By David A. Lepage

juarez_crossesSeñorita Extraviada (Missing Young Women) (2001) is a documentary directed by Lourdes Portillo that brings to light the hazards women face when finding work in the maquiladoras of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Since the North American free trade agreement, hundreds of multinational corporations have set up shop along the border in Juarez taking advantage of tax shelters and are able to draw from a pool of low waged labour attracted to the area. Hundreds of women have been abducted, raped and brutally murdered in this area and Lourdes Portillo reveals the plight of some of these families trying to find answers to what has happened to their loved ones.

The film looks sharply at the systemic corruption by local authorities and politicians who at times seem complicit due to a combination of ineptitude and constant blame shifting between narco traffickers, satanic cultists and even the victims themselves. Portillo effectively reveals a culture under duress, not only from whom ever may be opportunistically preying on these young women but from the side effects of capitalism run amok within a free trade zone. Watching this film, one wonders how the consumer should feel. Are they indirectly supporting these conditions where workers pursue the proverbial carrot on a stick, risking their safety in hopes of a better wage?

On the surface, Portillo presents us with a gripping film that reads as a crime investigation hoping to solve what has happened to these vulnerable women who’ve disappeared into the desert over the years. But the subtext is an indictment on globalization and capitalism and its marginalizing effects on the communities their factories have come to inhabit. The attitude is that these workers are disposable and the portrait presented is that Juarez is a dangerous place governed by corrupt police, drug empires, and Fortune 500 factories. None particularly interested in the safety of young women who earn less than 40 dollars for an average 60 hour work week.