Not Even James Bond Can Rescue Mexico’s Image

MEXICO CITY — The news went viral on social networks, while the main print and electronic media trumpeted it on front pages and in prime time as a brilliant coup for bolstering Mexico’s international image: James Bond, the super-macho, all-terrain star of the spy world, had descended on Mexico City for two weeks in the midst of staged Day of the Dead festivities.

The government hailed the filming of the opening sequence of “Spectre,” which is primed to be the 26th Bond blockbuster, on locations in and around the Zocalo, the historical center of Aztec Tenochtitlan, in colonial Mexico City and the present-day capital. The set is a quick skip from the Great Temple, where, in pre-Hispanic times, high priests gouged out the hearts of victims stretched over a sacrificial stone and displayed the severed heads of war captives on a massive wooden skull rack that resembled an abacus.

The government of Mexico desperately seeks good publicity these days. The lengths it is willing to go for that were revealed by the website Tax Analysts in March, drawing on internal Sony documents hacked and made public by an unidentified organization possibly linked to the North Korean government: Mexican businessmen and officials offered Sony and MGM millions of dollars in in financial incentives and possible tax rebates to portray the country in a favorable light.

Among “elements needed to preserve the Mexican deal” listed in the leaked memo was the inclusion of a recognizable Mexican actress. Stephanie Sigman, star of “Miss Bala,” a 2011 thriller about an aspiring beauty queen kidnapped by drug traffickers who is forced to work as a mule, was cast in a small part.

The irony of casting an actress whose image is so tied to the ongoing Mexican tragedy may be lost on international audiences, but not on Mexicans. According to a UN report, 63 percent of women in Mexico have suffered violence at the hands of men. Femicides are on the rise with six women murdered every day, according to the National Citizen Femicide Observatory. Among Latin American nations, Mexico leads in the number of disappeared women forced into sexual slavery.

The government’s requirement to film at least four minutes of the film in Mexico City was satisfied by the opening scene, with Bond “taking off into the Mexican skyline” in a helicopter. The portrayal of Mexican police was to be favorable, according to the hacked documents — the opposite of the reality exposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto himself when he called for disbanding police forces possibly infiltrated by organized crime in 1,800 municipalities throughout Mexico, beginning in Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán and Tamaulipas, states that lead the country in extreme violence.

Why should projecting a distorted and unrealistic image of Mexico in a Bond film matter so much to officials in a country where everyone knows the reality: that this is a country where 43 rural teacher’s college students disappeared half a year ago, into a vast archipelago of the dead, where myriad clandestine graves yield remains that are never identified?…

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