Living 15 minutes from the U.S-Mexico border, I’ve seen ridiculous crimes in the news, from health care fraud to marijuana being (very poorly) disguised as limes by smugglers. This does not mean that the fact that we have nine percent of all undocumented immigrants in Texas is the reason behind this. However, in the film Savageland, border town Sangre de Cristo of 57 loses over half its population in a mass murder and all fingers are pointed to Francisco Salazar, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who had been living in the town for years, due to the fact that he was an undocumented immigrant.
Our nation’s current political climate makes Savageland hauntingly relevant, as throughout the film, Mexicans are stereotyped and said to “glorify death … because it’s the only thing they have to look forward to.” The non-Mexican residents of the area surrounding Sangre de Cristo claim they can’t pronounce the town’s name and just call it “Savageland,” because it’s mostly inhabited by “savage” Mexican immigrants. As a Mexican, the stereotypical statements made me laugh, but I know that there are people who truly believe that stereotype, which reminded me that if I encounter such people and I will not be laughing then. Perhaps these stereotypical anti-immigrant white characters were overdone, but these sentiments regarding immigration do exist. The sheriff of Sangre de Cristo claims that illegal immigrants like Salazar only cross the border to wreak havoc and create chaos, which rang familiar to the words “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” said by our current president regarding “bad hombres”. However, a form of objection to this ideology is brought forth in the form of more evidence.
While there is no evidence that could prove Salazar innocent, a roll of film holds what could have saved his life. The court did not see the pictures as viable evidence because the images could have been Photoshopped. The roll of film reveals that Salazar was watching his town being mangled by human-like cannibals and he could do nothing to help. Immediately, those who would be Trump’s “bad hombres” supporters assume that Salazar simply edited the images himself as a cruel joke to the town, even though they are unable to prove that the photographs are false. There’s a deeper significance to this eerie form of evidence, which goes beyond zombies and cannibalism. Ultimately, Salazar is given the death penalty, even after he tells his story to his interrogator and she believes him. It was not Salazar who killed the town of Sangre de Cristo, yet he was given the death penalty, in the same way many immigrants today are often accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Savageland conveys that illegal immigrants are not those murdering towns and raping people, but rather monsters that those whom are strongly opposed to immigration fail to see. The real monsters and rapists are already within our borders and have been for years. We refuse to believe that our problem was already there and seem to be set on believing that immigrants have brought us more problems. Savageland brings this to the forefront in a disturbing but effective manner.
The uneasiness that Savageland provokes is present throughout the whole film and haunts the viewer through disturbing, unnerving scenes. I was reminded of the negative feelings that were present all throughout the labor movement in the 1960s led by Cesar Chavez. We may think that there has been progress on these issues, but Savageland is a haunting reminder that the same sentiments that fueled organizations like the KKK continue to haunt us. While there may have been a few elements that were overdone and slightly tacky, most of the film was well-executed and achieved its goal of causing the viewer discomfort through an eerie music score, gory scenes and an unexpected twist. Immigration is a hotly debated, sensitive issue because it’s shrouded by controversy, yet Savageland bravely brings it to the forefront. However, I had mixed feeling about the way it was delivered.
If I hadn’t known ahead of time that none of the events in Savageland happened, I would have been convinced that it was all real. Savageland is one of those films like Animal Planet’s Cannibal in the Jungle that make one question reality and search Google for answers to no avail. While Savageland may very well take elements from events that have actually happened, it’s a mockumentary. If this piece of information had been presented in the beginning of the film, the viewer’s experience definitely changes. Nevertheless, Savageland is a reminder that the ghost of anti-immigration sentiments is still haunting us to this day — maybe now more than ever — and that we haven’t progressed as much as we may think we have as a nation.
Viri Garcia is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org