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By Ron Wells | January 28, 2002

You know, normally, Film Threat is the kind of venue where we’ll readily crack jokes about a film, ANY film. This time, however, there is absolutely, positively NOTHING funny about what’s up on the screen. “Senorita Extraviada” is about the rape/torture/murder of young women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. LOTS of women. Appallingly, the murders are so frequent and the police so ineffectual that it’s hard to tell when the murders really began or how many victims there have been to date. Have there been 200 killings? 300? 400? By now, even the killers have probably lost count. This may have started as long ago as the early 1980’s, though the massacre didn’t really escalated completed out of control until the past decade. Why hasn’t this madness been stopped? If this were happening at this rate in any other modern industrial nation, you’d expect there to be national outcry until the perpetrators were dead or behind bars. What the hell is going on? Why hasn’t this happened? Well, in the year it took to shoot “Senorita Extraviada” (Spanish for “Missing Young Woman”), that’s just what writer/director Lourdes Portillo attempts to find out.
Sure, there are the usual suspects; the culture and corruption on the part of police and politicians play into it. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, however. The biggest roadblock to ending the murders seems to be economics. The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) led directly to the construction of 400 maquiladoras in Juarez; tax-free assembly plants using three-dollar-a-day labor to manufacture goods largely for American companies and the American market. I’m not talking just about cheap clothes or household items. The more high tech plants make cell phones and X-Boxes. The plethora of work has also led many young women to leave the poorer countryside to the city to find jobs here. Apparently, the enlarged female population has attracted more than a few human predators as well. Sadly, with all the money coming into the country, the government isn’t keen to rock the boat with any major scandals, even the ongoing murder of hundreds of young women. Thankfully, a burgeoning local women’s movement and the concerted efforts of Portillo won’t let the deaths go unnoticed.
Look, I know this documentary isn’t easy to watch. It will make you angry. That’s good; it should make you angry. Unfortunately, as U.S. citizens, there’s only so much we can do. We can either badger our government to lean on Mexico, or we can badger the companies, like Microsoft, who choose to exploit the resources of this area without taking steps to safeguard the lives of the individuals who have to live there and assemble their products. Still, as “Senorita Extraviada” teaches us, somebody has to do something.

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