The burden we place on particular women in entertainment is unfairly heavy. If there were a couple dozen Lena Dunhams and Amy Schumers — famous, funny women who do not fill the mould of the ultra-thin, refined actress — then these two women's every move and project wouldn’t be so hyper-scrutinised or expected to live up to such damn high expectations. When we stake the viability of women-driven studio comedies on single stars and films, it's impossible for them please us all, every time. But the avoidance of tired racial stereotypes? You’d think that would be a little easier.
Snatched, written by Ghostbusters and The Heat scribe Katie Dippold and directed by Jonathan Levine, stars Amy Schumer as Emily, a directionless, narcissistic millennial preoccupied with taking selfies and doing the bare minimum to get by in life. She gets dumped by her asshole boyfriend (a hilarious Randall Park, who I wish were in the movie past the 20-minute mark) and is stuck with a nonrefundable trip for two to Ecuador. Nobody will go with her, so she decides to invite her laughably cautious worrywart mom Linda, played by Goldie Hawn, in her return to the big screen after 15 years.
The first 45 minutes or so are filled with entertaining banter between the two, playing off their generational divide, odd-couple dynamic, and delightful on-screen chemistry. After their vacation goes awry, the movie becomes a B-action buddy comedy with a fair amount of laughs (some wittier and well-earned, others cheap gags) and more of that fantastic chemistry between the two stars as they trek through the Amazon jungle.
Unfortunately, the catalyst for their series of comical mishaps rests on tired and offensive Latino stereotypes. Emily and Linda are kidnapped for ransom by a gang led by ruthless Colombian thug Morgado (Spanish actor Óscar Jaenada). After the ladies kill his nephew in an attempt to escape, the chase begins. Morgado and his men are cartoonishly one-dimensional: evil, hot-headed, violent, blood-lusting, callous creeps. You don’t have to be the P.C. police to understand why this isn’t a good look: two fair white women captured and brutalised by Latino baddies in the middle of the jungle. (Can't you just imagine the gem of a casting call for this one: “Seeking dark-skinned, vaguely Hispanic looking males with stern facial features and bad teeth, capable of doing a thick accent.")
I imagined that the counter-argument here would be the fact that Schumer and Hawn are also playing stereotypes: the ignorant and self-absorbed American tourists. My suspicion was confirmed when I came across this Schumer quote to Empire magazine in April: “I'm aware that it's such a sensitive time with other cultures and I don't want people to think I'm stereotyping South Americans, saying they're all kidnappers. It's more about highlighting my ignorance, as as ugly American who goes somewhere without speaking the language at all. It's ultimately making fun of American entitlement."
It’s interesting that Schumer felt the need put up a preemptive defence from exactly this line of criticism; you’d think that alone would have given the filmmakers pause for thought if not set off an alarm. The fact is that making fun of Americans’ entertainingly awful, entitled behaviour abroad is a fine premise, one that indeed provides laughs in the movie. But that doesn’t negate or make up for the ham-handed use of lazy minority stereotypes — which is not only unnecessary but counterproductive, if Schumer’s mission is as she stated. Emily and Linda’s experience only enforces the stereotypical image of savage Latino criminals presented in the film — for both their characters and the audience watching.
Like I said, it’s sexist and unfair to expect perfection from funny women like Schumer. And it’s not unreasonable to think that the problematic portrayal of Latinos in the movie would’ve stood out less were this a buddy comedy written by and starring men — perhaps so rife with sexist stereotypes that our attention might be occupied there. But even the most gender-progressive movie in the world can’t get away with caricaturing a whole people.