God, that was tense!
Carajita is about Sara and Yari, and their relationship. Sara is a rich white kid. Yari is the Black woman who works as her nanny, sending money back to her sister who is raising her child at home. Sara and Yari are both very close, and both of them at times like to let go of the awareness that they are not mother and daughter, and drift into their blind affection for each other.
Sara comes from a wealthy family of white Argentinians, but has been looked after from birth by Yari, a Dominican. Her father is a corrupt business man, known for his connections and friends in high places. Her brother is a typical spoiled kid party boy. Sara doesn’t feel at home with her biological family, she doesn’t want to be like them, and finds them faintly disgusting.
This film is about whiteness. Sara wants to be Yari’s daughter. She wants to look like her, be like her, be Black like her. When she meets Yari’s daughter, Mallory, she’s jealous of her. Sara thinks her rejection of her family’s privilege makes her one of the Good White People.
Just a word on Sara’s family. These are not cartoon villains. They are simply people, like any people, who have access to a good deal of wealth, and privilege which insulates them from the rough edges of the world and the consequences of their own behaviour. Do they make shitty choices? Yes. Is being corrupt business owners one of them? Yes. Is hiring a broke teenager to look after their baby day and night? Yes. (You find out Yari must only have been 15 when Sara was born). But they are kinda just doing what is normal to their station. They consider themselves good people. They’re not cruel. They treat Yari well, act like she is one of the family.
But that’s the problem. At the heart of Carajita is the effects of structural societal racism. They mean Sara and her family can do what they can do, and Yari and Mallory can only do what they can do. Sara’s family can steal, and hire a 15-year-old child to work night and day in their house, and that’s not only not punished, but considered normal, a moral neutral, the injustice of which both they and others will be blind to.
Sara acts like she wants to renounce all that. But to paraphrase an MC, “Y’all wanna be me, until it’s time to be me”. Circumstances will prove that when it comes time, Sara will find her whiteness useful, and not so glibly discarded.
SPOILERS ahead! Bail now if you are convinced to go see the film.
Sara and her brother take Mallory out to a party. They all have a great time, and as the evening tails off, Mallory decides to walk home. Sara’s brother decides to stay at the party, so she drives her boyfriend home. On the way, they have a weird moment, a herd of goats come suddenly out the grass, and one creepy looking motherfucker stares Sara down, standing in the road, looking directly at the car.
A little unnerved, but ok, Sara continues to drop her boyfriend off at his house. As she is driving home alone, a storm rises, pouring rain and reducing visibility. Then her brother calls her, asking to be picked up, and Sara fumbles for her phone, and . . . she hits something. She’s drunk, she’s driving in the dark, at night, in the rain, in a storm, while using her mobile phone. She is entirely culpable if she has struck someone.
She sits there frozen, unable to look. She has that sharp, bright sobriety that comes with a bad shock. And it’s like, if she doesn’t look to see what she’s hit, it never happened.
And then ahead of her, the goats reappear. She sighs, relaxes. It was just a goat. She continues to the party, collects her brother, and drives home. She sleeps the night away, without a care in the world.
You know how this is going to go. You know what she hit out there.
Mallory doesn’t return home, and Yari is worried. She calls around and tells Sara’s mother her concerns. They fly into action, like Good White People, and Sara’s father starts ringing round his contacts for help.
Then Mallory is found. By the side of the road. Her ribs crushed in by impact with a car. She lay out all night in the storm. The impact didn’t kill her outright. She was left to die, face down in the dirt, and drowned in the mud.
As soon as Sara hears, she knows. She knows in her heart of hearts, it was Mallory she hit on the road last night. And what follows is this sickeningly tense journey, as she hopes against hope it isn’t true. Sara’s family take Yari back to her family, and sit all day with them in mourning. Sara’s father, ignorant of her involvement, offers to pay for the funeral expenses. They want to show they were sincere about Yari being like family. That her loss is their loss.
Except it’s not. And they leave later that evening to make the dinner party they’ve planned with business leaders and congressmen.
What I was a bit worried about with this film is that they would stretch out the tension of the possibility of Yari finding out, but the film actually cycles through events quite quickly. Sara is acting off to anyone who cares to see, and she confesses to her boyfriend that night. What follows is not what she expects.
He says she’s wrong, she hit a goat. When she tries to explain, he repeats. She’s wrong. She hit a goat. He alerts her family to the fact she looks likely to confess to Yari. And all the machinery of privilege goes into motion to protect Sara from her crime.
Meanwhile Yari’s family are no dupes. They noticed the broken headlight on the car Sara’s family showed up in. They go out to where Mallory was found, and find the same glass there in the mud. Some of her family exult in having proof against her murderer. But Yari is just stunned. She can’t believe it.
Without saying a word, she returns to Sara’s house. And finds the car and the garage have been washed. There’s not a fragment of glass there. Not only is it true, they KNOW. And they are going to ensure there will be no justice for her, for Mallory.
And Sara, who so eschewed her family’s wealth, privilege, and corruption, the whiteness which protected them from the consequences of their actions, now she will really have to decide. She wanted to be like Yari, until it was time to be like Yari.