity can look elsewhere.I was disappointed by watching Black Mexicans. Don’t get it twisted. The filming quality was wonderful and the performances were swell, but the whole really hampered the individual parts to make up this movie. No, just because there was one phenomenal scene doesn’t overshadow the negatives of this particular film. Black Mexicans could’ve been so much more, but stereotypical characterizations and unfortunate implications of the plot didn’t do enough justice.
Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1-2 points if you like great cinematography.
-Add 1 point if you like slow cinema.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you want substance in your slow-paced dramas.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you can’t stand racist implications whether intended or not.
-Wonderful camera work and picture quality
-The Mexican National Anthem montage scene is fantastic
-BMAS implications on display
-Facts about Afro-Mexicans feel tacked on
Final Score: 4/10 points
Content Advisory: Black Mexicans is for older audiences only. The language gets very strong in multiple points and there’s one case of homophobic language against a gay character. There’s innuendo, infidelity as a plot point, and suggestive themes. Drinking and smoking is on display. Some other adult themes like racial profiling, terminal illnesses, and abortions are plot points there.
All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Black Mexicans is property of ArtMattan. The DVD cover is from Amazon and is property of ArtMattan.