Popular Mexican film star Gael García Bernal screened his new documentary The Invisibles at a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. The film, co-directed by Bernal and Marc Silver in association with Amnesty International, consists of four segments detailing the dangerous journey immigrants from Southern Mexico and Central America make in an effort to reach the U.S. In an interview with NPR, Bernal argued that it was necessary for him to make this film so that he could bring visibility to a group of people who are too often kept in the shadows. Without publicizing these migrants’ situation, Bernal said, “their human rights are not documented, and nobody would know what could happen to them.”
In The Invisibles, the filmmakers provide a deeply personal portrait of the men and women who make the trip across Mexico and into the U.S. Through interviews, the film delves into the dangers these travelers face from criminal groups who prey on their vulnerabilities. The migrants in the film seem almost to expect that they will be kidnapped and their families forced to pay ransom. Even those who avoid this fate are often robbed of all their money, possessions and clothing.
The trip is especially dangerous for women, as Bernal and Silver contend that six in ten female migrants are sexually assaulted on the journey. In one of the film’s more unsettling interviews with the operator of a Mexican shelter for migrants, she says that many women are administered an injectable contraceptive prior to making their way across Mexico, so that they will not be impregnated as a result of being raped.
One of the unsaid goals of The Invisibles, in addition to simply informing the public of this grave situation, is to influence the Mexican and U.S.-American governments to do something to protect these individuals. The filmmakers argue that the Mexican government chooses to ignore that this problem exists, although authorities are well aware of the dangers Central American migrants face in the country. Mexico does not even compile official statistics on migrant deaths so the issue can be more easily diminished. On the other hand, U.S.-American officials devote all their energy to the futile task of shutting off the border, rather than working to make this area safer to the migrants who will inevitably make their way here.
One of the strengths of The Invisibles, perhaps owing to the celebrated film pedigree of its director, is the film’s masterfully haunting style. Just as much as they are publicizing an issue, Bernal and Silver focus on highlighting individuals and allowing them to have a voice. Too often, immigrants are reduced to mere statistics, but these filmmakers show that we need to see them as fellow human beings, struggling daily with the same fears, concerns and desires that we all have. The documentary leaves the viewer with one single, overarching conclusion: “It is undeniable that we all have the right—the right to improve the conditions in which we live.”
Watch The Invisibles in its entirety here.