by tatiana de la tierra
Colombians are up in arms about Luc Besson’s new flick, Colombiana. PorColombia, a nonprofit group made up of 12 Colombian college student chapters in the U.S. and Canada launched an anti-defamation campaign against the movie with a message to Hollywood: A Colombia se le respeta! They also came up with an alternate publicity poster, changing Sony Picture’s slogan “Vengeance is Beautiful” to “Colombia is Beautiful” and replacing the gun Zoe Saldaña is cradling between her hands with a bunch of flowers.
According to the Colombian magazine Semana, the movie inspired Colombian publicist Carlos Plaza to come up with “La otra cara de la moneda,” a New York campaign that shows Colombia’s “other side” via a promotional pamphlet that features the country’s positive aspects such as music and culture. He took to the streets with a crew that passed out thousands of pamphlets at theatres in Queens, Manhattan, New Jersey, Brooklyn, and Long Island. “The campaign is a protest against stereotypes,” he said.
Participating organizations included Colombian Cultural Center, Plataforma Colaboro, Queens Chamber of Commerce, and Afro-Colombia New York. The co-director of Afro-Colombia Nueva York, Naila Rosario, helped pass out pamphlets. “We’re not against the movie, or against Zoe Saldaña, but we want to show the other side of Colombia,” she said. “It’s not only war and drugs… There are many positive aspects.”
Colombians tend to be diplomatic. So I’ll be the one to say it. Stay away from this movie. Do not patronize it. Why? Two really good reasons. One, it’s a terrible movie. Two, it’s a slap in the face to my country. What is the purpose of rewarding Hollywood for hyping a stereotype of Colombia as a violent drug-dealing country?
The plot is simple: a nine-year old girl witnesses the murder of her parents and schemes to get revenge. The killing, which (supposedly) takes place in Bogotá, is orchestrated by a sinister drug dealer and his collaborators. The girl makes her way to Chicago, where her uncle teaches her to be an assassin. She’s 24-years old when the film shifts to her as an adult. By now she is methodically killing. A lot. She uses black lipstick to etch an orchid on the body of each of her victims. This is a sign to her parents’ killers that she’s after them (and by now, they’re in New Orleans, under protection by the CIA).
Her name is Cataleya Restrepo. Her father placed his gold chain with an orchid dangling from it around her neck. “Never forget where you come from,” he said to her, as he bolted off to his death.
Zoe Saldaña, a New York-born actress of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, is the big star. Cataleya is a cold killer who shifts into a myriad of disguises, crawls through vents, and even swims with sharks to get her victims. She also has a secret lover, an artist, on the side. But do I care? Not at all. Her character is underdeveloped. There’s not much to say about her, except that she sucks lollipops, dances by herself, and nibbles on Chinese takeout.
Some may think that “vengeance is beautiful” and consider Saldaña a sexy femme Nikita, but I don’t. She’s constrained by a script that relies heavily on splashy explosions and vivid images without taking the time to fully realize any of the characters. The movie is almost a farce, except that it’s not even good enough to be a farce. The plot is predictable and none of the characters, ranging from FBI and CIA agents to Colombian criminals, are meaty enough to bite into.
If anyone shines for a second, it’s Amandla Stenberg, who plays nine-year old Cataleya. She sits still at the kitchen table, eyes wide open, a bowl of fruit in front of her, as her parents are murdered. Then she stabs one of the killers in the hand with a hunting knife and runs for her life. There’s a brief bit of humanity and curiosity in the first few minutes of the film, but overall this is a boring and unconvincing story.
Then there’s the other weighted issue, which is that there isn’t a bit of Colombia in Colombiana. The movie was filmed in México, Chicago, New Orleans, and Paris. They didn’t even bother to Photoshop Bogotá’s mountains into the scenery. There’s not a trace of a Colombian accent anywhere. Cataleya’s name, which comes from the Cattleya orchid, Colombia’s national flower, is not a known name. Restrepo, her last name, is common (and happens to be one of my family names). The chances of Cataleya being Afro-Colombian from Bogotá are slim, as Bogotá has a relatively low population of African descendents. More believable would be if she hailed from Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena or el Chocó. And how well does Saldaña fly as a Colombian? Well, she doesn’t, because she’s not. There’s nothing Colombian about Cataleya’s character.
So why is this film entitled Colombiana while being absent of anything Colombian? Because someone thought that riding the violent-drug-dealing-Colombian-machine would help rake in the dough. There is no other reason.
“Just to use the name ‘Colombiana’ doesn’t make any justice to Latinas or Colombian women at all,” said Carlos Macias, the president of PorColombia. “We’re very disappointed that Hollywood is using the Colombian armed conflict again as cheap propaganda for its profit; it shows its total lack of creativity.” I second that.
The Wall Street Journal asked Zoe Saldaña what she thought about PorColombia’s campaign against Colombiana, and the organization’s belief that the movie portrays Latinos in a negative light. Her response? “Shame on them? I don’t know, I wish I knew how to address stupid unintelligent comments but I don’t, I’m not a stupid person… She could have been from Puerto Rico, she could have been from Goa, she could have been from China. But Luc Besson just wanted her to be from Colombia.”
And why would he want that, I wonder? What would Saldaña think if it was entitled Puertoriqueña, about a girl named Coqui from Puerto Rico? Where everyone is a dealer, mobster and murderer?
She continues. “Once you watch the movie, it has nothing to do with drugs, it has to do with violence. But violence lives in every city in every corner in every part of the world. So that said, PorColombia, are you kidding me?”
I’m not kidding. Don’t go to this movie! Watch Gun Hill Road instead. Now that’s a great Latino movie with intense characters that make you shift in your seat.