From the early 1990s onwards, stories about women who had been tortured, raped, murdered and abandoned in the desert surrounding the U.S.–Mexico border city of Ciudad Juárez started to insinuate themselves into local, national and international public consciousness. Since then, a light has been shone on the crime of femicide, or feminicidio, and the murders of women from Ciudad Juárez have become something of a global cause célèbre. Alongside numerous human rights reports and a well-documented media frenzy, the violent deaths of women in the city have also triggered a dynamic set of cultural responses in the form of dance, song, theatre, poetry, photography, art installation, performance and film from around the world. These cultural responses have an important function in terms of how they conceptualize, represent and reconfigure the crime narratives (and their victims). Resonating in a global mediasphere, they not only frequently form powerful counter-narratives to the pronounced victim-blaming discourse in circulation but also function as mechanisms through which the horrors of the crimes can be communicated in diverse ways. It goes without saying that this is especially important in the context of the widespread culture of impunity that has seen most of the legal murder cases dismissed, delayed or hopelessly compromised.
Given the public, excessive nature of many of the crimes as well as the pronounced sexualization and commodification of victims that frequently accompanied media narrativization of them (Pflegger 2015), it is no surprise that the feminicidios in Ciudad Juárez have been re-created time and again by a large body of documentary film that bears eloquent testimony to the suffering that the crimes have engendered. While many of these works have attracted considerable critical attention, like, for example, Lourdes Portillo’s Senorita Extraviada (2001), other films have received less scrutiny. In this chapter, I would like to explore Blood Rising (Mark McLoughlin 2013) and La batalla de las cruces (Patricia Ravelo Blancas and Rafael Bonilla 2005) as revealing examples of the way in which filmic products around cultural violence in Juárez conceptualize the crimes in particular ways.
More specifically, I would like to argue that these documentaries focalize their explorations of the cases through two primary emotions: anger in the case of La batalla de las cruces and sadness in the case of Blood Rising. From studying the portrayals of these emotions, it is possible to see how the affective responses in each film determine the modes through which the crimes are narrativized and the responses forged. Emotions, of course, are crucial to politics, as Ahmed reminds us. Through the deployment of these different affective expressions, I argue that the films rupture the static frameworks through which the crimes were frequently focalized and discussed at local, national and international levels. In this regard, they challenge assumptions about the victims and their families and chart a pathway towards a more nuanced understanding of the structural and systemic violence facing women in the region.