starring Monica Betancourt, Kailei Lopez, Irlanda Moreno, Justin Avila
written and directed by Patricia Vidal Delgado
by Walter Chaw Shot in black-and-white, Patricia Vidal Delgado's La Leyenda Negra is filled with good intentions. It's the story of El Salvadoran Aleteia (Monica Betancourt), a high-school senior studying with a "Temporary Protected Status" that's about to be rescinded under Trump's xenophobic, white-nationalist administration. She has a scholarship to UCLA, the film is quick to remind, but she still has to make it through graduation. Easier said than done when her school's curriculum seems set on teaching antiquated attitudes towards imperialism and the genuine evil of nations that have devastated whole populations in the name of Manifest Destiny. There's a classroom scene where Aleteia corrects her white teacher's pronunciation of her name before laying into her for perpetuating the party line. Aleteia is meanwhile developing a crush on Rosarito (Kailei Lopez--a budding star, perhaps), a shy girl in the sway of a monstrous bully, Monica (Irlanda Moreno), who does not approve of potentially losing an acolyte to the interloper.
The picture reminded me a lot of Chris Eyre's Skins, in ways good and bad. Like it, La Leyenda Negra means well--and small moments, such as an exchange on a bus that ends with Rosarita giving Aleteia her phone to put her number in, feel authentic and lived-in. Yet it sacrifices any potential for suture when it's pitched either to the choir or to Get Out white folks wanting to feel like they've given their monthly tithe to the church of popular outrage. Even its title, taken from Julián Juderías's book, speaks to the "unfavourable" image of Spain cultivated throughout the sixteenth-century during a specific period of anti-Protestant reform. Out of context, the use of the term is very specifically a reference to how Spain was unjustly demonized. In the context of the film, I think it's meant to take on the broader meaning that history is always written by the oppressors. But during a scene where Spanish Conquistadores are discussed, suddenly the intent becomes muddy. That's La Leyenda Negra in microcosm, as it happens: it's juggling so much outrage and portent that it doesn't have room to follow any single thread through to its end. Frustrating, because you want it to be better. Programme: NEXT