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Brussels, August, 28th, 2017 (SIGNIS/GC). At the end of his life, Bishop Romero was continuously complaining about the fact that the media were at the hand of the “powerfull”: it was their voices that were heard, and, through television, there images were seen. And when stories about the “powerless” were broadcast, it was all done to criminalize and dehumanize them.
It is thus paradoxical that these “powerfull” who controlled the images and the news of the country and who killed many people who were working for justice, one of them being Romero, have achieved the exact opposite of what they wanted: after their deaths, many films and documentaries were produced and spread their work, their voices and their images.
The murder of Bishop Romero, followed by the ones of four American missionaries in 1980 in El Salvador, launched a massive production of films and documentaries. One of the first documentaries that denounced the dictatorship in El Salvador, and the help it was receiving from the US government, was Roses in December (1982), by the British Bernard Stone and the Colombian-Irish Ana Carrigan. Roses in December talks about the torture and the killing of the 4 missionaries at the end of 1980 by Salvadorian soldiers. These horrors were also the topic of the fiction film Choices of the Heart, which highlights the murder of four American women and Bishop Romero. The American government and its ambassador in El Salvador have done everything in their power to stop its release. The film was shot in Mexico, with Rene Enriquez as Romero, and was supported by the actor Martin Scheen, who played a priest.
The film Salvador, from the American Oliver Stone, in 1986, was focusing more on the death of Romero. The film gave a global echo to his life and sacrifice. In the film, the American journalist Richard Boyle, played by James Woods, goes to El Salvador to report on the bloody events of the civil war. The film dramatizes real incidents and mixes them with fictional facts, which, for some critics, discredits the film. Stone also denounces the support of his government to the dictatorship.
It is mostly with the film Romero by John Duigan and the Puerto Rican actor Raúl Julia as Romero, that a large audience came to know Romero’s story. The film received the OCIC prize in 1989 in Fortaleza (Brazil), on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Romero’s death, because it “showcased the Salvadorian Catholic Church’s Indignation on repression, violence and social injustices”. The Australian director Duiga, wanted to show the internal conflict inside the Church: the ones who agree with the liberation theology and the ones he called the “traditionalists”. It was produced by Father Ellwood E. Kieser, from the Paulines Fathers, and partially funded by American catholic organizations. The independent American documentary, Monsenor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero, by Ana Carrigan and Juliet Weber (2011) follows the same ideas. The documentary is based on vintage images from the personal archives of Romero, mixed with interviews of Salvadorians whose lives were touched by the Bishop.
It is also interesting to mention productions such as the documentary Remembering Romero, by Peter Chappell (1991), in which he talks about the importance of getting involved with the poors. The film was produced by the Catholic Committee against hunger and for development, which was active in El Salvador since 1979. Another interesting production is the one from Tellux Film and the funding agency Adveniat, created for the web. In three episodes of almost 7 minutes each, it tells the life and the impact Romero had.
In 2005, an important American TV station, ABC, and director Jeff Bleckner produced a biographical film on Pope John Paul II: Have No Fear : The Life of Pope John Paul II. Even though the film focuses on the Pope, played by Thomas Kretschmann, some scenes are dedicated to Romero. The Pope lectures Romero and tells him to obey Rome. After his death, the Pope shows remorse and prays on Romero’s grave in El Salvador. A way of “rewriting” the story, as, in real life, Romero had two audiences with the Pope, during which he told him to be careful but that he had his full support. In his journal, Romero was always very positive about his audiences and even felt encouraged. In 1983, the Pope visit, against everyone’s advices, Romero’s grave. This shows that, even after his death, some people still want to control Romero’s image!