Ramírez was celebrating the fact that De Panzazo, an excellent documentary about the state of the country’s education system, was seen by 550,000 viewers in its first nine days in theaters, making it the highest grossing film in Mexico for two weekends in a row — a phenomenal feat in a country unaccustomed to watching documentaries. In just nine days, one out of every 200 Mexicans paid a significant amount of money to go to a movie theater to watch a documentary about education policy.
The relative success of De Panzazo only underlines the mega-success of Kony 2012. In just six days the 30-minute YouTube video attracted more than 100 million views. In other words, in about a week the equivalent of Mexico’s entire population had seen the video. Kony 2012’s unprecedented success (in terms of viewers, that is) inspired an entire genre of analysis about how non-profits can use online video to attract attention to their causes and mobilize supporters. Though, in fact, the best analysis I’ve seen comes from Jason Mogus and is titled “Why your non-profit won’t make a Kony 2012.”
That hasn’t stopped non-profits from trying, and here in Mexico the quality of online video production by civil society organizations has improved remarkably over the past few months. In fact, as of two days ago, the country even has its own mini-version of Kony 2012, attracting over 10 million views in just the first couple days and just as much controversy.
The video, titled “Unsettled Children” shows the worst of modern Mexico using young children as actors. They wear surgical masks because the pollution is so bad, they rob and kidnap each other, pay bribes, run from the border patrol, protest against the police, beg on the street, get caught in the cross-fire between soldiers and narcos. It is essentially a 4-minute dramatization of any Mexican newspaper on any given day, portrayed by 10-year-old actors. The only dialogue comes in the last twenty seconds when a young girl speaks directly to the four presidential candidates, saying, “this country can’t get any worse than it already is. Do you just want the title of president, or are you actually going to change the country?”
The video has causes controversy for many reasons. First of all, it was supposedly created by a “citizen’s movement,” but a little digging around shows that it was probably financed by Alberto Baillères González, a controversial businessman and the third wealthiest Mexican. Federal legislators have cried out for moral reasons — how dare anyone use children to depict such terrible, terrible things! Some congressman have even demanded that the video be “disappeared” from the Internet. (Strangely, the legislators didn’t have anything to say when it was discovered that the Federal Police spent more than US$ 10 million on a television program depicting police as a heroic force for good against evil.)
The most thoughtful analysis of the video is similar to the critical discussion around Kony 2012: here’s a well-produced, viral video that shows all the problems, but doesn’t offer any solutions. Furthermore, it extends the myth that the president is the Batman-like superhero who can single-handedly resolve all of Mexico’s many problems.
Here’s a selection of other recent, compelling online videos produced by Mexican civil society:
Re-elect or Punish is a 13-minute documentary explaining why the lack of re-election in Mexico is its greatest obstacle to strengthening its democracy.
Evaluation Doesn’t Hurt is just shy of 6 minutes. Produced by the coalition For Education, it argues for the teacher evaluations despite recent mobilizations by teacher unions against evaluation. (Sound familiar?)
Viral Racism in Mexico is a modern reenactment based on the famous doll experiments of Kenneth and Mamie Clark. It was based on recent research by the National Council to Prevent Discrimination.