NEW TO HBO MAX! Amongst many of the issues profoundly dividing this country, the border crisis is undoubtedly in the top three. In 2017, the Texas legislature passed SB4 empowering all Texas police officers to ascertain the immigration status of anyone (of a specific nationality) during any criminal stop, such as the crime of not stopping at a stop sign. Tim Sparks’ feature film, Amaraica, dramatizes this law’s effects on its Latinx community and the undocumented immigrant population in Texas.
The drama is the story of Roberto Hernandez (Aldo Verastegui), an undocumented immigrant who runs his own roofing business and lives for himself and his fellow immigrants. However, Roberto is constantly looking over his shoulder, and with the signing of SB4 into law, he must remain hyper-aware of the police. Because of the anti-undocumented worker sentiment, people are always staring and wondering no matter where he goes. Add in the social stigma he feels trying to see his girlfriend, Nancy (Cassie Shea Watson), who works as a bartender at a local bar.
Amaraica goes through the great lengths an undocumented immigrant is forced to go through to fly under the radar. For Roberto, there always has to be a way of escape. When his crew is working, there must always be hiding spots. Keeping one’s nose clean is vital, so every traffic law must be followed and do nothing to attract attention. Roberto runs his business strictly with cash, always under the table, therefore his partners and clients can take advantage of him and his workers.
To add to Roberto’s problems, he soon discovers that a one-time fling with Juana (Karina Lechuga) nine months prior resulted in her pregnancy. Roberto decides that he must do the right thing to care for his soon-to-be-born daughter, Amara. This raises an entirely new set of problems with Roberto and Juana’s ability to secure a visa or green card.
“…goes through the great lengths an undocumented immigrant is forced to go through to fly under the radar.”
It’s not hard to see that Amaraica is a politically charged drama, highlighting the difficulties the undocumented face in the United States and told from the undocumented perspective. Unfortunately, like a noir, Roberto’s story gets bad before it gets worse. The story just beats him down mercilessly.
I can’t stall any longer, but as a political drama, the writer/director tells a very heavy-handed story. Sparks takes a position that Texas and, for that matter, U.S. Immigration policy foster hatred toward the undocumented and exposes all of the horrific practices along the border, including babies in cages. The struggle is that because the narrative is so politically charged, it’s impossible to separate the plot from its politics.
As a reviewer, I could take a political stance one way or another, and the quality of the movie is now intertwined with my personal feelings about the subject. Saying the film is good or bad is essentially declaring if I’m blue or red. Now, criticism of the drama is reduced to preaching to the choir or poking the bear. So, let me remove politics and say that the performance from Verastegui and Lechuga as Roberto and Juana and their supporting cast are pretty good. The filmmaking and direction from Sparks are exceptional.
But, as mentioned before, it’s the story that is the movie’s strength or weakness. In the end, I felt like it presented the horrors of the crisis and terror families feel when separated by ICE as a result of current immigration policies. So, you’re going to feel outraged watching Amaraica… one of two very different kinds of outrage.
"…you're going to feel outraged… one of two very different kinds of outrage."