The Mapuches checked Spain’s conquest of Chile’s south for three centuries. The indigenous community is now exploring new ways of fighting back against outside domination and abuse.
Set to premiere as part of Al Jazeera English’s Witness series, “Mapuche Teen Rap Queen” draws a thoughtful portrait of Millaray Jara Collio, best known as MC Millaray. Through her lyrics, the Mapuche rapper, just 15, pushes back against the systemic violence the Mapuche community has endured over the last centuries – and still suffers down to this present day.
Directed by Miguel Soffia, a renowned Chilean documentarist who has worked with BBC, Netflix and Al Jazeera, the documentary, produced by We Are South, portrays not only Millaray’s indigenous community but the social protest movement which exploded in Chile from 2019.
It’s a portrait of a singer with profound convictions from a generation that is inheriting the historical legacy of a social outburst, driven by righteous indignation, that has swept Latin America and is having a profound impact on the future of Chile.
Millaray’s convictions offer run up against the still stark reality of the indigenous experience in Chile as the rest of Latin America. A reality that has been obscured, overlooked or too readily accepted. “Often we are too accomplices of the silence,” she says. Millaray’s songs and the documentary itself are vibrant reminders that even in these bleak times of police and state repression, there is always the breath to resist.
Variety interviewed Soffia in the run-up to the doc feature’s premiere:
Your editing weaves the portrait of a young woman with that of the historic moment that Chile is experiencing. What was your guideline during the writing and rewriting process via montage?
Millaray turns 15 the day the documentary begins. She is at a moment of her life where inevitably her references and her cultural identity are defining her. We understood together with the creative producer Lali Houghton, the editor Sebastián Hernandez and the commissioner of Al Jazeera English, Horia El Hadad, that our guide would be the maturing of Millaray through her witnessing the situation that the people of her nation live. We had an international team: we work in central Chile and in Mapuche territory, we edited in Colombia, Peru and Qatar. This allowed us to take the necessary distance to carry both stories, that of Millaray and that of the social movement, with sensitivity and at the same time a unifying perspective that could speak to the whole world about what is happening in Chile today.
As a portrait of both Millaray and the protests in Chile, it’s impossible not to touch on social networks and the huge amount of images that filled virtual spaces with the reality of the streets. What was the approach to this material? What did you find in that selection process?
As a documentary filmmaker it was impossible not to link from the audiovisual to the social processes that took place in the country since October 2019. It was precisely when living and feeling the pulse of this political awakening that it seemed impossible to tell a story that omitted the world of protest on social networks. It was there that I met MC Millaray who manages with impressive clarity to advocate for a cause made invisible and to which no one should be indifferent: Violence against Mapuche children. She is part of that generation where there are no borders, where Instagram, Facebook and Tik Tok are the platforms on which her lucidity can go viral, where Millaray communicates the meaning of this struggle to those of us in cities who ignore the injustices that define the processes that happen in our countries.
From the Spanish invasion, the Mapuche community has always had a very clear and active reaction to the systematic violence that, like many other indigenous communities, they have had to endure for generations. What did you learn when portraying this new Mapuche generation?
The Chilean social outbreak took the Mapuche struggle as a banner when it came out to protest against a system unworthy of the population. The Mapuche nation has faced that repressive treatment for 200 years, only that for them it was much worse. Until now their genocide was made invisible with ineffective bureaucracy and policies, which has escalated to the point of inevitable conflict that we live today.
The new Mapuche generation claims the spiritual meaning and millenary roots of their culture using the internet. They have the clarity that there is no time to ignore the great debt of the Latin American states
to their native peoples. Greta Thunberg taught us that youth is more awake than ever. MC Millaray uses her voice to deliver a message that goes beyond protest and stylishly illuminates questions that no one takes care of.
Millaray speaks with a sharp and sometimes devastating clarity. Now as time begins to pass and the dimension of the social upheaval that occurred in Chile can be observed with a certain distance, what are your thoughts on the historical moment the country is going through?
Chile woke up. The demand for a more dignified reality is installed in society. One that takes care of historical debts with the first peoples. Personally, I am moved to witness that Chile is writing a new constitution in a democratic way for the first time in its history, with parity, and it is a Mapuche woman who presides over this process. It has had to mature and move from the euphoria of protest to the responsibility of a work of political imagination. We are creating the foundations of the country that all its inhabitants deserve. We know that it will not be a short or easy process. The hard right is gaining strength, but in the face of this sort of tantrum by large land owners that do not want to transform their privileges into common rights, there is a majority that is no longer intimidated. Like Millaray, millions are committed to honoring the wisdom that resides in this region of the world and generating a new tale of democracy made possible.