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The Spokeswoman ★★★★



Director: Luciana Kaplan

Starring: María de Jesús Patricio Martinez, Fidencio Aldama, Yamili Chan Dzul, Carmen García de Aldama

Released: San Francisco Film Festival 2021

To be declared as The Spokeswoman for the entire indigenous communities in Mexico sounds like an immense burden for one person. But this is exactly the role that Maria de Jesús Patricio graciously accepted as the first indigenous Mexican woman to apply as a presidential candidate in the 2018 elections. The Spokeswoman, as a documentary, follows Maria, known as Marichuy, on this campaign trail as she moves from healing communities, literally as a healer, to attempting to heal them by political means to cure injustices suffered. The Spokeswoman is an inspiring film that highlights the bravery of Maria to achieve this feat in a role that she seems to be her ideal vocation.

Maria chose to fight the wrongs concerning the land owned by indigenous members of the communities who were misled or coerced into selling their land. The various methods employed to threaten such communities are terrifying to discover as Maria visits villages across Mexico that suffered from similar plights. For Maria’s campaign to succeed, there is a requirement for a certain number of signatures to be obtained. This effortless task underpins the film, highlighting Maria’s strength and conviction to the cause.

The film utilises voiceovers to explain that Maria was chosen by the National Indigenous Congress and the EZLN (the Zapatista Army of National Liberation) to act as an independent candidate and effectively to be their Spokeswoman. Maria seems the ideal choice as her calm nature exudes across the screen and her empathy for the citizens. The political world is not familiar to Maria, but The Spokeswoman excels in demonstrating her determination against adversity during the campaign. The camera focuses on Maria’s captivating, expressive face as she delivers speeches to the indigenous communities to ensure that their voices will be heard on the political stage and therefore, every signature counts.

Director Luciana Kaplan’s adopts a light, authentic but immersive filming technique during Maria’s election campaign. The camera plunges the viewers into the heart of the community-led canvassing and emphasises that the fight is also needed to be undertaken as a collective. Therefore, the Spokeswoman’s illumination of the stories of individual community members with families violently attacked is heartbreaking to discover. Kaplan manages to strike the right balance in demonstrating those individual’s voices alongside Maria’s political efforts for fairness against the tactics employed by the larger corporations to develop oil pipelines on the land.

The Spokeswoman does not shy away from revealing that Maria’s efforts at unification across the Yaqui, Maya and Wixárika territories were also subject to negativity.  Emotionally fraught scenes are extremely impactful as Maria describes racist comments levelled towards her. Maria’s struggle to encourage further resistance from the communities is, therefore, at times devastating to watch but emphasise the power of one woman to evoke change. The film exposes the levels of fraudulent voting and corruption overall along Maria’s journey but will hopefully provide that platform for the voices of the indigenous to be heard.

The Spokeswoman is a beautifully powerful albeit frustrating film to observe. However, juxtaposed between the scenes at political rallies and the heartwrenching accounts of family members are images of the vast and diverse land, which is a fascinating directional choice by Kaplan. It is this land and its history and the history of these indigenous communities that are worth the fight in The Spokeswoman. Kaplan’s direction has beautifully captured the land. It underlines the message that the fight for the survival of this planet and these indigenous communities that farmed on such land to assist its survival demand our attention.

The message that The Spokeswoman leaves is a resounding one of hope that will hopefully also raise awareness of those underrepresented, indigenous voices championed by one aspirational woman, Maria Jesús Patricio. The Spokeswoman exemplifies that whilst the journey may have been more important than the outcome, one person, or indeed one woman, can be that beacon of hope to make a difference.

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