Here’s Why You Should Ignore The Critics And Give “Colombiana” A Chance

It takes a lot to convince me to pay money at a cinema for a film when I know the DVD will be released in a few months. Some movies must be seen on the large screen to get the maximum enjoyment. While I do highly regard classic cinema, foreign-language films and the works of the masters, sometimes a simpler storyline satisfies my need to be entertained. The modern action film [or popcorn flick] fits the bill nicely.

I am not expecting a life-altering, transformative experience when I see a flashy, loud, often violent fight-to-survive movie. Combating corrupt rogue government agencies, paranormal adventures,  dodging aliens, avoiding a serial killer or besting kidnappers are not everyday occurrences. It’s the heightened display of emotions and distorted reality that draws us in to begin with.

I was perhaps mildly interested in seeing “Colombiana”, starring Zoe Saldana since the revenge aspect was being heavily promoted. The last thing I wanted to see was some convoluted story about a damaged woman. Yet, I couldn’t help but notice the disproportionate negative backlash against the movie. My skepticism meter went into overdrive considering all the other crappy releases that had barely registered a blip.  It convinced me to take a chance. You do realize you can ask for refunds at movie theaters?

Most importantly, how many movies do you see with a black woman — kicking butt?!!! I had to judge for myself. So should you! **I’m not going to discuss plot specifics so as to not spoil it.  

I can guess why there’s a concentrated effort at tanking “Colombiana”:

1. It A’int “The Help”

Which has been “critically acclaimed”. In much the same way “The Blind Side” and all movies that feature do-gooder upper middle class whites with shiny hair, pearly teeth and hearts of gold. They either want to rescue, mentor or adopt some non-white kid [be it from the ghetto or the third world, orphaned or abandoned, show them the way and teach them how to be civil [writing, dance, etc.] because they clearly weren’t if they were ripe for rescuing. It usually involves removing them from their culture entirely because you know it’s so dreadful [ok, sometimes it is] and theirs is so much better.

Obviously there are nuances, but the key issue is superiority, paternalism and appropriation.

#2 This Is An Action Movie Not High Art

See my opening statement. I’ve laughed at the complaints about the plot being unrealistic. How often do movies ask us to suspend belief? Umm…every day! No one’s gonna convince me Rambo or Predator or The Hulk are even remotely possible. Oh wait..those movies starred male actors. White male actors. I see a trend here….

#3 The Unspoken Matter Of Race..and Ethnicity

Quick – name one film or tv show that features a Latina as the lead? Of African descent? Oh you’d never know it but there are millions of black Latinos. Whether they comfortably identify as black is another story. You’d certainly be hard-pressed to find anyone a darker shade than Taupe #1 in Spanish-language media, so I don’t blame an outsider or less observant person to not connect the white-washing. It happens in India, too.

#4 If Angelina Jolie Had Been Cast, No One Would’ve Batted An Eyelash

She’s been cast as Cleopatra afterall. Like Elizabeth Taylor before her, that’s some real color-blind wholly inaccurate BS casting!

#5 There Is Something Oddly Fishy About the Concentrated Effort To Tear the Film Down

Let’s see, you’ve got drunk guys in Vegas, Bad CGI primates which is a derivative of a mediocre movie to begin with, a comedy about an ex-con who looks like a serial killer [Manson] mooching off his family, comic book plot laziness and the aforementioned movie about a plucky white girl who’s the Mammy Whisperer.

Well, I liked watching a plucky brown-skin girl use her wits to dodge a team of killers. The young actress who portrayed the lead character as a child, Amandla Stenberg was amazing!


6. Real-Life Fight Scene

While movie action scenes require the expert input of stunt professionals they are staged to get the best camera angles. They are also not based in reality based on the physical capabilities of combatants and defendants. The only fight sequence that made any sense to me appeared in “The Matrix” and that’s because the fighting was technically in their head.

If male-to-male fight scenes defy gravity, physics and logic, then how much more-so for a woman being able to take on men who have more brute strength naturally? Colombiana’s female lead did not engage in direct hand-to-hand combat against her male aggressors (with one exception) but that was a plot resolution.

As a child she ran away from the death squad and employed elusive strategies (namely parkour) to avoid capture. As an adult she used whatever objects were available when she had to subdue her would-be killer. She used her wits and kept calm – she was not trying to be a super woman. The audience cheers her success because the scene was thrilling without being over-the-top.

7. Male Love Interest Flips The Script In More Ways Than One

These movies have women adapting traditionally male behaviors (being sexually aggressive, elusive about relationships, etc) so it follows the male romantic partners adapt traditionally female behaviors (asking for disclosure, openness and being available). It should also be noted the lead’s love interest is a different race and ethnicity.

Does anyone else think Michael Vartan is hot stuff? Way back in the day he made Drew Barrymore swoon. Lately it seems he’s the go-to hunk for interracial couplings with black actresses. Hot Shots – Nia Long, HawthoRNe – Jada Pinkett Smith [who may be back on the market soon]. I’m sure he’s just acting folks. The way Julia Styles was in the beginning of her career, totally clueless about the real-life implications of her playing opposite black male actors. This is different. Michael’s character is the “girl” role.

It isn’t a blip in the film, but it was definitely nice to see on screen – especially for every young black woman who sees it. Yah for love!

8. The Luc Besson Connection

The esteemed director co-wrote this script, which piqued my interest immediately. This is a role that could have easily gone to a white actress. I’m certain Ms. Saldana was pleased to be able to play a role closest to her ethnic heritage for a change.

For those of you unaware, Besson created the iconic character Nikita and it’s one of my all-time favorite films. I’ve even managed to stomach the latest incarnation American television series based on the film (because I loved the USA Network series from the 1990’s so much more – even as they adjusted aspects and took the plot in a new direction).

Besson is not afraid of women and offers the audience three-dimensional characters. They often have crises of conscience as the main conflict and it’s enjoyable to see them overcome past traumas after making tough decisions in order to change. Most people do everything they can to avoid such discomfort, but miss out on the interpersonal development that makes them better people.

9. One More Observation

It’s a little bit of a plot divulge, but our heroine is offered a choice at a pivotal moment where she’s advised to pursue education, the ability to navigate social circles and be fully-rounded. I wish I could show you this scene, but that was a profound message and far deeper than expected. I’m certain it will go over the heads of most. If the expectations for this film are that it’s supposed to look like others in its genre, people will be disappointed even as the assumption is presumptuous. I analyzed this film very critically and while I certainly don’t agree with every aspect, I still thought it offered something of value disguised as a simple popcorn movie. The criticism is trite and misses the mark completely.

As always, you should decide for yourself. If you want better roles for women, put your money where your mouth is!!


P.S.  I’d like to a trilogy!!! We want a franchise.

48 comments to Here’s Why You Should Ignore The Critics And Give “Colombiana” A Chance

  • Diana

    I live in a small town and our local movie theatre is three quarters empty at the best of times but my male friend and I were the only ones watching the movie that day. To be fair, it WAS a weekday afternoon and I have watched a few movies there with only a handful of people present. Yet it was only available for a week or 2 whereas other movies are often available for months on end. So yeah, there is in my view something 'off' about how badly this perfectly decent movie is being received. Yet Angelina (no offense, not personal) gets to make atrocities like 'The Tourist' (simply bad, bad, bad; even cutie Jonny Depp could not save that one) or 'Salt'- a very average action movie…..
    Oh well.
    I will definitely continue the support by purchasing several copies of the Colombian blu-ray for friends and myself.
    BTW, my male friend really liked it too and he is a VETERAN of action movies. He said it held his attention from start to finish and Zoe's acting was fantastic! So there.

  • Diana

    *Updates! I saw the movie and really liked it! Zoe's acting was great, the storyline and action engrossing and the chemistry between her and Michael Vartan was smoking! In all, a decently acted, well-executed movie which held my attention all through; plus I left the theatre with that feel-good buzz you get after a an enjoyable film.Oh and did I mention how hot she and Vartan were??lol TBC..

  • MsMellody

    Hi Faith!!

    Your post prompted me to indeed take a second look at Colombiana. Not that I thought anything at all about what critics were or were not saying. I did take my husband up on his ENTHUSIASTIC offer to see the movie yesterday!!

    It was FANTASTIC!! The story line was fun, it was informative and to see as you said a Black woman taking charge and taking control of what she wanted was GREAT. And I sat in that theater thinking that just a few years ago..we as movie goers were asked to suspend reality and see an aged cosmo-surgically redone actress who shall remain nameless kick all kinds of butt and be thrown around …so I could do the same here and respect the acting and story and great photography of this beautiful sensual film. The story was wonderful, the acting was great.

    And might I add that my husband wore his "good" shirt to the theater LOL!!! I thought that was just hilarious..and I told him that somewhere Zoe was very impressed that he dressed up to see her film !!! Seriously the film was great, the cinematography was fantastic, the story line definitely calls for a trilogy!!! I would definitely support a franchise!!!!

  • Sharifa

    Great post and discussion, Faith. I did see and enjoyed the movie, though I had MAJOR reservations from the moment I saw the ads. It was obvious to me that Ms. Saldana had ‘come up’ in hollywood playing AAW supporting roles, and that now that she was a lead, it was as a Latina. Overall, I liked that there was a BW lead in a movie, and that it was a counter to the ‘Help’ (BTW, the Association of Black Psychologists has a response to the Help on its website).I don’t know what it will take for more AAW to have nuanced conversations about these issues without questioning or sacrificing our ethnic pride; I guess bloggers like yourself will be some of the few making that contribution.

  • Miss V

    I saw Columbiana yesterday and I LOVED it!! I hope she doesn't start talking that I'm not black/I don't see color nonsense, either.

  • Faith

    Here's an interesting discussion about Saldana's lack of 'mainstream' magazine covers.

  • Diana

    I will be going to support the movie and Ms Saldana. As mentioned, she is an obviously black woman NOT in a silly, subservient Mammy role who is the lead in a major film.
    I agree is she starts the mess of 'I'm not really black' then I will no longer be interested.
    BTW I am Nigerian too and believe that ALL black people the world over need to get their act together. We have all got problems within our respective communities that desperately need to be addressed.

  • Part 3 (Final)

    For now, I'm willing to support "Colombiana." Although the actress and character are not AA, I believe AA BW benefit from having a visibly and undeniably racially BLACK woman lifted up as beautiful and a capable lead action heroine. I see benefit in a Western BW being lifted up in such fashion, even if she's of another Black Western ethnicity.

    Now, if Ms. Saldana ever starts talking that "I'm not [racially] Black" talk, then I'll end my provisional support of her film. I only support persons and projects to the extent that they bring benefit to me, and to other racially Black women who are most like me. 'Nuff said.

  • Lady T

    Well I am going against the grain on this one. I am the type who support blacks in films esp those who are the main characters. For years Zoe has taken role geared toward African America women, though she proclaim to be latino/hispanic. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your origins but play the parts that are true to them. Also all of you who are bashing the help, seriously, you are wrong. It is a wonderful movie and the white girl is not the hero.

  • Faith

    You know I met a group of Colombians at a networking event earlier today, mentioned the movie and had one of the rarest and most transparent conversations about race, class and the erasure of black Latinos. It was so refreshing to hear someone voluntarily "go there" with no prompting from me.

  • Niki

    I saw it yesterday and thought it was great! Like you stated, it's been a long time (70's Blaxplotation era perhaps?) since we've seen a brown chick in the lead kicking butt and taking names. I also loved how Michael Vartan was the "girl" in this movie--he didn't have a big role, but he helped to humanize Zoe's character as an adult and his actions set up a major plot point.

    Zoe Saldana, Rosario Dawson and Kerry Washington have to be the most polarizing actresses of color in some circles because they don't seem to follow other people's expectations about who they should be as performers. I'm enjoying watching their careers blossom over the years.

  • Sandra77

    But you know what they're going to say regarding the box office draw of The Help, of course? They're going to say it's Emma Watson (if that's her name) and the other white actresses who are driving the box office appeal of the film, rather than the black actresses. So this will just be for the mainstream media types another 'exception that proves the rule'. They can't do that with Colombiana given the breadth of Ms. Saldana's role in the movie (she's lead, after all), so they're trying as hard as they can to hold the movie down so they can claim black women leads can't drive box office. But I'm so pleased that Colombiana came in a close 2nd to The Help. Like Faith, I'm not much of a movie goer, but this weekend I'm going to support Ms. Saldana and black women and be entertained at the same time by seeing Colombiana. I won't be seeing The Help.

  • Great list. Also, I think it's awesome that on the weekend of a hurricane, two films starring black actresses were in spots number 1 and number 2. They're showing that mainstream audiences will come out and watch them starring in different genres.

    Not crazy about The Help either, but box office results should take away the argument, by Hollywood, that black women cannot pull in a mainstream audience. I'd like to see more films with black actresses in starring roles coming out, although I wont hold my breath.

  • Vanessa F.

    Hi Faith!

    I am looking forward to seeing Colombiana. I want to touch on your Reason #3 a bit as I have noticed this is a MAJOR deal. Example: A person who I interact with through social media on a regular basis is Colombian but white. I made a comment about wanting to see the movie because I need to see an action film (I love 'em), she made a quip about Saldana's character (and by extension Saldana) not looking like any Colombian she's ever seen. I asked her 'how so' and she played it off about she needed to see the movie to figure it out…Yeah okay. Considering Colombia's African descendant population ranges somewhere between 15 to 30 percent (depending on the statistical source and taking into account race definitions in Latin countries) I do not see why the lead character being a black woman is implausible. However, it does not fit into the typical image you would see of a action leading lady ala "La Reina Del Sur."

    Getting off my soapbox for now…great post by the way!

    -Vanessa F.

  • Kennedy

    Agreed, I am certainly going to see this movie and everyone else should too. On another blog they were so busy arguing her race they forgot at the end of the day it is a plus for women and it is a plus for women of color. Period. It is so hard for women to break out of the sexy little thing on the side of the main character in action films. I'm proud of her.

  • Patricia Kayden

    I absolutely loved it!! I'm a sucker for movies where women are kicking you know what. It's action-packed and has a simple story line. And Zoe is fierce and beautiful (as usual).

    Great to see a Black woman in an action flick, where she is the star and not a sidekick or behind the scenes player.

    There was one scene that I could have done without — the one where the little girl retrieves the CD for the guy in the American embassy. But otherwise, good film. I don't see why anyone would avoid this — unless you're squeamish about people getting shot and killed in interesting ways. LOL. But that can be found on tv (i.e., CSI or Criminal Minds).

  • Karen R.

    You said a mouthful when you said "It ain't the help." The critics seem to just love to see BW in roles such as Precious or one of the characters from the film "The Help." Overweight, down-trodden, not physically appealing, abused, etc.

  • Jamila

    Personally, If I'm going to go see any movie in my upcoming free time it will be Colombiana. There only thing different about this movie than any other action movie of it's type is that they put a brown woman in the lead. As for the 'its not believable factor," the only reason why this flick would be 'hard to believe' is because folks are not accustomed to seeing a brown woman in this role--you put more of them in this movie and then it becomes believable. Change has to start somewhere.

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