"Traffic" is no triumph for Latinos, African Americans
March 28, 2001
I'm a Mexican-American actress living in Hollywood, but I'm not happy that "Traffic" won four Academy Awards. Don't get me wrong: I'm proud that a Hollywood film incorporated the Spanish language and showcased a talented Latino ensemble. The standout performance was by Benicio Del Toro, a native Puerto Rican, whose acting won him an Academy Award (but his bad Mexican accent was a disappointment).
But I'm not proud of the movie's underlying message that people of color -- Latinos and African Americans -- are responsible for America's problems. Those Mexicans again!
The U.S.-Mexico border is the focus of the movie, and the message is clear: Criminal Mexicans are flooding our country with drugs and the Mexican government is the ultimate in corruption and violence. (The U.S. role in supporting brutal forces in Latin America involved in the drug trade never surfaces.)
Another racially biased aspect of the film is the depiction of a young, rich, Anglo girl who has sex with an African-American drug dealer in exchange for a "fix." The camera and the script manipulate us to feel utter disgust during this scene. But her young, rich, Anglo boyfriend had already led her down the rancid tunnel of drug addiction. And he violates her under the influence of drugs, long before the black drug dealer does. But the reason we don't feel disgust for the Anglo boyfriend is because the movie romanticizes the young couple's drug experimentation.
We also don't see the Anglo boyfriend naked, while the African-American drug dealer is shown in full nudity from the back, the lighting and camera angles emphasizing his sculpted physique. This reinforces the stereotype that people of color are primal, like beasts.
"Traffic" is far from the worst of films that denigrate cultures of color. But it's an alarming experience to hear people fall in love with a movie because they think it's such a great boon for the Latino actor or the Latino community.
Nothing that perpetuates the scapegoat myth is a boon.
Adelina Anthony is a free-lance writer and an interdisciplinary artist who lives in Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.