I recently went to see Damian John Harper’s debut film, Los Ángeles, at the LA Film Festival. The film’s subject matter sparked my interest as it dealt with the Zapotec community in the village of Santa Ana del Valle. My mother is a Zapoteca de Oaxaca so a lot of the imagery and themes hit close to home for us. Los Ángeles depicts the hardship of indigenous migration to the U.S. in hopes of providing for family back home. A story about a young man unfolds as he becomes involved in gang activity thinking this will assure his safety in the states. After seeing Harper speak I was disappointed that this film had not been conceptualized and directed by a person of color. Harper is an American, Colorado born anthropologist who took interest in the people of Oaxaca. White people’s inclination to document indigenous communities is something I see far too often. Despite Harper’s background I was pleased to see the representation of actual Zapotec voices as those in the film were not trained actors and instead people of the community in Santa Ana del Valle. I saw my family in a lot of the people on screen and overall it dealt with realities that otherwise do not get represented. Though I take issue with the dynamic between white anthropologists and indigenous communities the film made me nostalgic for Oaxaca and reminded me how blessed I am to be brown. It encourages me to document my mother’s story and continue to fight for the rights of my roots.
For more information on the film visit http://www.losangeles-film.com/index.html