restricted access María llena eres de gracia: Fairy Tale, Drug Culture, and the American Dream
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MARÍA LLENA ERES DE GRACIA: FAIRY TALE, DRUG CULTURE, AND THE AMERICAN DREAM by Aldona Bialowas Pobutsky Oakland University THE film María llena eres de gracia (2004), directed by Joshua Marston, became a big success both commercially and critically. It received over twenty awards in festivals such as Sundance, Cartagena, and Berlin, and was considered a “Top Ten Film” by the American Film Institute and “One of the Top Foreign Films of 2004” by the National Board of Review. Likewise, in terms of its box office success, it has placed within the top ten Spanish-language films of all time, among such blockbusters as Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver (2006) or Carlos Carrera’s El crimen del Padre Amaro (2002). Considering such an overwhelming visibility in the international cinema market of a film both directed and protagonized by newcomers, one may wonder what exactly contributes to its break-through success. Is it its folklorization of Colombian small-town tropics and the economic misery of the Other, or its portrayal of drug culture, whose tentacles spread from village settings to the boroughs of New York? Or perhaps, it is the plot itself that speaks to the general public through a cornucopia of commonplaces that consciously (or unconsciously) make the spectators feel good about its approach to resolving the events? Most importantly, however, what kind of construct of Latin American cultural representativity is being channeled through a film that has proven to be so appealing to the public at large? This essay will explore the ways in which María llena eres de gracia complies with metropolitan tastes by examining its two most salient characteristics: recurrent fairy-tale motifs that permeate its structure and shape the fate of its eponymous heroine, as well as what Mabel Moraña has called a “neoexoticism” (236), to refer to othering representations 27 of Latin America in present-day hegemonic cultural discourses. Focusing on these two characteristics will serve to answer the fundamental question in the essay, namely, what kind of ideological model of “Latin America” is being served through the film’s overwhelming success among transnational spectators and critics alike, and how its point of enunciation – typically obscured in the era of globalization – may have influenced the mode of representation. Even though the film seems fully embedded in Colombian drug subculture since it features a cocaine mule as its central heroine, one cannot ignore the similarities between the plot and certain tropes of classic fairy tales. More specifically, the film shares numerous motifs with “Cinderella,” which, as Jack Zipes describes the tale, is a story about a young woman who either learns to take destiny into her own hands or is a fool for not taking any steps towards self-fulfillment (The Brothers 144). The similarities between Cinderella and her Colombian counterpart start with the unfairly arrayed alliances at home, where her evil sister and tyrannical mother nag María to work harder to support the household while they themselves appear to be far less industrious . The resemblance continues through the most crucial bodily trial of “fitting ” that brings about the heroine’s liberation from her oppressive surroundings and, finally, the movie arrives at a customary happy ending despite the crime-infested background and the realistic approach to the drug industry in Colombia that usually precludes any positive resolution. But unlike the widespread Walt Disney version of the passive Cinderella who relies on her suitor’s succor, the protagonist walks in the steps of Cinderella’s folkloric ancestors who, as Maria Tatar reminds us, were adept at engineering their own rescues (101). At the beginning of the film, María, the youngest and the prettiest in the family, shares her cramped and modest household with three generations of women: her grandmother, mother and her older sister, herself a single mother. Every day María has to work long hours in a flower-processing factory where, reminiscent of her fairy-tale opposite number, she repeats the same manual job of de-thorning and packing roses under the scrutinizing eye of an unfriendly foreman. It is here where the classic fairy tale meets the global economy and the neoliberal market: the town’s factory is...