It seems as if the film industry still has no faith in Latinx actors being able to carry films as lead actors. Earlier today, the trailer for The Curse of La Llorona dropped online. The film, which is directed by Michael Chaves and produced by James Wan, stars Linda Cardellini as Anna Garcia. Anna is a social worker who, along with her two younger kids, are being terrorized by La Llorona after ignoring the warning from a mother who has been accused of child endangerment. The movie is set to be released in the United States on April 19th, 2019.
Now, I’m overjoyed that Mexican folklore is being brought into the big screen. Other adaptations of the story have been done over the years, but having someone like James Wan attached to a project like this already attracts my attention. I’m also happy to see that the film does in fact cast many Latinx actors. However, my one dilemma with the film is the fact that they cast Linda Cardellini.
Before I can even get to the issues of casting a white female actor in a Mexican folklore movie adaptation, it makes sense to give some background on the story of La Llorona. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story of La Llorona, also known as The Weeping Lady or The Wailing Woman, there are different versions of the story depending on the family telling or where they’re located. When I was younger was I was told the story of the woman named Maria.
Maria came from a poor family who lived in a small village. One day, a nobleman traveled through her village and saw noticed Maria’s beauty. They both fell in love and immediately got married. Maria’s family was thrilled to hear that their daughter was marrying into a wealthy family but the nobleman’s father disapproved of the marriage. The couple decided to settle in the village to avoid trouble with his family.
After some time, Maria gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. However, her husband was always traveling and rarely spent any time with them. Any time that he was home, he would spend time with his children but completely ignore Maria. She knew that her husband was falling out of love with her. One day, her husband left and never returned.
Sometime later, Maria and her children were walking by the river when she noticed a familiar carriage. Inside, she saw her husband with a much younger and beautiful woman. Out of rage, Maria picked up her children and threw them into the river, causing them to drown. Having realized what she had done, she threw herself into the river in hopes of saving her children. Maria was stricken with grief and began to run through the streets screaming and wailing. Maria spent days looking for her children, refusing to rest or eat. Eventually, due to not eating, she died near the riverbanks. It’s said that after starving herself she resembled a walking skeleton.
Soon after her death, her restless spirit began to appear along riverbanks as she was still searching for her children. Her screams terrorized many of the villagers. It’s said that if you hear her crying, turn and run the other way. Her cries were said to bring people misfortune or even death. Since she was still looking for her children, Maria would often confuse other children with her own and drown them in hopes of being reunited.
Part of what makes this story so memorable is what she yells as she’s looking for her children. She cries out “Ay, mis hijos” which translates to “Oh, my children” in English. This story served as a way for parents to scare their children into not being out too late. Even just writing the story gives me chills.
I grew up hearing this story from my mom and grandmother. They would always tell this story twice a year during Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos. I was the only one out of my siblings and cousins who could never stay for the entire story. It still is one of the most unsettling memories of my childhood. However, now as an adult, I can understand and appreciate that it’s a part of my culture.
It’s one of the biggest Mexican folklore stories that’s been passed down from generation to generation. The story of La Llorona is one of the reasons I decided to become an English literature major and inspired my love of all things horror. I’m willing to assume that almost all Mexican/Mexican American communities know one iteration of the story.
With all of this in mind, when I heard that the movie had cast Linda as the lead, I was already upset. Whitewashing movie characters or a cultural story isn’t something new. With The Curse of La Llorona, having a white female lead in a Mexican folklore story instead of a Latinx actress makes one thing clear to me: Studios don’t believe that people will want to watch your film unless the lead character is white.
Cardellini being in the film doesn’t just signify whitewashing of a cultural tale. Her character’s surname is Garcia, which is typically a Latinx last name. It’s somehow implied that she’s meant to have some sort of connection with being Latinx but it’s not made clear. Even when a story has nothing to do with white culture, a white actor or actress must be at the center of the film. This is a sign that screams “Ethnicity just doesn’t sell”.
In an article published back in April by NBC News, the Motion Picture Association of America put out a report which stated that Hispanic-Latino filmgoers went to the movies an average 4.5 times during 2017. The report also stated that Latinos, who make up 18% of the U.S. population, comprised 24% of frequent moviegoers. This puts that Latinx population as the biggest non-white movie-going audience, according to the study.
In terms of predicting the audience for The Curse of La Llorona, it could be assumed that the percentage of Latinx viewers who see the film will be greater than any other ethnic group. Since they’ll be the largest minority group in the U.S. to see the film. In my opinion, the fact that the story is being told through the perspective of a white actress isn’t something that they’ll be too excited to see.
What sort of hope is there for the Latinx community if we get written out of our own stories? Ultimately, this is a film that I definitely will not be seeing, given what has been revealed. I refuse to support anything that uses a Mexican folktale but doesn’t center Latinx representation. I would like to hope that issues like this can be avoided in the future. Latinx representation matters and our stories are important.