Media abroad: Mexico

On Mexican commercial TV it’s hard to find anyone who really looks Mexican.

Mexican telenovelas, by and large, use actors that fit the European mold. Public service announcements show more average Mexicans – dark or browned-skinned and short. But commercials on TV look like they were filmed in another country: blond children gobbling up cornflakes; tall pale-white beauties marketing makeup.

TV critic Alvaro Cueva, who publishes in the Mexico City daily Milenio, says Mexican TV stations are doing almost nothing to include indigenous people or get their perspective.

“There isn’t the disposition of the government nor the stations to improve it,” Cueva says. “Frankly, the indigenous population just isn’t an attractive market to target for television stations. Mexican television is more a portrait of the aspirations of a society ashamed of its roots.”

The Mexican film industry has become more sensitive, and commercial films have become much better at showing indigenous peoples on their own terms. But there are no major indigenous mainstream film directors.

And while it has become politically incorrect to project negative stereotypes on broadcast television, there have been few efforts to actively promote the perspective of the indigenous population: No reality shows, no major actors, etc.

The wealthiest class includes mostly pureblood Europeans, a mélange of Spanish, French, German. There is the mestizo race that was produced by the intermingling of Spanish and indigenous bloodlines, which is generally middle or loer-middle class. And there are the mostly pureblood Indios, 12.7 million or 12% of the population, the majority of which are illiterate and speak primarily an indigenous tongue.

The country has a long way to go before its screens will look inclusive, but some strides have been made.

The National Institute for Indigenous Languages in February gave an award to Televisa for the inclusion of an indigenous servant character in the telenovela “Barrera de amor” that spoke her native language, náhuatl. The inclusion of an indigenous language was a first for a primetime telenovela.

Twenty government-funded radio stations broadcast in 32 of the nation’s 62 indigenous languages and reach about 5 million indigenous peoples. In 2001 the government approved an Indigenous Rights and Culture Law, which, among other things, established the Commission for the Development of Indigenous People.

The law resulted from the demands of the Zapatista rebels, who rose up in revolt in the southern state of Chiapas in 1994. But under the government of Vicente Fox, the commission has done little to advance things. Other funds have been available from government art and education orgs. (The commission did sponsor one program last year for indigenous filmmakers working mostly on doc projects.)

Some indigenous filmmakers’ docs have been getting raves at the country’s Morelia Film Fest, as well as abroad. However, these docs are easier to see in New York than in Mexico City.

Filmmaker Dante Cerano, who is of P’urehepcha origin, has made the only indigenous feature so far, “Uarhicha en la muerte” (2003), a story about a female shaman that does the bidding of an otherworldly being in order to bring her dead husband back to life.

More than a dozen small media orgs are currently working on indigenous video production and technical training, such as the Oaxaca-based Ojo de Agua Comunicacion founded by Guillermo Monteforte, a key figure in promoting indigenous video.

There is also the bi-national partnership Promedios de Comunicación Comunitaria (Chiapas Media Project), which has been key in putting cameras into the hands of indigenous communities.  The org subtitles the productions into English for fest and conference distribution.

The National Arts Council and National Fund for Culture and the Arts have provided individual grants and travel stipends to indigenous videomakers.

The Education Ministry has made an effort to counter the lack of diversity in the country’s media through the nationally broadcast series “Pueblos de Mexico” (Peoples of Mexico) produced by Media Llum Comunicacion. Show airs on public broadcasters Channel 11 and Channel 22 and segments have been picked up by Televisa and shown on housewife-oriented morning magazine “Nuestra Casa” (Our House) – the first such effort of Televisa to show indigenous produced video.

Late in May, Mexico will host the eighth International Film and Video Festival of Indigenous Peoples in Oaxaca City. Fest is organized by the Latin American Council of Indigenous Peoples’ Film and Communication.

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