La Niña Emilia: The Miniseries About a Colombian Bullerengue Singer

Not long ago – and even today – it was very usual to know people that actually believed that in Colombia there was only narcotraffic, kidnapping, and armed conflict. In addition, there is centralization in the Colombian television channels and its way of producing their “telenovelas” – known in English as Soap Operas – at least in the process of selecting the cast, where there is a tendency to choose actors from the capital city, Bogotá or Medellín. The actors that come from other cities in the country usually adapt their accent to a more neutral one. However, this is something that is changing, especially in Colombian cinema (not television), for a better status.

This year, Telecaribe, the most important regional TV channel of the Caribbean in Colombia, has broadcasted an adapted miniseries – with has a similar style to soap operas -about the life of Juana Emilia Herrera García, better known as La Niña Emilia (Emilia, the little girl), a Bullerengue composer and singer who became famous only by the time she was in her 50’s. Emilia was from Evitar, Mahates; a little poor town in the Bolívar department. The miniseries with documentary touches, which was directed by Alessandro Basile and written by Andrés Salgado, was called “Dejala Morir”, which means “Let her die” referring to one of the most relevant songs by Emilia Herrera.  

One of the aspects that must be highlighted on this TV series is that it was almost completely made by crew and cast members from the Caribbean region. Once again, it is not common to see productions who explore too much in particular regions of the country and their matters besides the obvious ones that are taking care of the hype Colombian popular figures like Diomedes Diaz, Joe Arroyo, and others who happened to be born in other cities or towns far from the capital – so there is not too much to be done but going to the place, if looking for realism- for the reason that these stories are popular and provide high numbers in rating. Besides, these shows are produced and interpreted not necessarily by people who are immersed and familiarized with the context; generating confusion and misinformation in the audience that are not aware of realities, and anger on the ones which culture is badly displayed on the screen.   

Dejala Morir was also a hit to the channel, which according to their rating reports, has outnumbered every single miniseries showed before in the channel. These results should definitely provide regional channels a more positive perspective for keeping up the production and encouragement to make TV shows that present the diversity inside of the country with authentic members, or at least serious researchers who are really concerned about bringing serious reflection to people.

This article wasn’t written to critique technical, style, content, or even historical corroboration aspects at all of the series; but to applaud the cause of illustrating people from out and in the country about cultural heritage. Colombia and Latin America is, in general, a place in the world where cultural trends arrive in a massive way, resulting a mix of cultures on some people which is not a bad thing, the unacceptable consequence is that a huge amount of people are not aware of their own culture. People are used to consume clothes, music, movies, food, and other sociocultural influences from the strongest cultures blocking their own cultural wealth, and even accusing it as vulgar or deficient. I am pretty sure that this is not a particular phenomenon in Colombia or the rest of Latin America but the world itself is fighting against Americanization of world cultures: The biggest gun-free colonization of 21st century.

This kind of initiative contributes to the chance of enriching Colombian cultural heritage. Dejala Morir is not made like regular Latin American dramas. It contains technical aspects that are not common on television due to their restrictions for shows that are broadcasted, like some camera shots, the structure of narration, or the strong and pure use of the Caribbean language variation in the north of the country.  The special occasion to encourage film style treatment and depth in T.V shows have arrived. It is well known that lots of Colombians are trapped (not unusual) inside their television. So, it is sort of an evilness, to let the channel’s programming of soap operas – which are highly and probably the most consumed – with a little innovation of the contents.

Lastly, Dejala Morir is a great example of how decentralizing allows the production of melodramas for television with different points of view and to additionally promote a national culture with more interest of showing it to the world than making money out of it. Of course, this production alone does not account for all the artistic – and why not social – achievements in Colombia; at the end of everything, it is never just one big thing that makes a social, cultural or political revolution; but Dejala Morir is definitely breeding more perspective to the national and international audience – like in the Colombian movie industry is happening -, and consequently is going to be reflected on people.  If people don’t get involved in perceiving and understanding cultural differences by being in contact with it, it is more difficult to be inclusive and tolerant; and tolerance is one of the key words in this new context that the country is passing through. Hopefully, we’ll see new TV productions with new stories emerging from the pores of Colombian television.  

This essay is from cinephile and film critic, Daniel Patiño.


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