Lourdes Portillo is known for her documentary work on Latin America, particularly on the experiences of Latin American women. Her 1986 documentary (co-directed by Susana Blaustein Muñoz) Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo was nominated for an Oscar. In 2001 she released Señorita Extraviada, a haunting film investigating the ongoing serial murders of young women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Since 1993, over 300 young women have been killed in the border town of Juarez, and their murders remain unsolved. With this documentary, Portillo traces the history of these crimes, and the many developments and criticisms surrounding the thus far failed investigation. She speaks with the family members of many of the disappeared young women, as well as government officials involved. Throughout the film, Portillo shows the faces and names of many of these disappeared women; they are students, workers, and mothers, and they have all been brutally murdered.
No one knows for sure who the killers are, but there are layers of government and corporate complicity apparent in Portillo’s documentary. Juarez is a town filled with maquiladoras, which are manufacturing plants owned by foreign companies. These plants tend to employ young women, and many of the Juarez victims featured in this film disappeared from their jobs at the maquiladoras. Because these companies bring large amounts of jobs and revenue to Mexico, they often go unregulated, and many of Portillo’s subjects worry that the crime wave will continue unchecked. Moreover, as a border town, Juarez is a locus of drug trafficking, which is a further source of violence.
Since the release of Señorita Extraviada in 2001, the murders have sadly continued. The suggested reading below includes recent new coverage of the situation as well as work more directly concerning the filmmaker.
Watch the film on POV until May 31, 2011.
Rodriguez, Teresa. 2007. Daughters of Juárez. New York: Atria Books.
Washington Valdez, Diana. 2006. The Killing Fields. Los Angeles: Peace at the Border.
Michelle J. Martinez. “Cinema Chicana: An Interview with Lourdes Portillo.” Journal of Film and Video 62.1 (2010): 23-30. Project MUSE. Web.
Caitlin Adams 4/24/11