MEXICO & THE AMERICAS

Mexico fields unflattering comments from 'Birdman' director, others

From the 'Birdman' director, to Pope Francis, Mexico is receiving some rather unflattering attention

From the Oscars in Hollywood, to the pope in Rome, Mexico is receiving some rather unflattering attention, a reversal of the image that the government has spent millions to cultivate.

It started as a celebration of Mexicanness, with Academy Award glory being heaped on Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñarritu, who took three Oscar statuettes in Sunday night’s ceremony. It turned when he made a plea for better treatment of Mexican immigrants and took a sharp dig at President Enrique Peña Nieto.

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“I want to dedicate this prize for my fellow Mexicans,” he said when his film "Birdman" was named best picture at the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood. “I pray that we might find and build a government that we deserve.”

Peña Nieto ignored the slight and congratulated the director via his Twitter account. But many newspapers in Mexico on Monday carried a front-page photo of a jubilant Iñarritu and highlighted his remarks. And social media was aflame with reaction, a hashtag using “the government we deserve” (#ElGobiernoQueMerecemos) soaring to the top of things that trend.

Mexico has been enduring a particularly difficult period, with crises on many fronts. Crime, including homicides, kidnappings and drug-trafficking, continues to plague the country, with the Sept. 26 abduction and apparent slaying of 43 college students highlighting the problem and triggering frequent street protests. Peña Nieto and members of his inner circle are suspected of conflicts of interest involving real estate and government contractors. The government is widely seen as having mishandled many of these events, and the president’s approval rating has plummeted.

After the filmmaker shared his thoughts Sunday, many comments on social media and elsewhere were highly critical of Peña Nieto and his government, and full of praise for the director and his decision to speak out.

Said one tweet from a user identifying herself as Sofia: “We have the most inept Mexican directing our government, and the most talented Mexican directing movies.” 

A Tweeter named Diana Valenzuela, identified as an economist, said the director “describes perfectly the social demand of the moment. WE DO NOT HAVE #The GovernmentWeDeserve.”

Said another named Rafa Bracho: “Supposing [the ruling party] buys votes, isn't the one who corrupts as guilty as the one who lets himself be corrupted?”

And a new political coalition that says it is trying to provide an alternative to Mexico’s traditional and largely corrupt parties was quick to jump on the bandwagon.

“Gonzalez Iñarritu, an example that we Mexicans can reach great goals,” the Social Encounter Party said in a statement. “We citizens are the protagonists of a new history of Mexico. … The demands of millions of Mexicans are reflected in what [the director] said.”

Many Mexicans who speak about him use the traditional style of two last names, however the director is initializing Gonzalez and using Iñarritu as his last name.

The president’s political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), responded in its own tweet: “Sharing in the Mexican pride, it is a fact that, more than deserve it, we are building a better government. Congratulations, Gonzalez Iñarritu.”

Meanwhile, Pope Francis apparently had some pointed things to say about Mexico, its violence and official corruption.

Responding to a letter from an Argentine activist about troubles there, including the possible murder of a prosecutor investigating government misdeeds, Francis purportedly cautioned against the “Mexicanization” of Argentina. He said he had been informed by Mexican bishops “and the thing there is [a thing] of terror.”

The authenticity of the missive could not be independently verified, and there was no immediate comment from the Vatican. The activist, Gustavo Vera, runs an organization in Buenos Aires called La Alameda, which describes its mission as the fight against human trafficking and similar issues. Vera published the purported letter on the group’s website. 

Mexico's foreign ministry said later Monday it would pen a note of protest to the Vatican.

Perhaps of particular interest to bishops informing the pope, several priests in rural areas have recently been killed or gone missing. The body of one was found in a clandestine mass grave.

The negative spotlight is a marked contrast to the favorable publicity that the government enjoyed during its first year and a half. Much of the media treated the administration, which saw the return of the once-autocratic PRI to office after a 12-year hiatus, gently and with little criticism.

And no wonder.

According to a report to Mexico’s Congress, the Peña Nieto government in its first year, starting Dec. 1, 2012, spent on average 6.3 million pesos a day on publicity. That’s roughly $450,000 a day, in a country where the minimum wage is about $5 a day.

Most of the money went to Mexican television and radio stations and to newspapers throughout the country, according to Reforma newspaper, which obtained the congressional report. Among the publicity purchased were spots promoting tourism in Mexico and educating the public about reforms in energy, education and other sectors.

The "Birdman" director's Oscar-timed jab was not the first time he or other renowned Mexican directors have spoken out about their homeland’s troubles. Alfonso Cuaron, who won the Oscar last year for his direction of Gravity, followed with a 10-question letter to Peña Nieto challenging him on his controversial plans to open the oil and gas industry to foreign investment.

And both Iñarritu and Cuaron joined Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) and others from Mexican cinema in November to write Peña Nieto in protest of the government “repression” of demonstrators marching against the disappearance of the 43 students. The letter writers demanded the release of about a dozen protesters who had been arrested.

Cecilia Sanchez of the Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

Twitter: @TracyKWilkinson

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