‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’ is a supernatural horror/fantasy film that follows the fantastical imagination of children in the backdrop of the violent drug war in Mexico.
Tigers Are Not Afraid is not your typical fairytale. The film takes places during the backdrop of violent gangs wars in Mexico City that have left 160,000 people killed and 53,000 people missing since the start of the drug war in 2006. Women, a lot of whom are single mothers, have most especially been targeted by these violent cartels which in turn has left many children orphaned. What’s more is that a lot of these orphaned children are kidnapped and trafficked by these gangs for reasons not specifically clear but one needs only to imagine. Now what’s left is a ghost town.
The film begins with a young girl named Estrella, writing a fairytale in class. “Once upon a time, there was a prince who wanted to be a tiger. Tigers never forget. They’re hunters. Their eyes can see in the dark. They have fangs to break bones. Tigers are Not Afraid.” An innocent moment of children writing fairytales soon abrupts into horrifying violence when a gang shootout breaks out in the middle of class. The children are forced to stay on the floor paralyzed with terror as they wait for the shoot out to end. While on the floor, Estrella’s teacher gives her three small piece of chalk. Estrella’s teacher tells her that the chalk will give her three wishes just like in the fairytales. But Tigers Are Not Afraid isn’t your typical fairytale. Each wish Estrella makes has a dire and unexpected consequence.
Estrella comes home from school that day to find her mother missing as her mother becomes one of the many women that have been kidnapped and murdered by violent cartels. Estrella makes a wish for her mother to come back. And she does come back— in the form of a corpse- like ghost. Now an orphan, Estrella is on her own and begins scavenging for food. While scavenging, she meets a group of young boys who have also become orphaned. The leader of the group, El Shine stole a phone and gun from a violent gang member named Caco. The phone as incriminating evidence that could lead the head of that gang, El Chino, in jail because the phone contains pictures and videos of many victims of the gang’s crimes. Shine does not want to give the phone back because it has the only picture of his mom that Shine has left. The phone also contains a video of Estrella’s mother being murdered.
All the while, Estrella’s mom begins to haunt her. But this macabre corpse like ghost does not haunt Estrella to torment her. Rather, Estrella’s mom warns her about the gang that his coming after Estrella and the young boys. Estrella, Shine, and the young boys eventually set up a meeting to give the phone back to El Chino. Violence ensues and Shine as well as another young boy in their group, Morro, is murdered by Chino and his gang. But in Tigers Are Not Afraid, the dead never really die. The Ghost of Shine, Morro, and other victims of Chino’s crime, including Estrella’s mother, come back to exact revenge. Estrella is able to escape Chino, while Chino is locked in a room surrounded by the dead bodies of his victims who all come alive to seek reprisal. Shine lights a fire as he, Chino, and the bodies of his victims all burn and the tormented souls of Chino’s victims finally find peace.
Tigers Are Not Afraid is a film that sheds light on the important issue of gang violence in Latin America. But the film sheds light on this issue from the perspective of children. People forget that in the middle of this drug war, it is children who are impacted the most. Many film and television series have been made about gang violence concerning the drug war, but most often these stories are told from the perspective of adults—many of whom are men. What’s more is that a lot of times these men are glorified as savvy tycoons and gutsy leaders. But in this film, the children are the leaders and heroes.
What the film also does well is illustrate the way children maintain their innocence, curiosity, and wonder even in the midst of extreme violence. Tigers Are Not Afraid showcases how children construct fairytales to find the strength to survive and carry on in a violent world created by adults.Throughout the film, children tell ghost stories and use graffiti to illustrates tales. These graffiti drawings become animated and take on a life of their own which creates a surrealist aura through out the film. Since the film takes place in a ghost town, the prospect of death is always looming. But in this film, death is not the end and it is through children’s imagination that a whole other world is discovered beyond death so they can cope and find closure.
Tigers Are Not Afraid premieres August 23 in New York, LA, and Toronto.