Long Gone By, which premiered at HBO’s New York Latino Film Festival over the weekend, is directed by Andrew Morgan and stars Erica Muñoz. The film follows Ana Alvarez (Erica Muñoz), a single mother from Nicaragua living in Indiana. Having made a life in Indiana with her daughter Izzy (Izzy Hau’ula), her world is shaken when a routine check-in ends in a deportation order. The reality Long Gone By portrays is gutwrenching, but it’s just that: reality.
While Ana’s impending deportation is a shock, she hides the truth from her daughter. Ana has brief reprieve when she learns that Izzy has been accepted to Indiana University, her dream school. The promise of knowing her daughter will be building a better future is enough to keep her going. But, they quickly discover that because of Izzy’s immigration status she will not qualify for the scholarships or federal aid she needs while paying out-of-state tuition.
To many, a high tuition cost may may not seem bad. However, Ana already works two jobs, one in a factory and another as a domestic worker, just to make ends meet. As a single mother already working herself to the bone, she can not absorb the full cost of college, crushing Izzy’s dream. Knowing that she is about to be pulled away from her daughter, Ana decides to risk everything in a last chance effort to leave Izzy’s tuition paid before her two-week grace period runs out. While Long Gone By shows a fictional account of a mother turning to crime to ensure the best life for her daughter, it remains an intimate portrait of motherhood as Ana risks everything she has left to make sure that her daughter has the chance at a life she never had.
Long Gone By’s drama and tension is heightened as hundreds of undocumented immigrants are rounded up by ICE and taken from their jobs and their homes, often leaving children to wonder where their parents went as the school day ends. The reality that this film lives in makes Ana’s desperation all the more impactful. Ana is scared of a lifetime away from her daughter, she’s terrified of what will happen if she isn’t there to guide her, and finding the money is the only thing she can control.
Ana and Izzy’s story represents one lived by many families today. Work hard, succeed, and live with the guillotine hanging over that success, ready to fall at any moment. Ana’s choice to steal is one that is legally wrong, but one that the film makes us understand given her circumstance and love for her daughter. Muñoz delivers a visceral and devastating performance as Ana. Fear, love, and determination are on full display as Ana makes her decision to steal the money, but only after she has exhausted every resource
While the dialogue in the film is great, there are moments of silence that deliver emotion more succinctly than any scene’s dialogue. In many situations throughout the film, Ana’s silence is as weighty as her dialogue.
This is highlighted in interactions with the film’s white characters who either threaten, ignore, or belittle Ana as she shares her struggle. These moments made me angry, sad, and left me as gutted as Ana. In one scene with her boss, we see her tell Ana that she can’t help her, because if she did, she wouldn’t know the joy and freedom of doing something herself. Each word hits like a brick as we see Ana’s hope leave her face.
While Long Gone By is an emotional thriller of a mother looking to give her daughter a future, it’s also a story of a daughter just trying to make in a system rigged against her. Izzy represents DREAMers, an undocumented immigrant who entered the United States as a minor and granted residency but not citizenship by the DREAM Act. While this program offers up chances for undocumented students, the cost barrier often leaves students like Izzy dejected and kept from reaching their full potential.
While Long Gone By offers a look into the life of an undocumented mother and daughter with emotional weight, Morgan serving as the film’s writer, director, and producer. This leads me to wonder what this story would have looked like told by a Latinx creative team. While the film is beautifully painful, immigrants, especially the undocumented, are currently facing violence based on false notions that they are criminals. Long Gone By, pushes this narrative.
While showing a family going through fear of deportation, the process of planning to live apart, and the barriers that keep them from achieving the American dream is not as sexy as a woman robbing banks to pay for her daughter’s college, it is real.
Morgan understands the weight of the issues at play in this film, but it suffers from being shot from a perspective that looks to make the very real struggles of families into one solved by crime. The Latinx community doesn’t need to see ourselves shown as turning to crime in desperation while politicians in the highest offices perpetuate the idea of our very existence being criminal, nor while we are victims of racist violence.
This feeling is compounded by the fact that we are not told why exactly Ana is being deported. With the reason left unknown, Morgan leaves speculation open and given the fact that Ana knows just the guy to turn to when crime is the only option, my mind is left reeling. In a film that has been vocal about looking at real issues and fears, it fails to actually address the elephant in the room, opting to instead focus on actions after a deportation order with no context as to how Ana got there. This leaves the audience to believe that she is in fact a criminal, or was in a former life. While the film does explain the hardship she faced in Nicaragua, it misses a large mark.
Overall, Long Gone By is a solid film. It’s emotive and well made with performances that hit. But for me, I can’t pull it out from under the stereotype of desperation leading to crime. While the film is poignant given current events, it also makes it frustratingly off-base as well.
The Long Gone By is currently available on HBO.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.