Real Life Drama

Santa Fe Reporter | June 22, 2005
J Lo mania is sweeping Northern New Mexico. Ms. Lopez has been in the area since last week shooting the film Bordertown. Subsequently, fans have been questioning film extras on everything from the location of Lopez’s hotel to how Jenny from the Block smells (really).

With all the frivolous talk about Lopez, however, there’s been little discussion of the grave content matter of the film she’s making here. In Bordertown, Lopez plays a

journalist investigating the mysterious slayings of female factory workers in Juárez, Mexico, a city bordering on El Paso, Texas.

While the character Lopez plays may be fictional, the circumstances chronicled in Bordertown are not. Since the 1990s, the bodies of an estimated 300 women, often young and indigenous, have been found raped, mutilated and decomposed in the Chihuahuan desert. Few inroads have been made into identifying those responsible for the slayings—there have been few arrests and the murders continue today. The film has prompted many questions among those who have worked on the issue.

“I guess my question is: What is the intention of the film?” asks Marcia Starck of Women in Black, a group that has engaged in activism around the murders. “What’s the motive for doing this?” If it’s to bring attention to this issue, Starck says, she supports the project. “There’s a lot of people who watch movies in the United States who know nothing about what’s going on in Juárez.”

Starck also wonders if Bordertown will donate proceeds towards investigating the murders. “That would be a great thing,” she says. Adds Sally Meisenhelder of Las Cruces-based group Amigos de Las Mujeres de Juárez, “I know that it’s hard for mothers who are very poor, who are living in cardboard houses to have their stories sold and manipulated. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars is J Lo’s salary? And these people make $70 a week in the maquiladoras. That’s kind of a bizarre dynamic.” (The production company financing the film, Mobius Entertainment, did not return numerous phone messages left by SFR for this story.)

Meisenhelder also hopes the film prompts Mexican authorities to conduct what she says would be an initial investigation. “I think the publicity that comes out of this will challenge what the Mexican government is saying.” Meisenhelder says. “President [Vicente] Fox made a statement not too long ago that all the guilty people are already in jail. I don’t think any of the mothers believes that one guilty person is in jail. People have been tortured into confessing.”

Meisenhelder also says she and mothers of victims are concerned about how the victims will be portrayed. “I think it’s interesting that stories and movies were written without anyone talking to the mothers,” she says. The mothers with whom Meisenhelder has spoken are particularly concerned the victims be portrayed in a respectful manner and not in the negative light they say the Mexican government has cast them. “These women were not prostitutes,” Meisenhelder says. “They were not asking for it. There have been efforts to portray the victims as responsible for being brutally raped and mutilated. There’s even this idea that they were out in the middle of the night. Many of these women disappeared in broad daylight while shopping in the center of the city.”

María José Rodríguez Cádiz is concerned about the depiction of the murderers. José Rodríguez Cádiz is a forensic interviewer for Santa Fe Rape Crisis Center and has worked with officials at Juárez’s Casa Amiga, a shelter for battered women and rape victims. She wants it clear that there is likely a network of men hunting women for sport in Juárez rather than one perpetrator. “Maybe three or four years ago, they said there was one serial killer responsible,” she says. “They put a guy in jail when the crimes were still happening left and right. There’s more than one person responsible. I just hope they’re going to do good research.”

An indicator the makers of Bordertown want to depict the Juárez murders with authenticity is that they have contacted Diana Washington Valdez. Valdez, an El Paso Times reporter, just released a book about the murders called Harvest of Women: A Mexican Safari. She began researching the murders six years ago. “When I first heard about this project I felt it was great that Hollywood was going to do something in film with this issue with top stars like Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas,” she says. Valdez won’t divulge the details of her conversation with Mobius Entertainment. But she says Mobius and two other agencies in Hollywood have contacted her about her writings on Juárez. Actress Minnie Driver has completed a film called Virgin of Juárez, which has yet to be released. But, thanks to its cast, Valdez has high hopes for Bordertown’s box office prospects. In addition to Jennifer Lopez, the film stars Antonio Banderas and novela star Kate del Castillo. There also are reports that Martin Sheen recently joined the cast. “Some critics say they should not have gotten someone as glamorous as Jennifer Lopez, but the movie has to have a box office draw, “ Valdez said. “And Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas can do that. It’s important the issue in Juárez gets the amount of high impact attention that Hollywood can bring to it. It’s an atrocity I think the whole world should know about.”

Santa Fe Reporter

When it was founded in 1974, the Santa Fe Reporter's mission was to create lively competition for a stodgy and timid daily press. That tradition continues today. The Reporter investigates beneath the surface, presenting in-depth stories often overlooked or uninvestigated...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 132 E. Marcy St., Santa Fe, NM 87501
  • Phone: (505) 988-5541