I’ve sung the praises of A Better Life here before, but I really think that to appreciate it, you should watch it with Miss Bala, a terrific movie out of Mexico based on the true story of a beauty queen who became the pawn of a drug cartel. As I explain in The Atlantic this week:
In Carlos’s case, the efficient machinery set up by the United States government to deport undocumented workers has essentially no room for appeal. The volunteer lawyer who visits him recognizes that Carlos has all the makings of a solid citizen, but none of the resources to fight for an incredibly rare exemption to the rules that say he must be returned to Mexico. The most the system can bend is to give Carlos a moment with his son before shipping the gardener off in shackles.
If a state with something to offer citizens its citizens can afford this kind of callousness, a state that couldn’t care less about its people can be all the more harsh and arbitrary. And it turns out not to matter to the Mexican government that Laura’s been coerced, threatened with death, and raped. Treating her as a collaborator with the cartel makes for a more interesting news story, so after she tips off a powerful general of a coming attack, she’s imprisoned, trotted out before the news cameras, and ultimately abandoned on the streets of Baja California
Miss Bala is a great, unnerving story about Mexico, but it’s also a fascinating antidote to the Strong Female Character trope. Laura does tremendously brave things, and survives through intense violence, but instead of a cool, detached competence, we feel the terror that would be ours if we found ourselves in the same situation. There’s a morality to feeling the horror of the bad things you do to stay alive because you have no other choice.