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.

Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail