“La Mission” (2009): Ubiquitous Mammy and White Savior Characters

I figure a great way to start 2017 is with a blog!

In preparation for planning and teaching Mexican American History II this Spring 2017 semester, I gave Petter Bratt’s La Mission (2009) another view this evening. Watch the trailer here. (I’m trying to select a few of the best movies for us to examine. There’s not time for everything!). 

La Mission covers a variety of themes but mostly gender, masculinity (Machismo) in particular, and sexuality. The main fictional characters are a hyper Masculine Mexican father (Che), his gay son (Jes), and the new neighbor next door (Lena).

Before I started critically analyzing it, I found La Mission to be a pretty good movie — certainly not the most artistic or anything, but it has an interesting, good story with good acting. And it was a first of its kind, even in 2009.

However, like far too many movies, La Mission relies extensively–collectively speaking–on the Mammy and White Savior character tropes. Extensively because these character constructions are the glue that hold the story together and provide its transitions. These characters do have some “updates” compared to most other movies. 

Racialization matters.

Lena (Erika Alexander) is the new neighbor. She is created as a very strong, very independent, very articulate, very knowledgeable Black woman. (And she cooks!) She knows the ins and outs of living alone in a rough part of a big city. On several occasions, she provides the father and the son with the kind of wisdom and tough love “only” Mammy has. La Mission‘s Lena has insights and power that far exceed that of everyone else in the story, include those of the extended family which have semi-large roles. When a fight breaks out between the father and his son, only Lena is able to stop it, for example. Lena arrives after a large group of men are unable to stop them. Lena does it instantly. 

The White Savior aspect is trickier and more debatable.

Again, though, racialization matters. 


In La Mission, Jes’s boyfriend, Jordan, is White. (We also know because of a 10 second or so segment that Jordan’s mother is also White.) The relationship between Jes and Jordan is not explored or developed. At. All. except for a few very brief instances that are not vital to the plot. They are easily forgotten.

However, the boyfriend’s (and his mom’s) main function is Saving Jes from his physically and psychologically abusive father, who has a criminal record. They ultimately provide Jes shelter, as well as basic support and safety. Jordan’s Whiteness and status as a White Savior Figure is compounded by his “conventional attractiveness” vis-à-vis his able-bodiedness, physically fit body structure, blond hair, and extreme wealth (he lives with his mom in a virtual mansion).

As shown in La Mission, Jes’s extended family can only partly and temporarily help him. For reasons not explained, only a White Savior Figure can save Jes from Che, and only a Mammy can point them both, mainly Che, in the correct direction.

I look forward to hearing other thoughts about this film! 

Happy 2017!

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda