Why Mexico is turning its biggest political scandals into movies

In typical Hollywood fashion, Mexico seems to be coping with some of its worst scandals by turning them into movies. This week a trailer was released for a low-budget film based on drug lord Chapo Guzman’s prison break, quickly garnering social media attention and newspaper headlines.

The film, titled “Chapo: The Escape of the Century,” is scheduled to hit Mexican theaters on Jan. 15. The movie, made by a low-profile Mexican production company with a cast of mostly unknown actors, is already somewhat of a success for making it into theaters without going straight to DVD.

Although “The Escape of the Century” might be no match for Hollywood’s forthcoming take on Chapo— Ridley Scott was tapped to direct an adaptation of Don Winslow’s acclaimed novel “The Cartel,” which is rumored to star Leonardo DiCaprio —, its production seems to be part of a trend to address Mexico’s corruption and impunity at the movies, rather than in the courts.

Another low budget flick released last year on the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa divided Mexicans over its depiction of events. The docudrama, “The Night of Iguala,” was criticized for remaining faithful to the government’s account of the massacre, which has been widely contradicted by activists and independent organizations. A change.org petition was launched to boycott the premiere, and the Ayotzinapa student survivors and parents of the victims decried the film as government propaganda.

Mexicans are also tackling sensitive social and political issues with artsy cinema. Recent Mexican films such as “The Golden Dream” and “600 Miles” have won audiences and awards at some of the world’s most renowned film festivals by depicting the plight of immigrants and the flow of illegal firearms across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Directors have also used their unique brand of Mexican humor to poke fun at the government. Last year, “The Perfect Dictatorship” (a term used to describe the PRI’s 71 years in power) satirized President Enrique Peña Nieto’s relationship with the country’s biggest media conglomerates, while mocking his broken English.

Mexican filmmakers who have found success abroad are also using their celebrity to make political statements. Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu used the Oscar stage last year to criticize the Mexican government and immigration opponents in the U.S. Others such as Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, Gael García Bernal, and Diego Luna have made similar statements.

Granted, none of this comes as a surprise. Dramatizing real-life issues is not uniquely Mexican. But the movie trend is tapping into Mexicans’ increasing frustration with impunity. So a night at the movies is no longer just about escapism— it’s a way to vent frustrations and cope with the scandals that are shaking the country.

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