Themed Playlist: She’s Come Undone: Apocalypses, Big and Small
When I learned that Eliza Rodriguez y Gibson (Loyola Marymount University) was teaching a class on Mexican Gothic, I had to invite her to submit a list, which begins with films and television, but concludes with the books. Professor Rodriguez y Gibson’s research and teaching centres on literature, and for that reason, if she didn’t include some, we would be missing out. Two of them are poised for film and television adaptation though.
She’s Come Undone: Apocalypses, Big and Small
Everything on this playlist is close to realism, but actively resists it through the speculative: asking what if? Zombies, demons, doppelgangers, and cyborg monstrosities dominate these stories. These worlds feel contemporary, perhaps 5 minutes into the future, or 5 degrees to the left or right from our current axis, spinning round the sun. Patriarchy, racism, capitalism all seem to remain untouched.
This list takes up apocalypses as endings as well as beginnings, and centers on and the girls and women in these stories (and on the feminized treachery they embody) as daughter, mother, or whore. None of these girls/women are human—not in the same way the male characters are. Mankind—that is to say the androcentric conception of humanity—is under threat. And that’s a good thing, because mankind has lead us to the end of the world. Environmental, economic, and supernatural disasters have already happened, just offscreen, right before the story starts. What happens afterwards?
The Girl with All the Gifts (UK 2016) Dir. Colm McCarthy
The apocalypse has already happened, we just don’t know it yet at the start of this zombie movie. What happens when the zombie is the hero? When the apocalypse is the gift? When the monster is the cutest little girl with the sweetest smile? Sennia Nanua shines as Melanie, and her power over the three adults who quickly move from being in charge of her, to being her charges emerges from her fully human smarts and preternatural physical abilities. She is a second generation monster, able to move between worlds. The casting is brilliant, bringing a centrally important racialized dimension into the cinematic adaptation. I love this film for the questions it raises, the performances of its principal actors, and the worlds built and unmade with trees, and with fire.
Streaming on Netflix (USA)
Diablero (Mexico 2020; season 2) Dir. Jose Manuel Cravioto
The second season begins after a Catholic church-induced apocalypse is barely stopped, and focuses on Keta (Fátima Molina), who, it turns out, is far more than merely better or stronger than the official diablero in the family, her brother Elvis. She is recruited by a sapphic cult devoted to Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of creation and destruction. And Keta, as it happens, is the contemporary embodiment of the goddess. The mythologies are a pop culture mess, and the show is in danger of appropriating contemporary indigenous cultures. But, considering its original Mexican context, audiences might well be familiar with the contemporary Nahua communities living in Mexico City, signaled by the centrality of the Nahuatl language alongside Spanish. It is thrilling to hear the Nahuatl that peppers the slang of Mexico City; it replaces Latin as the ceremonial language of magic. Language is of course racialized; that the darker skinned siblings are the ones who speak it feels right. It’s almost realism. The considerable pleasures of this series unfold across the repeated mythic tropes tanged up with race, gender, and class politics in contemporary Mexico.
Streaming on Netflix (USA & UK)
Us (USA 2019. Jordan Peele)
By now, audiences know that the plot twist is key in a Jordan Peele production. The horrors of what lies just beneath our happy comfortable lives is at the heart of this terrible confection. Peele’s worlds are so close to ours, and when that normalcy is interrupted by the monsters with faces just like ours, it feels like it threatens the entirety of our existence too. Lupita Nyong’o plays Adelaide/Red with a doubled intensity, ferocity, and fear so complex that the borders of each self bleed; perceptions twitch. Like Diablero, Us teases out the intertwined dynamics of class and race, history and the contemporary moment in terms that exceed realism and the rational to get at the affects, those public feelings that animate questions and articulate a desire for something else.
Streaming on HBO Max (USA)
Sleep Dealer (Mexico/US 1990) Director, Alex Rivera.
In the near future, global drought has devastated North America, and the US/Mexico border is sealed off. The military patrol and guard borders and bodies of water. Workers on the Mexican side are plugged into networks where their brains and bodies control worker robots on the US side, collapsing eventually as they are literally used up by this work. Fleeing an attack by security forces on his home, Memo (Luis Fernando Peña) arrives in Tijuana, where coyoteks install nodes on Mexican bodies that allow for sleep dealer work, as well as the sales of memories. Memo becomes involved with Luz (Leonor Varela), and she becomes Memo’s coyotek at his request. Sleep Dealer is on this list not only for its speculative imagination about one possible apocalypse (which is mere inches outside of our current reality). I’m also compelled by the impossible position Luz is put in—as Malinche, the archetypal female betrayer/translator of the Mexican imagination. In this case, it is precisely her body as bridge that allows for the resolution of the story, the redemption of its male protagonists.
Streaming on filmmaker’s website: Sleep Dealer
And now, some books:
Mexican Gothic. Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I love this novel for its gorgeous world-building and its plucky gothic heroines. Noemi Taboada is a socialite sent to look after her cousin Catalina, after the family receives her cryptic and hallucinatory letter asking for help. The Doyles (the English mining family Catalina has married into) live at High Place, a perfectly Gothic mansion high above an abandoned mining town. As Catalina falls apart, haunted by something in the house, Noemi is confronted with family secrets, shadows, legacies of colonization and of course, sex—all while she is being haunted as well. The thing patriarchs forget is that they need women to keep their legacy going. Women’s bodies are literally holding this horror-show together.
Link to the publisher’s page: Penguin Random House
Her Body and Other Parties. Carmen Maria Machado
In this collection of hallucinatory and queer short stories and one novella, Machado explores the horrors of living in a body marked woman. She is a storyteller obsessed with storytelling. “The Husband Stitch,” for example riffs on a children’s reading primer as it meditates on bodily autonomy and the urban legends, fairy tales and other narratives about sex and bodies. The eponymous parties are sinister, violent, and threaten to unmake the women in the stories: through rape and murder, as in Especially Heinous (the novella based on the first twelve seasons of Law and Order), viral contagion, as in “Inventory” or “Real Women Have Bodies;” motherhood and mental illness as in “Mothers,” “Eight Bites,” or “Fun at Parties.” This is not a liberatory apocalypse. Female bodies and selves are unmade in these stories which knit together this larger picture of feminine subjectivity and the violence which shapes it in our most familiar stories.
Link to the publisher’s page: Graywolf Press
Their Dogs Came With Them Helena Maria Viramontes
I love this novel for its apocalyptic, redemptive vision that centers Chicanas in a slightly fictionalized Los Angeles during the Chicano movement. Viramontes is a writer deeply interested in subjectivity and human dignity, and her narratives feature a deep exploration of characters’ interiority. It centers on four young Chicana protagonists: Turtle, a genderqueer and homeless gang member; Tranquilina, the daughter of storefront evangelists whose work centers on feeding and caring for the homeless; Ana, an upwardly mobile young woman with a job in a law firm (who also has to look after her mentally ill brother); and Ermila, a teenager living with her grandparents after being abandoned by her mother. Each woman is the center of a constellation of characters. Viramontes creates a cinematic chain that links everyone together; events are repeated from multiple points of view, linking fragmentary truths. The principal narrative emerges in flashbacks and smash cuts—small bits create a whole, and Viramontes centers the most vulnerable, including the dogs machined gunned from helicopters by the Quarantine Authority.
Link to the publisher’s page: Simon & Schuster
Eliza Rodriguez y Gibson is Professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies at LMU, and coauthor of Funny Looking: Humor, Queer Latina/o Camp, and Ugly Betty. She is the editor of Stunned Into Being: Essays on the Poetry of Lorna Dee Cervantes and coeditor of The Un/making of Latina/o Citizenship: Culture, Politics, and Aesthetics. Her latest book project, Style, Aesthetics, and the Body: Chicana/o/x Cultural Production and the Making of Latinidad examines the way style and aesthetics work on the body to create individual and collective forms of subjectivity, paying particular to the way Chicana/o/x cultural production works to articulate a critical, solidarity-driven Latinidad. Her latest essay “I Love You Like Chicanos Love Morrissey”: Affect, World-making, and Latinidad,”can be found in the ASAP journal.