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A Latina’s take on Miss Bala

posted February 12, 2019 | in Pop Cultura by Aledia G. Lopez

The 2019 film Miss Bala does a stellar job at portraying women empowerment through the vessel of a Latina lead. Gina Rodriguez’s acting not only conveys the various emotions and turmoil of a person going through something as terrifying as being blackmailed into working for a cartel, but her character manages to show the strength of a woman having to harden herself while remaining true to who she is as a person.

Miss Bala was filmed with a 95-percent Latino cast and crew in Tijuana, Mexico. The film tells the story of an American makeup artist who returns to her roots in Tijuana to help her friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo)- who she considers family- win a beauty pageant. However, after going out one night to celebrate the sign-up and make connections, a gang infiltrates and shoots up the club they’re at. While looking for her friend, Rodriguez’s character, Gloria, gets caught up with corrupt police and the gang members ready to get rid of all threats. However, Gloria’s American citizenship makes the cartel leader, Lino (Ismael Cruz Córdova), take an interest in her to use her for transactions. In return he offers her safety and promises to find her friend. The movie then follows Gloria as she faces the danger and moral decisions of working with the Los Estrellas cartel in order to find and save her family.

This movie does an excellent job at showing the power and strength a woman has and can unleash when wanting to save those who matter to her. It shows the importance of family, even if not by blood, which is something many Latinos can relate to. It does not simplify or romanticize it either, which as a Latina viewer, I appreciated. As we watch Gloria go through traumatizing things, you can see her struggle in keeping her composure, in handling her fear, in maintaining her resolve, and in coping with guilt.

As I watched a part of me was expecting a romance to blossom between Lino and Gloria. While they had some cute moments, and it was clear that Lino was interested in her, Gloria never excused his actions and never lost sight of her priority- which was finding Suzu and getting her to safety. Another thing I highly appreciated as a Latina viewer is that Gloria never had to use her body or sexuality to talk to Lino or gain his trust. Throughout the movie, Gloria uses her intelligence and wit.

Gina Rodriguez posts a photo on her Instagram profile from Miss Bala premiere night.

Something else I think Latinos could appreciate about the film is the authenticity of the culture- the music in the background, the scenery, the food, the Spanglish. One thing in particular that I believe the film touched on extremely well is the struggle of identity for those of us who find ourselves part of two cultures- that of our Latin American country, and America. Personally, I’ve experienced this imbalance of cultures with my own Mexican and American ones. While I was born in Mexico and spent most of my summers there, I grew up and have lived in America all my life. Especially now, as a college student, I find myself grasping for my roots again in fear of losing them or becoming too distant from them. When I visit Mexico, I am “the cousin from America,” but American culture doesn’t resonate with me the way my Mexican culture does. That internal, personal battle can be stressful and even painful, which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see it mentioned in the film.

Both Lino and Gloria are U.S citizens, but both have roots in Tijuana, Mexico. While they took different approaches to the emotions of an identity struggle, they both portray the feeling of being an outcast on both sides- a topic and feeling I believe many immigrants and children of immigrants can understand. One quote that stuck with me most after the film was when Lino says, “I was too American to belong here (in Tijuana), and too Mexican to belong there (in the U.S),” which mirrors something Gloria says at the beginning about feeling like she didn’t fit in when she visited Tijuana for being too Americanized. I believe it was important to touch on trying to balance and hold on to the roots a person can have in different countries or cultures.

While the concept of another movie with a Latino cast being based on cartel life was a moment of hesitation and frustration for me- because we all know there is so much more to our cultures as Latinas than drug cartels- I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the way the movie approached it. They did not over-glamorize the life of a drug cartel, in fact it showed the merciless cruelty and trauma that follows it. They did not romanticize it by an unnecessary love interest side plot as many shows and movies tend to do utlize to captivate audiences; there wasn’t even a kissing scene or a particularly romantic scene. Not only did the plot manage to keep me in tense suspense as I watched the danger and risks Gloria had to take, but I found myself feeling incredibly proud of myself as a Latina by the time the credits rolled. I know that was a mix of an exceptional acting job, a well-written character, and a wonderful final song in the soundtrack (Call the Shots by Leslie Grace). I would personally rate it four out of five stars, and definitely recommend it to other viewers who’d like to see a strong female lead.

About the author:

Aleida Lopez is a junior at St. Edward’s University born in Monterrey, Mexico. She enjoys reading and writing poetry and fiction, watching movies with her siblings, and singing along to musicals. She lives in Houston where her Gerberian Shepsky waits to greet her.

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