The trailer for From Prada to Nada has been out for a few weeks, but we hadn’t caught it until it played during our Thanksgiving outing to Burlesque. While Burlesque was exactly the Christina/Cher vehicle we never knew we always wanted, the “Sense and Sensibility”-based From Prada to Nada is the mess we always knew we never wanted. And since your resident guest-editor today (hi!) is a Mexican girl for whom this movie seems to have been made (I think? The intended audience is unclear to the point that I believe there isn’t a single demographic who might be interested in the movie), today we’re going to break down its many crimes.
For the first two minutes of the trailer, the viewer is granted blissful ignorance of the film’s title. This is really quite generous! But of course, from the general rich-girls-suck tone of the opening montage, we quickly understand that something terrible will happen to these privileged sisters, one who likes Prada (A CLUE!) and who…wears glasses. One of them says “No Hablo Español” out of nowhere to a douchey guy driving a convertible, which is slightly offensive, but we’ll move on.
So there’s the girl from Spy Kids, and the girl from every last-minute Teen Vogue cover/spread/MET Ball caption who was in a Jonas Brothers video, and sure, they’re both cute. [Of course, no one is really thinking this, because Camilla Belle is virtually unrecognizable, unless you’re someone who has always been creepily fascinated by the disproportionate relationship between the amount of press she gets and the amount of roles she gets].
Then their father dies, and he was bankrupt, and yes of course, they’re terrified — because they lost their house. And their credit cards. And their dad. Not so much the last one, though.
And then it gets even worse for them! Which is great, because who doesn’t love a riches-to-rags story? Even rich people probably love them, because they’re still watching them on a free screener DVD from their friends at Warner Brothers in their movie-studio-den. And this one doesn’t even feature the Duff sisters, so it’s an inevitable step up from the last version that Hollywood rolled out. And the script seems off but not absolutely lost, so what’s the problem?
The problem is that Mary and Nora are Mexican-Americans. That presents an issue both for us, watching, and for them, living it: they have to go live in East L.A. to live with relatives, and we have to deal with the repeated references to cliches about Mexican people that don’t go away even when Mary and Nora inevitably embrace their poverty — sorry, I mean their “cultural heritage.” At one point, a white guy love-interest actually says “You look like Frida Kahlo!” to Camilla Belle, dressed in a traditional dress. Actually!
There are almost no movies that are strictly about Latinas, and especially Mexican girls, unless J-Lo is playing a maid, America Ferreira is playing a fat girl, or Salma Hayek is playing, well, Frida Kahlo. Now there’s a movie coming out that demonizes both the new-money post-immigrant class for distancing themselves from their culture, as well as the “homeboy” street life on the other side of town that only represents fear and crime. The supporting characters are the scary reggaeton-blasting gang members, the abuelas, the immigration police, and the family members with very long last names, all of which are used as punch lines. There are no winners, because everybody looks like an asshole.
Not to mention that the Mexican love-interest is played by Wilder Valderrama, in a slap in the face to all adorable Mexican actors, and actually, all actors, everywhere.
The cultural divide within the Mexican immigrant community is a very real one, and the Sense and Sensibility story is a worthy lens through which to explore it. There’s also an enormous audience in the Spanglish-speaking community for movies that talk about Mexican community life. But this movie is based on toxic Mexican stereotypes, and I don’t think they’re even a turn-on for any kind of audience. Except racists. And why would anyone make a movie solely for racists? To make a movie with repeated ethnic jokes for a tween audience is completely unfair. It may portray materialism in a negative light, but not without damaging an entire culture as well. The movie was written and directed by people of Hispanic descent who have made few other films, but most seem to be about Latin subjects — how could they have written this? And if they didn’t, accepting studio changes, how could they stand for it now?