'Tijuana' actor Tamara Vallarta on the challenges of playing a daring journalist in the midst of Mexico's tense political landscape
'Tijuana' is also a wonderful coming-of-age tale about a young journalist who goes through her share of struggles to figure just what it takes to survive in the profession
Netflix's affinity for dark, twisted thrillers is no secret as the streaming network delves deeper into both the past and the future to bring mindbending and scarring tales on the screen. But their essence gets even murkier when the stories are based on true incidents or statistics, as is the case with Netflix's latest Mexican drama 'Tijuana'.
The debut season of the show premiered on April 5 this year and has since garnered immense praise and critical acclaim. Almost as if paying homage to the underlying aura of 'Narcos: Mexico', the show reveals the other side of the story where drug cartels aim at destroying anything and everything that comes their way, especially journalists.
The effortlessly talented Tamara Vallarta stars as the protagonist, Gabriela Cisneros, a young journalist working at the fictional weekly Frente Tijuana. The character, along with her senior played by 'Narcos' actor Damián Alcázar, attempt to do justice to their profession in a climate where it poses immense threat and danger, thanks to the cartels and their criminally-inclined nature. According to data from the NGO Article 19, every 16 hours, a journalist is assaulted in Mexico, and Vallarta and the rest of the cast highlight the same risky nature of the profession for fans in the Netflix thriller.
Gabriela is a young, righteous, and driven journalist who aims at unfurling the truth regardless of the dangers she faces, and to bring her to life for the screen, Vallarta did her due share of research. "I read a lot about journalists here in Mexico, lots of testimonies, watched documentaries… And you can’t conceive how they manage to live," she shares in an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
"There’s a first reaction where you think they should retire and do something else because it’s unbelievable that they are in a constant danger only because of their profession. It was sad, raw and heartbreaking too, seeing the reality we live in. So it was betting everything on her passion and determination, her desire to speak out, to find the truth and speak out. Then there was no way of judging. Gabriela showed me the guts and passion you need to be a journalist in Mexico. Still, when I watched the series, I couldn’t believe she was daring to do all of that," she adds.
Over the years, female journalists have been typecasted repeatedly on the screen. One of the classic tropes used in playing the characters is making them haughty, promiscuous women who sleep with their sources to get their stories. It's almost as if they are fundamentally incapable of investigating and digging deeper without having sex with their sources. But 'Tijuana' breaks those stereotypes and offers us a fierce, reckless journalist, meandering through the risks of her profession despite her lack of teamwork abilities.
"I think that the industry has a very important role in showing everyone's voices. Our world, our society is made by people from every background, continent, every color," Vallarta reveals about Hollywood's representation of female journalists. "When it is restricted and concentrates on only certain people, it sends the wrong message, stating roles that many believe are the truth because we believe what we see. We have to break through so many stereotypes to allow everyone to see anyone can be what they want and dream. "
There's no denying that this was an idea unanimously shared by the creators of 'Tijuana'. "I believe the journalists in 'Tijuana' are completely different from the ones we have seen because in Mexico it’s a constant risk. It’s not like in Afghanistan and Syria (which are the other two most dangerous countries for journalists), where that danger is the front of the war," Vallarta points out. "In Mexico, as soon as you say something someone doesn't want to hear or cannot let anyone hear, or simply because you tried to research and went with 'the wrong people'… that’s it. Threats, kidnaps, homicides. Some journalists flee the country, others stop speaking. Last year we had the biggest number of journalists killed."
But that is exactly what sets her character apart. "She is reckless, ambitious and passionate. From the journalists in 'Tijuana', she’s set apart because she is stubborn and doesn’t know how to work in a team. Her fervor to know everything and get it right are getting her and the rest of the journalists into constant trouble."
In its own way, 'Tijuana' is also a wonderful coming-of-age tale about a young journalist who goes through her share of struggles to figure just what it takes to survive in the profession, that too in a climate as rife with risk and danger as Mexico. A second season hasn't been greenlit yet, but the debut one was enough to keep us looking forward to it!
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