Hubert Collins, American Renaissance, July 23, 2015
Cartel Land, directed by Matthew Heineman, produced by Kathryn Bigelow, 2015, 1 hour 38 minutes
The documentary Cartel Land has an interesting premise: Two different vigilante groups, one in southern Mexico and one in southern Arizona, are depicted in their quest to combat–or at least contain–the murderous drug cartels that so often make the news.
The trailer made me wonder whether Cartel Land would prove to be a bit race realist in spite of itself–like that anti-catcalling feminist video that circulated last fall, in which all the boorish men were black or Hispanic. But when I looked over some of the director’s past work–a documentary about millennials that culminates with the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and something about healthcare–I worried that I was about to watch a Michael Moore imitator trying to adopt the hip edginess of Vice by heading south of the border.
As it turned out, the film was neither of those things. The whites in Cartel Land are not depicted as slovenly racists or dangerous radicals, and likewise the Mexicans are not depicted as impeccably heroic or cruelly downtrodden. But the race realism I was hoping for also never materialized. The trouble is not overt egalitarian agitprop, but a more subtle, and far more common depiction of whites as representing a kind of cultural nothingness.
To begin with, about 75 percent of the movie is shot in Mexico, and the richness of detail in the Mexican side of the story is completely absent from the Arizonan side. Dr. Mireles, the Mexican protagonist, is shown not only working with the band of vigilantes that he has put together, but also at his day job as a general practitioner in a rural clinic. “Nailer,” the Arizonan protagonist, is never humanized in the same way. Similarly, Dr. Mireles is filmed spending time with his family and his friends while Mr. Nailer merely mentions that he has children, and is occasionally shown with a girlfriend about whom we know nothing. We see a few followers but we don’t learn their stories.
In Mexico, many members and supporters of Dr. Mireles’ vigilante group are interviewed about their lives and give harrowing stories of victimization at the hands of the drug cartels. In Arizona, Mr. Nailer explains that he used to be a drug addict, then recovered, then couldn’t find a job in construction because of immigration, and then founded his border-patrol group. At no point does he talk about crime or cultural disintegration, and no members of his posse explain their motives, or talk about victimization at the hands of illegal immigrants–something that many have probably experienced. The one exception is a man who says something not very eloquent about why having two races in one nation is a bad idea.
While the Mexican vigilantes are filmed relaxing at pools, flirting with women, and discussing how to achieve their dream of living in a more peaceful and stable society, the whites are shown sitting around watching TV, chain smoking in the desert, and cleaning their weapons. There are many scenes of excitement in the Mexican parts of the documentary: shoot-outs with gang members, car chases, and confrontations between police and vigilantes vying for control of a town. There is nothing similar in the Arizona segments. In Mexico, viewers are treated to the intricacies of the legal gray zone in which the vigilantes work–it is illegal for them to own firearms, for example–and how they navigate it. In Arizona, the viewer is left wondering about the legal status Mr. Nailer’s group, Arizona Border Recon.
The list of differences could go on and on. In Mexico, we see people of every age group and plenty of women; in Arizona, it is all men (with one exception) between the ages of 25 and 50. We see the troubled personal lives of the Mexican characters while the whites remain two-dimensional. Although the movie never explores the reasons why the Mexican government is so weak, its inability to protect citizens is depicted over and over. On the Arizona side, the government is hardly ever mentioned.
The whites are not depicted as rubes with a potential for evil, as one might have expected. If the director wanted to make them out to be monsters, he could have added plenty of footage of them shooting at the range and could have interviewed the SPLC about them. He could also have made the Mexicans look better by editing out Dr. Mireles’s affairs with younger women and the shameful internal power struggles of his vigilante group. The issue at hand is something much more subtle than a leftist smear. It is like the white college student who once told the late Bad Eagle, “I don’t see anything about my culture to be proud of. It’s all nothing. My race is just nothing.”
Whites in Cartel Land are simply uninteresting people, with minimal passions or motivations–they wander the desert looking for illegals, watch TV, and smoke. In one brief, undramatic scene they round up a few stranded illegals and turn them over to the border patrol. The Mexicans, on the other hand, are risking their lives to protect their homes, have lost family members to vicious criminals, want to reform the government, have cherubic babies, and tumble into ill-advised love triangles. In short, the Mexicans are people in full, while the whites are ghosts from suburbia who wandered down to the border.
The documentary is well-made, but readers of American Renaissance have little reason to watch it for any kind of racial insight or entertainment. It simply reminds us of something we already know: In the arts, whites exist objectively, not subjectively.
Cartel Land can be seen in a limited number of theaters.