It struck me that, in the Norwegian press, the girl with the Latin surname was singled out as a stereotypical drug trafficker. At the end of 2011, I went to Bolivia to make another film but, upon visiting San Sebastian Women’s Prison, I met Stina and Madelaine. I was intrigued by their story and, as the months went by, I instinctively began filming the girls.
When Stina was released on bail, her Hollywood-style escape took us completely by surprise. After she escaped, we went to Oslo and began to get a clearer picture of the media’s involvement in the case. As I entered Norway, the customs officer remarked, “It’s terrible how the poor, innocent girl was tricked into trafficking drugs by Madelaine Rodriguez.” But this “poor innocent girl” was Christina, the third girl in the case, who had escaped her charges in Bolivia under mysterious circumstances.
By that stage, I had found out that ALFA magazine organized Stina’s escape. So Norwegian journalists were not only reporting the news – they were creating it too, setting public opinion and massively impacting the outcome of the on-going case! What else was going on in this small Nordic country?
As the complexities of the case began to appear, so did its universality. The story that was being played in the media was familiar to me; as the daughter of an immigrant in Australia, my sensitivity to racism is inherent. The young people involved were portrayed as either good or bad and, unsurprisingly, the Latinos were depicted as the bad guys. What makes one young person guiltier than others caught committing the same crime?
This is not simply a question of justice or injustice. I’d like to see a global audience question their own media outlets and judicial systems, particularly as they relate to citizens of minority backgrounds. It is very important to understand the damage caused when the media enforces racial stereotypes, feeding intolerance in a simple, yet manipulative, attempt to gain audiences.
We need to recognize the weaknesses within the media, and then question its role in society and the stories presented to us.Perhaps it is the media that needs to be put on trial?