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Mexican Film Defrocks the Political Pimping of a Massacre

By: Elena Toledo - @NenaToledo - Aug 28, 2015, 9:32 am
In Mexico City's Plaza of the Three Cultures hundreds of young students died at the hands of the state.
In Mexico City’s Plaza of the Three Cultures, hundreds of young students died at the hands of the state. (Wikimedia)

EspañolRed Dawn is a film I have watched several times, because its themes never cease to be relevant: youth, ideology, and politics. While the film takes place at the Plaza of the Three Cultures in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, it could have been set anywhere in Latin America.

The movie portrays the Tlateloco massacre carried out by the Mexican military in 1968, killing hundreds of student activists. “We don’t want the Olympics, we want a revolution,” they chanted, demanding the release of political prisoners and the demilitarization of several universities.

Red Dawn depicts the consequences of political leaders' manipulation of young activists.
Red Dawn depicts the consequences of political leaders’ manipulation of young activists. (Amazon)

It happened on Wednesday, October 2, as Mexico was living through its darkest hour under the rule of the conservative Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) — the perfect dictatorship, as Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa once said.

The movie’s director, Jorge Fons, filmed Red Dawn in 1989, on a low budget and under the Mexican government’s radar. With the PRI still very much in control, the government banned the film’s release once it was completed. When it was finally screened publicly 10 years later, the Ministry of Interior censored some of the scenes.

The movie depicts a middle-class family living in an apartment next to the Plaza of the Three Cultures: a selfless mother, a father with close ties to the city government, a grandfather who served in the army, two younger siblings, and two university students who embody the impassioned activism of the day.

The two students, influenced by communist ideology, believed standing up to the government was the solution to Mexico’s woes.

On October 2, the country awoke to rumors that student activists were about to hold an enormous demonstration. The tension culminates the following morning with bloodshed, terror, and persecution, and with the residents of nearby housing complexes as witnesses to the abuses.

Despite similar lessons throughout history, political groups keep manipulating students with ideology to achieve their own ends. What they want is to take power at any cost, and they don’t care if their actions endanger innocent and impressionable people, who genuinely admire those idealized personalities, utopian ideas, and half truths frequently disseminated by their leaders.

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Fifty years later, it seems we’re bound to let the same thing happen again in Mexico after the Ayotzinapa massacre. We can see it too in student movements across Central America. In Honduras, for example, political parties are sending the youth to the streets to fight for their petty power struggles.

No ideology, or struggle for political or “social” ends, justifies violence. Neither is it justified because someone thinks or acts differently, let alone when an intolerant government is the one exerting extreme violence. Freedom of expression must prevail, even when they clash with our deepest beliefs.

Unlike other films that address the underlying causes, Flares in the Sky — as it was originally titled — does not dwell on the political events leading up to the slaughter. It is limited to a handful of symbols that allow us to grasp the context. The plot is much more about what it meant, emotionally, for Mexican families. In the end, that is what brings us all together.

Latin America celebrates this movie as a testament to Mexico’s 1968 student movement, leaving important lessons for generations to come. They will know that when it comes to power, both the ruling party and the opposition will put morality aside.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a supporter of the Communist Party, like the students in the film, a conservative, or a moderate; if your ideas differ from those at the top, they will always try to shut you down.

Let freedom instead be the guiding principle of political struggle, with life upheld above all else.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

Elena Toledo Elena Toledo

Educator by trade, social-media apprentice, activist for a democratic Honduras, and free thinker. Follow her on Twitter @NenaToledo.