A Story About Mexican Drug Violence Donald Trump Is Too Weak To Tell
Donald Trump has become persona non grata among decent people these days, because he said Mexican immigrants are "bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.” Sure, he allowed that some Mexicans are just the sweetest, except for the rape. Thursday, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer affirmed that she thinks Trump is completely right, that illegal immigration is out of control, and that the desert in Arizona is literally impassable these days, due to all the headless corpses. However, underneath xenophobic, racist, hateful, broad-brushing, nativist remarks like these, is there a grain of truth? Is there a story to be told here? Did you idiots even watch "Breaking Bad"?
Enter the world of Cartel Land, a new Sundance Film Festival award-winning documentary from filmmaker Matthew Heinemann and executive producer Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, yeah, yeah, we know, teach the controversy). Heinemann embeds himself with two discrete casts of characters: Mexican citizens in the state of Michoacán, 1,000 miles south of the U.S. border, people weary and angry that the Mexican government cannot or will not protect them from the drug cartels running roughshod over the entire nation, killing their families and taking their livelihoods; and a ragtag group of semi-crazy US militia types in Arizona, who have taken it upon themselves to cleanse the border of Donald Trump's rapists, drug smugglers and "some, I assume, are good people."
We meet Dr. José Manuel Mireles, "El Doctor," a physician trying to spearhead a movement to take the towns and cities of Michoacán back from cartel control. He explains, in Spanish:
"When the government can't provide basic security for its people we can take up arms in legitimate defense, of our lives, our families, our properties. We are all survivors -- they've attacked all our families. They've killed, kidnapped, or raped someone we love. Every single one of us in this battle. So it's time to decide how we wish to die."
Mireles's movement ultimately becomes known as the Autodefensas, and watching as they go from town to town, teaching the citizens how to organize and protect themselves (like common community organizers!) is something to behold. He's a charismatic figure, one of those people who you worry talks just a little bit too sweet for his own good. That plays out in the film, but we won't be going into SPOILER ALERT territory here. The depth of citizens' distrust in the Mexican government is on display in a truly stunning confrontation with the Mexican Army in the town of Apo, which shows what really happens when vigilantes get powerful.
Tim "Nailer" Foley is the American militia leader on the other side of the border fence in Arizona. We joke about Western militia types being insane -- and they ARE! -- but the film brings to mind the question, "why do these people exist?" It's not because some goddamn border isn't big enough, and it's not because Mexican people are rapists. In a memorable scene, Foley drives down the highway as Rush Limbaugh reports on the radio that the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified many nativist, border-protecting groups like his as hate groups. (For the record, Foley's group, Arizona Border Recon, is not listed as a hate group, but has been listed as a "nativist extremist group.")
Foley, like most militia types, is not a completely sympathetic character, but rather a result of the combination of a fucked-up economy, a failed American drug war that's done few things better than empower the very cartels Foley fights against, and the uninformed, sycophantic ramblings of right-wing news media that are meant to scare the shit out of people. His group originally focused on all illegals -- the typical "they took our jobs!" narrative -- but now focuses exclusively on cartels. Some of his men make him look eminently sane, like the one who says, on camera:
"Tall fences make for better neighbors ... you wouldn't put two pit bulls in the same pen and expect them to get along and not fight. Why would you put two races in the same nation and expect them to get along?"
Good old American racism!
And what about all the other people caught in the middle? Consider these lines from the film's opening, from a meth cook who, in a very "Breaking Bad"-type coincidence, learned how to make the best meth in all the land from a father and son team of chemistry experts from America:
"What can I say? We know we do harm with all the drugs that go there. But what are we going to do? We come from poverty. If we were doing well we would be like you. Traveling the world or doing good clean jobs like you guys."
And so it goes, and the cycle continues, and children are murdered, and drugs are made, and Americans buy them. Seeing the world through a Donald Trump-esque lens of "good and evil" suddenly seems ... just as stupid as it's always been.
Will the vigilantes ultimately win the war, or do they, with all their glorious human imperfections, throw a wrench into the system which just makes it all the worse? Guess you'll have to see the movie to find out!
Cartel Land opens Friday in Washington DC, Los Angeles, and a host of other cities. It is already playing in New York City. Click here to see whether you should cancel the hot Tinder date you originally had planned tonight, and go see this film instead.
WONKETTE RATING: Eleventy-thousand whore diamonds with TruckNutz on top. (That is the highest rating we have!)