'La Soga' star responds to attacks on movie's depiction of the Dominican Republic
In the last few days, my blog has been full of charges and counter-charges involving "La Soga," a taut crime thriller that was the first film from the Dominican Republic to play the Toronto Film Festival. I think it's a movie that deserves to be seen in the U.S., even if its view of crime and corruption in the Dominican Republic has clearly hit a raw nerve, especially with many natives of that country. As you can see from the heated comments to the post, many people have strong feelings about the movie, which stars Manny Perez -- who also wrote the film -- as a government-paid hit man who tries to come to grips with his past while living the life of an assassin, bumping off drug dealers and other incorrigible bad guys.
Many readers, including several people who'd actually seen the film, defended the picture's graphic portrait of crime in the island country, saying (as one commenter put it) that the film was "haunting and beautiful all at once." But many other readers are angry at Perez, and of course at me, the journalist who wrote the story, for focusing on the issues of violence and corruption. No one has minced words. One reader called the film's portrayal "ridiculous" while another said it was "a fake representation of the Dominican Republic." Others called the film "a distortion of reality," while another reader, RoboCop, said "hopefully Manny and [filmmaker] Josh Crook were just clowning around and high on drugs when they did this interview."
According to a number of media accounts, including this in-depth piece by CNN, corruption is rampant in the D.R. In fact, responding to charges that the organizations supposedly in charge of fighting drug traffic and corruption were actually deeply involved in it, Dominican President Leonel Fernandez recently fired 700 police officers and more than 30 military and police generals, including the former head of DNCD, the nation's top antidrug agency. Yet, why does a film that depicts similar crime and corruption prompt such a storm of protest? I spoke again with Perez, who grew up in Baitoa, a small town outside of Santiago, but now lives in New York's Washington Heights, to get his reaction to the critical comments.
"First off, I want to make it clear that we could have never gotten the movie made without the help of the people of the local communities there," he told me. "Dominicans may be poor, but they are kind and generous. They'd bring us food and make coffee for the crew. But I didn't exaggerate anything. What you see in the movie are things that have actually happened. I think people are upset because we're showing the country's dirty laundry, the kind of things people want to brush under the carpet. The Dominican Republic is a third-world country and sometimes people do what they need to do to survive. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are just in denial about what has gone on in the country."
Perez suspects that much of the criticism is class based. "The rich and educated class doesn't want someone like me to talk about the reality in the D.R. They think it gives the country a bad name and ruins its image. But they should face the reality. Vin Diesel might have had an easy time when he shot his film short down there because he had plenty of money to spend and keep things running smoothly. We didn't have any money to pay people off, so we saw the reality.
"I just wish people would see the film. It doesn't say the Dominican Republic is a horrendous place. The theme of the story isn't just about violence and corruption. It's also about hope and redemption, about a guy who loses his innocence, but finds his heart. You know, we have an expression in the D.R. that goes, 'Don't try to cover the sun with one thumb.' It means you should always face reality. And that's what this film does. It faces the truth, but there are always people who don't want to see the truth out in the open, even though that's the best place for it to be."