BERLIN (Reuters) – Pop star and actress Jennifer Lopez swaps her ‘A’-list celebrity for social activism in a new film about the plight of Mexican women working in factories near the U.S. border who are raped and murdered.
“Bordertown”, which reunites the singer with director Gregory Nava, is based on real events and was made to draw attention to what the film’s makers say are deliberate attempts by authorities and companies to cover up the crimes.
In the film, which had its world premiere at the Berlin film festival on Thursday, Lopez plays an ambitious reporter from Chicago who travels to Mexico on an assignment she hopes will get her a cherished overseas posting at her newspaper.
At first cynical and self-serving, her character becomes increasingly concerned by the disappearance of hundreds of women whose graves are unearthed with alarming regularity, while the task of uncovering the truth becomes more and more dangerous.
Antonio Banderas plays a campaigning journalist in the city of Juarez, where the action is set, while Mexico’s Maya Zapata is Eva, the girl who is hunted after she survives a brutal attack and can identify her assailants.
“When they came to me with the project, I immediately became very passionate about it and said that I would do it and I would help them get it made,” Lopez told reporters after a press screening. The film is in the main competition in Berlin.
“What I thought (when I read the script) was, I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe this was going on. And then the more I found out about it the more real it became to me,” the 37-year-old said.
Lopez, who worked with Nava 10 years ago on “Selena”, said the film and what was happening along the U.S.-Mexican border, had changed her perspective on life.
“It changed my life a lot. It changed the way I think. You do it and it does change your life.”
Nava said he could not have raised the money to make the film without Lopez’s involvement. She is also a producer.
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While critical reaction to the thriller may be cool, judging by the boos after its press screening in Berlin, Nava will be hoping Lopez’s name will bolster the box office.
“It was a very, very tough journey to get this movie made, and I have to thank … Jennifer, because if Jennifer had not gotten involved … it would never have been made,” Nava said.
He told reporters he received death threats during the making of “Bordertown”, which he first conceived in 1997, and Lopez and Banderas could not shoot scenes in Juarez because it was deemed too dangerous.
“In making the film we found that there were people who didn’t want the movie to be made, but there were also many more people who supported what we were saying,” he added.
“Bordertown” argues that huge economic interests in the factories where the young women work, called “maquiladoras”, mean that corporations and governments do not want to ruin business by exposing the issue.
Nava, who worked with Amnesty International on the project, said more than 400 women had been murdered.
“These are human beings, with dignity, with lives, with hopes and with dreams but in this great global economy, a few hundred, a few thousand young women get killed — well, it doesn’t matter, let’s just cover it up and get some more.”