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Sin Nombre


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Sin Nombre, loosely translated as “without name”, is an independent film released in 2009 under the skillful direction of Cary Fukunaga. Fukunaga, a film graduate from New York University, also attended a French university and carries a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of California at Santa Cruz. During his studies and New York University, he made a short film titled Victoria Para Chino, a film about a group of immigrants who died in a refrigerated trailer when immigrating to America; The inspiration behind Sin Nombre came from that short film. In his first major production, Fukunaga continued his interest in the topic of immigration, and came up with the creation of Sin Nombre. The film follows both a young gangster of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, Casper, and young girl from Honduras, Sayra, on their difficult journey to America. Fukunaga’s overall reason for the film was to express the hardships Central American people face on their journey to America, in hopes that people could see immigration from a different light. The film is directed mainly towards citizens of America, Central America, and Mexico although it can spread to any area with controversial opinions of immigration. The constraints of the film include time, as the film lasted just 96 minutes, rating, the limited budget of an independent film, the dangerous filming locations in Central America and Mexico, and language— the film is spoken completely in spanish with english subtitles. These constraints were overcome, and the film went on to be nominated for 22 awards, winning 12 of those including multiple awards at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, perhaps the most prestigious awards in the independent film world. Fukunaga bravely delivers the powerful and eye-opening story of the journey experienced by Central Americans immigrating to America: One that has previously been pushed behind the curtains in today’s society. Fukunaga delivers his argument that immigrants should be seen as struggling and underprivileged individuals rather than discriminated upon because of racial stereotypes through the use of appeals to pathos, logos, extrinsic ethos, and intrinsic ethos in order to capture the attention of his audience. The reputation that Fukunaga brought to film benefits his appeal to extrinsic ethos. Although this was his first major film, the resume tagged to Fukunaga is certainly impressive to his audience. In addition to his outstanding credentials and degrees from prestigious universities such as the film school at NYU, he also has an interesting past that contributes to the film’s argument. Fukunaga is a decedent of both Swedish and Japanese heritages, and the child of immigrants as both of his parents made the journey from their respective homelands to America. Although the circumstances are different, this background shows the audience that immigrants come in many different forms, and gives a different perspective on immigration. He also brings a great deal of personal research to the film which is perhaps the greatest contribution to his extrinsic ethos. He spent years traveling and witnessing the cultures of the countries represented in the film; he even rode the trains and traveled the path that these immigrants made to America. He also did a great deal of research on the Mara Sulvatrucha gang, including personal interviews with current gang members and leaders. In an interview with Complex Magazine Fukunaga reveals what he had learned in his research. When asked about his experiences on the trains, Fukunaga states “I met immigrants on the trip who had gone home, risking their lives to see their mom or his dad or his wife and kids. Many don't go back because it's just too scary, especially for women, to make that trip.” This research not only shows his commitment and dedication to this film, but also ensures the audience that they are viewing an accurate representation of the journey made by Central American immigrants. The reputation, qualifications, and personal research that Fukunaga brings to the film helps him to establish extrinsic ethos within his audience and to advance his argument on immigration. The authentic representations of the Mara Salvatrucha gang make a strong appeal to intrinsic ethos by displaying Fukunaga’s commitment and intelligence. It is important to establish intrinsic ethos within this film because it helps him gain his audience’s trust, which will greatly effect the overall acceptance of his argument. Fukunaga displays the results of his years of personal research by creating an extremely accurate representation of the gang’s culture. Through the use of several visual and audial elements, the audience is thrown into an experience as if they were experiencing the gang personally, as Fukunaga had. The authentic tattoos littering the bodies of the gangsters, the graffiti masking the walls of the cities and trains, and the reenactments of the brutal rituals and initiations of MS-13, along with the dialogue and hand signals, create both a shocking but authentic representation of the gang’s impact on Central America and Mexico. The tattoos were so authentic, in fact, that they put the actors from the film at risk. In an interview with Neal Conan of National Public Radio, Fukunaga explained the danger of sporting such tattoos: “We had to make sure that the tattoos for his face, and neck and hands, all of that needed to wash off and needed to be cleaned off before we send any of the actors home because they are real insignias and makes you a target.” Fukunaga’s ability to transform his research onto the big screen appeals greatly to his intrinsic ethos and display of his intelligence. In addition to the authentic representations of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, Fukunaga also enhances his appeal to intrinsic ethos through his ability to authenticate the overall culture of Central America and Mexico. This film is littered with culture being represented through authentic dialogue, music, clothing, and festivities. The biggest representation of culture comes through the use of dialogue. The film is not only produced in spanish, but in authentic spanish through the mastery of the cultures slang. The ability to utilize authentic language throughout the film gives the audience the illusion that they are inside Mexico and a part of the film. This illusion is further enhanced by the authentic Central American and Mexican music played throughout the film. From the rap music played inside the gangs’ houses and gatherings, to the traditional Mexican musics played in the towns and on the journey to America, the audience is thrown even deeper into the culture that the film is built upon. The clothing worn by the characters is also very authentic, displaying traditional dresses worn by women, dirty and raggedy street clothes worn by townspeople and the immigrants, and the tank tops and sleeveless shirts worn by the gangsters to reveal their tattoos and markings. The utilization of authentic clothing not only portrays an accurate representation of the culture, but also helps the audience relate to the characters. The authentic representation of culture throughout the film positively affects Fukunaga’s appeal to intrinsic ethos throughout the film, helping him enhance his argument. Fukunaga also manages to make strong appeals to logos and his overall argument in the film through his ability to portray a legitimate reason for immigration by Central Americans. Alejandro Portes and Ruben G. Rumbaut, Authors of Who They Are and Why They Come pose the following question: “What are the factors motivating some groups but not others to seek entry into the United States? The most common answer is the desperate poverty, squalor, and unemployment of many foreign lands” (15). From the start of the film the characters are shown living their lives in extreme poverty and violence. Even once the decision is made to leave and head for America, the poverty and violence on the trains does not stop. Central Americans wake up every day with the task of feeding their families and to survive the gang violence surrounding them constantly. This violence is displayed vividly through the murder of Casper’s girlfriend, Martha Marlene, and the robbing of immigrants by the Mara Salvatrucha gang, and constant worry for immigrants. Perhaps the most important representation of a reason to flee to America comes through the characters Casper, Smiley, and Sayra. Casper decides to flee to America for his safety, as he decides to give up the gang and try to live an honest life. Sayra is traveling with her family in hopes of a better and more prosperous life. At the end of the film, the audience is shown two different situations: Sayra walking into America with a newborn opportunity to create a better life for herself, and then Smiley, a young boy who chose a life inside the gang to fulfill his need for a family and for support. Smiley is seen getting a tattoo on the inside of lip, depicting his commitment to gang, and representing a life of being trapped in violence. Through these two situations, Fukunaga hopes that his audience will see that most people in Central America have two options: to be trapped in a life of poverty and violence, or to try and make it to America to build a better life for themselves. He hopes that with these two options on the table people, Americans specifically, will have a greater sense of understanding for why these people choose to come to America. The last appeal that Fukunaga makes throughout the film is to pathos which he achieves through connecting the audience emotionally to the characters and to the film. He achieves this connection by making his audience feel sympathetic towards the characters, and Central Americans in general. The audience sympathizes for Central American’s way of life due to Fukunaga’s ability to portray the poverty that surrounds them. The film shows image after image of the filth that these people live in everyday. A notable scene from the movie that depicts such poverty is when the train station at La Bambilla is first introduced. The train tracks are littered with trash, dirty, and hundreds of Central Americans hoping to catch the next train to America. In no circumstance throughout the film is Central America or Mexico depicted as glamorous of beautiful, and Fukunaga’s ability to stay clear of emphasizing desirable or beautiful destinations in these areas is key to his emotional connections within in the audience. Fukunaga is also able to create an emotional connection between the audience and the film through his use of characters. Smiley’s character was one that the audience could form connections with at the movie went on. At the beginning of the film, the audience sympathizes for Smiley as he is beat up and thrown into the gang life. However, as the movie moves on, Smiley is shown transforming into the gang and is seen having a willingness to be a part of it. The scene where Smiley is talking to other neighborhood kids about his plan to kill Casper makes the audience sympathize not only for Smiley and the kid he has become, but also for the neighborhood kids who look up to him and seem to be inevitably the future gangsters of the area. Fukunaga’s ability to create emotional connections between the audience and the film greatly attribute to the effectiveness of his argument. The independent film Sin Nombre was created by director Cary Fukunaga in the hopes of persuading his audience to sympathize for Central American immigrants to look upon them with a sense of respect of understanding. He supports this argument through his ability to make appeals to both intrinsic and extrinsic ethos, logos, and to pathos. These appeals were used to gain his audience’s trust in his argument and his character, and to connect them to the story emotionally. These appeals work together throughout the film to keep the audience engaged in the story, and to reiterate and support his overall argument. Overall, Fukunaga’s ability to pay close attention to his argument and how it is perceived by his audience resulted in an extremely successful film. The emotional connections to the characters that the audience makes throughout the film leave them will a lasting perception of the struggle these people go through on their journey to America, and create a new understanding and opinion on the topic of immigration within the audience.

Works Cited
Fukunaga, Cary. “Cross the U.S.-Mexican Border in ‘Sin Nombre.’” Interview by Neal Conan. National Public Radio, 2009. Web. 19 June 2012.
Fukunaga, Cary. “‘Sin Nombre.’” Interview by Complex Magazine. Complex Pop Culuture, 2009. Web. 19 June 2012.
Portes, Alejandro, and Ruben G. Rumbaut. “Who They Are and Why They Come.” Immigrant America: A Portrait. 3rd. ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California pRESS, 2006. 12 - 38. Print.
Sin Nombre. Dir. Cary Fukunaga. Focus Feature, 2009. DVD.

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