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Berlinale 2012: Review of Afro-Colombian Drama "Choco"

by Jasmin
March 13, 2012 3:40 PM
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Another review from S&A reader Denise VanDeCruze:

I totally understand why the director of Chocó, Jhonny Hendrix Hinestroza, cried while introducing the movie’s premiere at the Berlinale.  He spoke about the fact that this was the first time that a story about Afro-Columbians would be told on film.  It was a monumental moment because although there are more blacks in South America than North America, they are absent in media representations. Part of the reason I was relentlessly teased as a child was because my black American school mates did not believe I was from South America because I was black.

Chocó began with the beauty of rural Colombia, the singing of an Afro-Columbian spiritual gathering, and a sunset.  The pseudo-documentary style leaves you unprepared for the violent bits that follow.  The first time we meet the georgeous protagenist, Chocó, she is being raped by her husband, a drunk abusive musician who gambles.  He has only one sober scene, one in which his face is not shown.  Otherwise he has two adjectives and one tragic certainty.  He is the cause of everything and the center of nothing. Chocó is holding it down for her two kids.  She nurses memories of her new unbruised love with her husband and hopes of building a better life for her children who are already scarred from the abusive household.  She is the mule of the movie that rebels the way mules do – with blind determination.

Between the heartbreak, there is a lush glimpse of paradise lost.  The filmmaker made it clear that he wanted to paint a portrait that mirrored reality.  Listen to the podcast below for a more in-depth explanation. He grew up on the roads in the film and wrote what he saw.  But I left with an ache in the pit of my stomach about this movie because I knew I could not shake it.  It exhausted me.  I want to forget parts of it.  I know that this story happens but the fact that stories of black trauma are so often the only representations of blackness I see on film. In particular, I have never seen a dark-skinned black woman on screen as a main character that was not being abused in some way. In the podcast, you will hear me ask the director if he was afraid of reinforcing stereotypes with this movie.  He is an Afro-Columbian and I don’t think that was his intention.

The acting was superb. I believed every minute, every scene.  The children were perfectly casted and many scenes were a mixture of documentary and and staged scenes.  One can’t determine who is acting and who is not.  This allows the climax to have a powerful and lasting impact. Yet little is revealed about the inner-workings of its main characters leaving the audience to endure brutal events that have little emotional context.

Although this movie is powerful and technically well made and superbly acted, I was not clear about what I could walk away from it with.  I don’t think it is film’s job to give me a feel-good message or to always paint pretty pictures of people of color.  Yet the rarity of representative images coupled with the pathology of the images of black folks in media creates a context that requires more from filmmakers that just a good story.  The myth of black pathology is always a good story but it is over-told.

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  • AO | March 21, 2012 7:26 PMReply

    Excellent review. Great to see Afro-Latinos on the big screen. However, I agree wholeheartedly with your reviewer, "Choco" is a very intense and well-made film with the main drawback being it is another story about Black male pathology and the strong Black woman able to endure and overcome it all. It could well have been an equally believable and well-made story about a Black man dealing with and overcoming his trials and tribulations with the love and assistance of his wife.

    It is so unfortunate that so many stories depict Black men as irresponsible, drunken brutes. It's a tired lopsided story that does nothing for the image of Black men and frankly paints an entirely unrealistic picture of Black women (resourcing the words of Fanny Lou Hamer "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired"). Can we get a story of mature Black folks facing their problems in socially responsible ways? Can we free ourselves of the mental slavery that urges us to, more often than not, depict ourselves as criminals, brutes and social pariahs? I just want to holla "STOP IT" already!

  • Laura | March 13, 2012 8:06 PMReply

    Glad to see a Latin American film reviewed on this blog. *On a side note* I always wonder how Afro-Latinos felt about playing mostly non-Latino roles in mainstream media. In the Spanish-speaking language films and tv shows I perused, very rarely do I see Afro-Latinos characters. To this day I still chuckle inside when I see a Black (Latino) flip from English to Spanish like it ain't no thing.

  • Laura | March 15, 2012 10:33 PM

    @ Ivory. Merlin Santana from The Steve Harvey Show definitely played a Latino. I did not know that about Anna Maria Horsford.

  • Ivory Jeff Clinton | March 15, 2012 10:26 PM

    That was supposed to be "LA LA ANTHONY, nee Vazquez" with an accent mark over the first "e" in "nee." Came out as "née" though.

  • Ivory Jeff Clinton | March 15, 2012 10:24 PM

    As always, I didn't SET OUT to write a book, it just happened that way. ... I wonder the same thing, Laura. Actually LA LA ANTHONY, née Vazquez, who's an NYC-bred Puerto Rican (Nuyorican), has said that in pursuing an acting career, she has been rejected for Latina roles for being too dark and therefore not looking Hispanic. But of course people of Latin origin can look ANY way. She has also said that when stating her nationality, she has been accused of denying her blackness, as if black and Latino are mutually exclusive.

    TRISTAN WILDS, who's from Staten Island and has a Dominican mom and black American dad, has said he suspects that not looking like what many consider to be they way a Latino is supposed to look has kept him from being cast as one. But I'm glad to see that his career is still going quite well, as are those of many actors mentioned below.

    According to historians though, far fewer blacks during the slave trade were taken from Africa to what's now the U.S. than to what's now Latin America and the Caribbean, which many people -- white, black and other -- don't know.

    Some other blacks of Hispanic background who usually play non-Latin roles:
    TATYANA ALI - black Panamanian mom, Indo-Trinidadian dad.
    LAZ ALONSO - parents are black Cubans; he did play a Puerto Rican in Miracle at St. Anna and a Cuban on Breakout Kings, but like the others on this list, I think, most roles have been non-Hispanic black or ethnicity-unnamed.
    REAGAN GOMEZ - Puerto Rican mom, Cheryl Gomez; black American dad, Bennett Preston.
    ANNA MARIA HORSFORD - Dominican mom, Antiguan dad.
    ZOE SALDANA - mom's Puerto Rican & Lebanese, late dad was from the Dominican Republic, where she spent much of her childhood; interestingly, she and Alonso played Na'vi siblings in Avatar.
    JEREMY SUAREZ, Jordan from The Bernie Mac Show - of Cuban parentage.

    And there was MERLIN SANTANA (1976-2002) of Dominican parentage, but I did see a Latino as his dad on an episode of The Steve Harvey Show.

  • Nadine | March 13, 2012 8:34 PM

    A girlfriend of mine who owns a new media company and wants to support their efforts put me on to this... they have a facebook page too if you are interested. The problem is acknowledged.

  • AfroTapp | March 13, 2012 7:46 PMReply

    Glad to see this. More films should be made encompassing the black Diaspora inclusive of a variety Blacks that may have gotten off anywhere from Africa to North America to South America and beyond. Bravo!!!

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