Photo courtesy of Bless Me, Ultima
This week, I got the chance to see Bless Me, Ultima, a film by Carl Franklin, which is based on a controversial novel by Rudolfo Anaya. I am particularly interested in how this movie does at the box office in light of several recent studies that show Latino audiences buying a lot of movie tickets. In 2010, Nielsen reported that 43 million Latinos bought 351 million movie tickets -- an increase from the 37 million that bought 300 million tickets in 2009.
Bless Me, Ultima was especially endearing to me, and it has a quality of familiarity to the Mexican-American (Chicano) because most of us can relate to Healers in our own families. How many of us remember El Ojo (the evil eye egg) being applied to us when we were sick as little children? How many of us remember our abuelitas or grandmothers showing us the importance of plants, vegetables, flowers, and herbs to make healing teas -- and explaining to us how nature takes care of human beings?
This movie tells the story of Ultima, a curandera (healer) and her special relationship with her grandchild. The bond and love expressed in this film was extremely moving. As a woman, I especially enjoyed Ultima's strong matriarchal role and the empowering effect of her on her grandchildren. Although this movie was a drama based on a controversial war, it was not without a subtle sense of Mexican humor. In one scene, the boy is ridiculed in the classroom because his family could not afford a lunch box. It was engaging to see him joining the other group of kids outside, who had similar coffee cans used to hold their lunches, too. There was no doubt they were laughed out of their classrooms, too, and the movie director had a way with showing us the little boy was not alone.
Some people believe curanderas are evil. In all actuality, they are quite similar to the Native American medicine man. The indigenous curanderas merely seeks to restore balance by using holistic herbs from Mother Earth combined with her own unique set of skills, wisdom and life experiences. She is often misunderstood.
A moment of sadness swept over me when the little boy was ridiculed on the school playground because his grandmother was accused of being a bruja or a witch. Even more tragic was that the community would secretly go to the curandera healer for help, but would not acknowledge her in public because of the stigma.
All things considered, I give this movie two thumbs up. The director was able to masterfully give Latinos a connection by incorporating Spanglish into the film, and this is important to us because some of us do not speak fluent Spanish.
After all, we all want to hold on to tradition, and are proud of our heritage. We want to pass on the gold nuggets of our culture to our children -- and although we love and adore American tradition, we believe we can adore and embrace multi-culturalism, too.
Photo Courtesy of Bless Me, Ultima