I’ve never been to Colombia nor do I have the slightest idea of what it’s like to be involved with drug lords smuggling people across borders, but I remember what it was like to watch Maria Full of Grace, a movie about a pregnant Colombian teenager that agrees to become a drug mule in a desperate attempt to support her family. Following Maria’s journey from the streets of Bogota, where she worked in sweat shop like conditions at a flower plantation, to the illicit world of the drug trade that transports her to the city of New York, was an incredibly intense and emotional experience for me. Yes, I am a crier and this movie was both terrifying and tearful. But outside of the emotional appeal, did it provide me with an education on Colombian society? Was it a true depiction of criminals exploiting the vulnerabilities of the poor? Did it shape my view of international drug enforcement policies in the U.S.? These are the type of questions that authors of a new World Bank study entitled, The Projection of Development, try to answer in their compelling research on the interface between cinema and development.
By examining an interesting range of historical and contemporary films that touch on a wide variety of development issues—such as poverty, urban violence, conflict and war, and human rights—this paper explores the power and limitations of cinematograhic representation as an authoritative source of development knowledge. It focuses primarily on dramatic films rather than documentaries. Interestingly, it draws on a selection of popular films that have been successful in the global north, including City of God, The Constant Gardner, Missing, and The Year of Living Dangerously. As noted in the report, the authors are acutely aware of this northern bias, but they hope to encourage further research that will explore films from India, South Africa, Nigeria, and South Korea, among other places.