Television shows are often used to address forward-thinking and competing views on important issues in society. NBC’s Law & Order: SVU and (now cancelled) Harry’s Law were infamous for addressing issues such as domestic violence, gay marriage, political sex scandals, etc. Some shows have taken the opportunity to also put forth images of changing norms within society (e.g., The New Normal), while others have taken the opportunity to provide roles for those underrepresented in television (e.g., Devious Maids). However, I wonder if FX’s new original series, The Bridge, is creating a racial issue where there isn’t one.
This summer crime drama stars Diane Kruger (as Detective Sonya Cross from El Paso Homicide) and Demián Bichir (as Detective Marco Ruiz from Chihuahua State Police, Mexico) and documents an investigation into a serial killer targeting victims along a stretch between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. At best the show is mediocre in that Kruger plays a detective suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, who seems very much like a knockoff Temperance Brennan (played by Emily Deschanel) from Bones. However, the show has been praised as the first prime-time series with significant Spanish-language dialog. The show has also been noted for tackling issues such as the immigration debate, although I question their avoidance of fully addressing Det. Cross’ living with Asperger’s (a la Connor in TeenNick’s Degrassi: The Next Generation, which deals with the syndrome exceptionally well).
In a perverse way to raise awareness about crime and murders, the killer appears to be targeting young women and illegal immigrants in order to highlight disparities in justice and police investigations between El Paso and Juarez. In the pilot episode of The Bridge, the show opens with the discovery of a body on the bridge between Mexico and Texas whose top half belongs to a prominent Texas judge, and the bottom half belongs to a missing prostitute from Juarez. The serial killer sent a message via reporter, Daniel Frye (portrayed by Matthew Lillard) stating
“There are 5 murders a year in El Paso … in Juarez, thousands. Why is one dead white woman more important than so many dead just across the bridge?”
While this is a good question, it is not one whose answer should automatically be “because they are Mexican” or anything else pertaining to race. First, let me state that a murder is a murder, which involves the ultimate crime – the taking of a human life – which should not be discounted in any way. However, it is important to take context into consideration and when you do, blaming the disparities on race may, in fact, be oversimplifying the issue and jumping the gun.
El Paso is in the United States. Juarez is in Mexico. This is a key difference when considering crime, as the economic opportunities, education system, legal system, and social history are all different. None of these differences are thoroughly addressed. It is often stated that minority crime victims do not receive the same newspaper attention and media coverage as their white counterparts, and that killers of black or Hispanic victims are identified less often than those of white victims (i.e., murders of minorities go unsolved more often). However, these are problems within the United States that, while they are racial in nature and need to be addressed with some urgency, cannot be automatically transplanted into storylines across national borders.
Kudos to The Bridge for tackling immigration and autism awareness, but it seems as though it is best to leave the racially motivated serial-killer storyline for a show with a different setting. You can’t have it all.
by Portia Allen-Kyle