Political Film Society - Newsletter #194 - April 1, 2004

April 1, 2004


When The Gatekeeper begins, a talk-show radio host lambastes Mexicans, saying that they account for 90 percent of the 11 million illegal aliens in the United States, 70 percent of schoolchildren in California and 80 percent of the drug traffic. Further, the voice says that all unions are controlled by Hispanics, corporations favor the influx, and the president of México favors an open border policy. For the first time in American history, according to the radio voice, the United States is being invaded, and soon Spanish will be the national language. Jack Green, the talk-show bigot (played by J. Patrick McCormack), also runs a vigilante group, one member of which is Adam Fields (played by the director John Carlos Frey), a Border Patrol officer who is frustrated that the illegals keep coming in despite his twelve years of conscientious service. When the action begins, Adam uses violence while rounding up some illegals. His boss puts him on three-day suspension for showing up late at work and his refusal to file a report when his magazine of bullets is twice found empty. One night, the group decides upon an undercover sting operation, with one member to be smuggled from Tijuana into California, wearing a global positioning device. Filled with ethnic self-hate, based in part on the fact that his Mexican mother, a prostitute, reared him without a father, Adam volunteers. After paying the going rate of 30,000 pesos ($2,750), he crosses the border with ten others; although he is the only one impeccably dressed, his smugglers accept him with alacrity. However, those who arrange the smuggling are prepared with rifles to gun down the vigilantes, who are in league with a Border Patrol officer. The smugglers then transport Adam to a forced labor camp somewhere in San Diego County, where most of the men harvest vegetables, Adam joins previously smuggled José Luis (played by Joe Pascual) in the crystal meth factory, and Eva Ramirez (played by Michelle Agnew), who was smuggled with him, is a housemaid. When Adam realizes that his Caucasian vigilante friends and fiancée have no idea where he is, he tries to escape, but he triggers an alarm that results in his capture; on returning to the camp, he is shot in the leg. José Luis urges Adam to resign himself to "his place"; observing the Americans who run the camp, he notes that they are greedy, never satisfied, and always unhappy. Lenora (played by Anne Betancourt), a longtime captive in the camp, urges him to preserve the purity of his soul. In addition to her occupational slavery, Eva is violated sexually. One day, José Luis dies from overexposure to the acid that is used to make crystal meth, and Eva dies later; Adam's early contempt for the illegals is transformed into respect, especially after the rape and the two deaths. The ending, which is the only upbeat part of the film, is unfortunately implausible, so The Gatekeeper is not a completely noir film. By some coincidence, The Gatekeeper was released in the Los Angeles area during the same month as the publication of Harvard professor Samuel Huntington's book The Hispanic Challenge, which sounds the same drumbeats as McCormack and indeed may fuel even more repressive discrimination against Mexicans. The director well understands the extent of discrimination against Mexicans, as he was born in México yet grew up in San Diego not far from the border. For such a graphic depiction of how border smuggling operates and the existence of occupational slavery in the United States, the Political Film Society has nominated The Gatekeeper for best film exposé and best film on human rights for the year 2004.  MH


Coalmining, a dangerous and dirty business, is the occupation of the protagonists of Blind Shaft (Mang jing). China has plenty of coalmines, some of which operate illegally. Tang Zhaoyang (played by Wang Shuanghao) and Song Jinming (played by Li Yixiang) are veteran coalminers who have come up with a scheme to profit from serial murders in the mineshaft. They befriend a coworker, pretend to be a relative, fake a landslide, then kill him, and then extort money from the coal mine operators, who fear that a police investigation of the death will expose their illegal operation. Then they move on to another mine to repeat the same scam. When the film begins, one such scam is run successfully, so they take their money to town to recruit another patsy, though Song first sends some of his earnings to his family. Soon, Tang discovers clean-cut sixteen-year-old Yuan Feingming (played by Wang Baoqiang), whose father has been away from his family and whose sister needs money to go to school. On the ruse that Yuan is Song's nephew, they manage to get employment at another mine. However, Yuan is a very decent boy. He reads an "interesting" history textbook, refuses to have sex with a prostitute, arranges to send his first paycheck to his sister, and uses his second paycheck to buy a live chicken for the consumption of his two friends as well as neighboring miners. Song, who believes that he and Tang may have killed Yuan's father, does not feel comfortable about killing Yuan, but Tang is more ruthless. The ending, however, is not what the serial killers originally plan. Clearly, the AFLCIO is right that working conditions in some Chinese mines are not up to international standards, notably in matters of worker safety and housing. The film also demonstrates that many men are out of work in China, and they line up awaiting employment much as do illegal aliens around Home Depot stores in the United States. Blind Shaft boldly highlights the illegality of the mines and the gangsters who run them by paying off local Party officials, but that is how capitalism restarted in China in the first place; the communist economy led to starvation, so pragmatic local officials allowed small-scale free market enterprises so long as they would get their cut. The lyrics of the song "Long Live Socialism," as sung in the film, have even changed to celebrate capitalism as the "sexual climax of socialism," which is manifestly present in small-scale shopkeepers at the open markets around the town in the film. As the authorities have banned the film in China because of the implicit political and social commentary, the film's director Li Yang now lives in exile. The Political Film Society has thus nominated Blind Shaft for an award as best film exposé of 2004. MH

The Political Film Society is pleased to announce publication of Working Paper #30, entitled Film Production Techniques and Political Messages. The author is Peter J. Haas of San Jose State University. All Working Papers are available for a donation of $5 each and are listed on the Society's website.