The promotion of La Llorona's Curse with Mexican healers draws fire



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La Llorona's Curse focuses on the Mexican folklore of La Llorona, a female spirit that cries and takes the children.

A promotion around the movie La Curl de La Llorona using traditional Mexican healers for "spiritual cleansing" before the horror movie shows is drawing strong criticism from healers and academics who say that stunts are offensive and humiliating.

On Friday, Warner Bros. called on healers known as healers to give clean cleanings to the public. The studio also sent Los Angeles-born curator Salvador Gata to "bless." an audience before the SXSW premiere at The Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, on March 15.

In addition, photos posted on social media show images of alleged healers offering ceremonial cleanings in front of posters of La Llorona's Curse, celebrating as if they were attending a party.

"I'm working on the movie La Llorona and I'm looking for a healer to clean up before my movie shows," Nahir Wold wrote in an e-mail with San Diego's Grace Sesma. "Let me know if this is something you would be interested in doing!"

Sesma said she ignored the invitation until she began to see photos of supposed cleanings in online exhibitions. This annoyed her and she posted the email on her Facebook page.

"I found it very embarrassing," Sesma said. "It increases the fear factor around a traditional practice and marketizes and exploits our culture just to get people to see the movie."

But Miguel Franco, a Los Angeles-based healer, said that Warner Bros. was not looking for stereotypes when the studio invited him several times at various events for the film.

"Working at press conferences, offering my services to people from all walks of life, including several well-known people, influencers and media, allowed me to share my gift with people who would not normally come to me," Franco said. He called the experience "overwhelmingly positive."

Wold did not immediately return e-mails and phone messages left by the Associated Press.

Tonita Gonzales, an internationally known healer in Albuquerque, called for the promotion of "indignation and appropriation" of Mexican-American culture.

"The cleansing is a cleansing that helps people see the sacred inside them," Gonzales said. "For us, promoting a movie, especially over the Easter weekend, is disturbing."

The production hired curators as consultants to ensure the film healer was portrayed with precision and sensitivity, Warner Bros. officials said. The studio declined further comments.

La Llorona's Curse, starring Linda Cardellini and Raymond Cruz, focuses on the Mexican folklore of La Llorona, a crying female spirit that takes the kids. Cruz, who portrays a healer and protector of the film, is one of many Latino actors who participate in the cast that includes comedian Paul Rodriguez and Marisol Ramirez, who plays La Llorona.

Curanderismo is the art of using traditional methods of healing like herbs and plants to treat various diseases. Long practiced in indigenous villages in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, healers are also found in New Mexico, southern Texas, Arizona, and California.

Anthropologists believe that quackery remained popular among poor Latinos because they did not have access to health care. But they say the field is gaining strength among those seeking to use alternative medicine.

A cleansing is something accomplished for those who suffer from trauma such as sexual abuse, said Sesma. "It's not to protect you from being scared at the movies."

Professor Eliseo "Cheo" Torres of the University of New Mexico, who is organizing an annual conference in Albuquerque on quackery, said La Llorona's story has nothing to do with healers, even if there are healers in the film. "I do not see the connection and this is likely to be offensive to those who practice traditional healing," Torres said. "Anyone putting this promotion together probably has no idea what they're doing."

Andrew Chesnut, bishop Walter F. Sullivan, president of Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and a scholar who studied spiritual practices in Mexico, called film promotion "reprehensible" and harmful.

"This will only serve to further stigmatize quackery as something to be feared," as it is associated with a horror film, Chesnut said. "This is dangerous, especially because of the climate that Mexican immigrants now face."

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