FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Where the Movie Villains are American

by JAMES McENTEER

Cochabamba, Bolivia.

On my first trip to Germany, shortly after college, I learned the power of media conditioning. I had grown up watching World War Two movies on television, filled with villainous Nazis. “You vill tell us vat ve vant to know. Ve haf our vays to make you talk ” Surrounded by German speakers, whom I had only ever heard as menacing movie stereotypes, I felt my heart rate gallop.

An evening at Munich’s Hofbrau Haus, where beer drinkers hoist liter steins and occasionally break into song, felt like the ominous prelude to a putsch. Wasn’t this how National Socialism got its start? Had I visited Japan then, my reaction surely would have been the same, since two-dimensional “sneaky Orientals” were also staples of war and post-war era American movies.

Now I live in Bolivia, where the most treacherous movie villains in local films are Americans. Hollywood movies show here too, but in Bolivian productions Americans are violent and diabolical.

For instance, currently playing in Bolivian theaters is Antonio Eguino’s, Los Andes No Creen En Dios, (The Andes Don’t Believe in God), set in the mountain mining town of Uyuni in the 1920s. Germans in this film are savvy, industrious prospectors. The sole British engineer is a pompous drunk. But the Americans are rough, unshaven, gun-toting spaghetti-western thugs. Three gringos rob a mining payroll, blow up a train and shoot the passengers.

The robbery has historical resonance with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. After fleeing the United States, they stole a mine payroll in southern Bolivia and died in a shootout with Bolivian authorities in 1908. If the American desperado is one stock U.S. villain, another is the corrupt U.S. official.

American Visa, released in 2006, tells the contemporary story of a Bolivian schoolteacher named Mario who wants to go to the United States to see his son in Miami. Like many other Bolivians (and Latin Americans), Mario must endure expensive, humiliating procedures to obtain a visa.

When the U.S. consul sneeringly refuses him, Mario turns to the black market, where an illicit American visa goes for five thousand dollars. Mario pawns his gold jewelry, then desperately decides to rob the pawnshop. When he finally buys the black market visa, he is appalled to learn that the person supplying it is the U.S. Consul himself. “Don’t worry, teacher, the visa’s good,” the Consul tells him. But Mario, undone by the theft he has committed to procure the visa, never goes to the United States.

“American Visa” is cinematic revenge against U.S. bureaucrats who stonewall Bolivian visa seekers in the belief that they intend to stay and work illegally. Like many developing countries, Bolivia depends on remittances sent home by nationals working abroad, legally or not. In a real-life act of vengeance, the Bolivian government recently imposed a visa requirement for U.S. citizens visiting their country.

American officials are more flamboyantly corrupt in Rodrigo Bellot’s movie, Quien Mato a la Llamita Blanca? (Who Killed the Little White Llama?).

In Bellot’s satirical road picture, the American DEA official in charge of cocaine eradication in Bolivia is also a major drug trafficker.

He hires a pair of indigenous, small-time hustlers to drive a shipment of cocaine to the Brazilian border where he intends to have them busted. This cynical, hypocritical gringo is awarded the country’s highest honor. Bellott presents the U.S. war on drugs as an elaborate American ruse to make huge profits and set up Bolivian fall guys in order to look virtuous in the process.

Though Bolivian President Evo Morales has not joined Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in calling George W. Bush the devil, contemporary Bolivian movies depict Americans as various sorts of demons. Such heavy-handed portrayals reflect a long-term cultural distrust of U.S. motives in South America and a frustration with U.S. attempts to dictate terms of assistance to Bolivia. Only now those sentiments are expressed in movies, not just graffiti scrawled on adobe walls.

Someday a Bolivian visiting the United States may feel nervous to find himself surrounded by the scheming, soulless gringos he knew about only from Bolivian movies.

JAMES McENTEER is the author of Shooting The Truth: The Rise of American Political Documentaries (Praeger, 2006). He lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

 

James McEnteer’s most recent book is Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty DepartmentHe lives in Quito, Ecuador.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail