The Curse of La Llorona Meets the Curse of Hollywood Whitewashing

April 30th, 2019

Horror films are having a moment. The Curse of La Llorona is the most recent studio-released horror film to perform extremely well with audiences, thereby ensuring the industry will continue to release more genre films. Let’s hope in the future they do a far more effective job at telling stories that accurately reflect and respect the diversity of women.

Llorona features a female lead—good news for audiences who appreciate the importance of seeing women’s stories on the big screen. Horror films often feature strong females in the leading roles which may explain why women comprise a majority of the audience for horror films. Llorona respects the tradition of featuring a woman as a heroic character but lamentably misses the opportunity to feature a Latina character in the same positive light.

The film tells the story of Anna, a young woman recently widowed when her policeman husband is killed in the line of duty. A social worker now faced life with the vigorous demands of being a single working mother, she’s taken off a case when she arrives late to work after struggling to take her children to school. Being punished professionally for trying to be a responsible parent is a predicament to which many working mothers can no doubt relate. So far, so good. The film takes care to show us a realistic and respectful portrayal of a working mother.

Alas, it does not extend the same courtesy to Latina mothers in the film, who are depicted as mentally unstable, vengeful, and violent. True, this depiction is faithful to the original folktale of La Llorona, in which a woman drowns her children in a fit of rage over her husband’s infidelity and is thereafter condemned to an eternity of sorrow, endlessly seeking the souls of her lost children. Nevertheless, couldn’t this contemporary retelling have depicted the film’s sole Latina character in a more admirable, or at least respectful, manner?

Instead, Patricia Alvarez is depicted as a wild-eyed, unhinged mess of a human being who may or may not be intoxicated and whose sons have gone missing. Anna is sent to her home to investigate. Though capable of speaking fluent English, Patricia has a bizarre tendency to rant and rave in Spanish and is never presented as anything beyond “the other.” When she babbles unintelligibly, it only reinforces the notion she is not equal to the other adult female character in the film, thus alienating her from the audience. We are never allowed to feel sympathy or compassion for her plight.

Patricia is also presented as a vengeful character who enters into a twisted bargain of sorts with the La Llorona herself in order to punish Anna. Again, why the vilification of the Latina? Did they think that an audience would be comfortable with such a depiction since Hollywood all too often presents Latinas in a demeaning manner? A better choice would have been to have these two female characters join forces and heroically fight La Llorona together. At least, they could have redeemed the character of Patricia, giving her more depth and substance.

Such a missed opportunity. The Curse of the La Llorona could have been not only a truly terrifying  and effective horror film but also a powerful statement against a patriarchal colonial system that oppresses women and renders them disposable. It could have featured an admirable Latina character in a leading role, leaving audiences of all backgrounds cheering on two female protagonists bravely battling evil to protect their children. Hopefully, the financial success of this film and the fact that a large Hispanic audience turned out for this film (according to an article in DEADLINE) will encourage the major studios to tell culturally sensitive stories that honor Latina traditions and beliefs and maybe even allow members of their community to star in their own stories.




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