Friday, August 26, 2011


MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L) Fr Dennis (2 stars)

IMDb listing -

CNS/USCCB review -

To begin my review of Colombiana (directed by Oliver Megaton, written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen), I would like to note that millions of good, church-going Hispanic families will probably object to this film.  And I believe that this objection _coming from them_ is _salutary_ and something that it behooves Hollywood to take notice of, since counting even the Protestant Hispanic families today a full half of Catholic families in the United States are Hispanic and Catholics make up 25-30% of the population.  This is certainly not a negligible market share in the United States.

And I make this initial point because I remember _well_ that at my assignment at a predominantly Caribbean Hispanic parish in Kissimmee, FL between 2000-2003, I got an earful from a fair number of families when I asked why is it seemed that as modern so many of the families were (flat screen TVs along with digital cable and all the Latino channels in the living room, a nice computer in a public area for the kids for school), almost _none_ of the families seemed to _ever_ go to the movies. 

The response that I got was said kindly but without the blinking of an eye: “Why should we go?  Almost none of the characters in the films ever look like us. And even when they do, they are almost always portrayed as bad people, drug dealers and prostitutes.  We go to Mass _precisely_ so that our kids don’t grow-up that way.  Their abuelas and tias are praying for them everyday so that they choose well in life.  So why should we expose them to such garbage?” 

Ever since that exchange (and also having spent a good amount of my time while stationed in Florida working with the young adults of my parish), I’ve been certainly paid attention to how both blacks and Hispanics are portrayed in films.  And those reading my blog will note that I’ve regularly brought-up questions of how people of different ethnicies/races are portrayed in my reviews and also noted the disconnect that Hollywood often has in their portrayal of various ethnicities and how members of those ethnicities actually live.  I’ve noted before, but feel that it is perhaps valuable to note here again that African Americans are the most Church-going group in the United States, and I do believe that one will simply _never_ understand Hispanics (and the _varieties_ of Hispanics) in the United States without understanding that _millions of them_ are at Mass/Church every Sunday and even during the week the primary social life for millions of Hispanics (men and women, young and old) is to be found in involvement in all kinds of prayer, rosary and charismatic groups meeting in countless homes and churches across the country.  Add other ethnicities like the Filipinos and Vietnamese and the same will be true there as well.  Faith/Church is _not_ a sideshow to any of these communities.

So what then to make of a movie named Colombiana featuring a young dark-skinned Latina named Cataleya (played by Zoe Saldana) portrayed once again as a perpetually scantily dressed, if resourceful, and certainly athletic heroine who exacts her revenge for the deaths of her parents (played by Jesse Borrego and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) by methodically killing, one by one, the drug-dealing Colombian (Latino) bad guys who killed them?  Is that not exactly the kind of movie that would repulse the Church going Hispanics that I referred to above?  Probably, and honestly laudably.  There is no reason for a young Hispanic child to see this movie.  Honestly, take them to Spy-Kids IV instead.

But there are other features of this movie that make it interesting or challenging to those outside the Hispanic community (including movie critics).

It should be noted that both the director and the two writers of this film were _also_ associated with the Liam Neeson revenge fantasy Taken as well as the violent Euro-criminal Transporter film series.  So this film simply sets a formula that the three have found successful in both East and West European settings to the world and intrigues of the Colombian drug wars.  [It is presented, as an aside, for instance, that the drug lord, Don Luis (played by Beto Benites) at the top of the cartel that Cataleya is trying to bring down, one assasination at a time, was being protected by the CIA presumably for his assistance in helping combat leftist guerrillas (FARC) in Colombia...]

One _can_ further say that Zoe Saldana’s Cataleya is basically a Latina version of Liam Neeson’s Brian Mills of Taken.  There are also similarities in Zoe Saldana’s character to the Nikita character in the La Femme Nikita movie and series and even to Catherine Zeta Jones’ character in the thriller Entrapment (in which Jones co-starred with Sean Connery).  There are even a few references to Xena the Warrior Princess, who Cataleya as a child (played by Amandla Stemberg) is portrayed as having looked-up to.  So Saldana comes to play a very sexy, slippery and capable assassin striking by the end of the film absolute dread into the heart of Marco (played by Jordi Mollá) the man most immediately responsible for the deaths of Cataleya’s parents  And if Catherine Zeta Jones can bend and wind her way through a maze of motion detecting laser beams in order to steal an object of great value, why shouldn’t Zoe Saldana be allowed to perform similar feats of acrobatics as she slithers her way through the ventilation ducts of a Los Angeles police station to assassinate one of her parents’ killers being held here?

So then why did so many critics choose not to review _this_ movie?  Why boycott this movie but not Neeson’s Taken which was equally violent?  In Taken, Neeson played a white, Anglo, male assassin wreaking vengeance on the abductors of his daughter in Paris.  In Colombiana, Saldana plays a dark-skinned Latina who grows-up to wreak vengeance on the Colombian drug-dealing killers of her parents.

I guess in the end, while I do understand the concerns of the Hispanic families about how Hispanics are portrayed in film, I don’t understand the inconsistency of the white reviewers who don’t seem to mind seeing films involving assassins who are white, played recently not just by Liam Neeson (Taken, Unknown), but also by George Clooney (The American), Jason Statham (The Mechanic, The Transporter movies) and Nicholas Cage (Bangkok Dangerous), and even movies involving assassins who are white and female (The Femme Nikita movies, series, the movie actually written by Luc Besson, the same writer as this movie) but set-aside this movie when the revenging assassin is "of a darker shade."

Bottom line, this movie is definitely _not for kids_.  On the other hand, I don’t see it as necessarily bad to have an occasional movie in which people of color are shown as kicking butt. Or else we should be consistent and reject all such movies and with _equal_ ferocity.

And even then, one ought to be careful, because even the Bible is often very violent.  I remember _to this day_ a challenge that I was given when I was in grad school when I was defending a non-violent St Francis approach to Christianity when a classmate of mine responded “Oh come on, the Book of Revelation is as ‘non-violent’ as a napalm strike.”  Symbolic as the Book of Revelation ought to be understood, that former classmate of mine had a point. 

And there may be times in our lives when we may have really been hurt, when, while understanding _certainly_ that “vengeance” belongs to Lord (it’s _not_ our job, but God’s), we may nevertheless appreciate the Psalmist’s cry: “Their venom is like the venom of a snake, like that of a serpent stopping its ears ... O God, smash their teeth in their mouths, break the fangs of these lions, O Lord” (Psalm 58:5, 7).  So the temptation to violence, while something to be always (and _consistently_) opposed in Christianity, does not come to us without a context.  And if we oppose violence we ought to first appreciate the contexts in which the impulse arises and then oppose the impulse consistently.  Finally, when we find ourselves not doing so consistently, we ought to ask ourselves: why?

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