Since 2006, more than 100,000 people have died as a result of Mexico’s violent drug war.
Last September, the kidnapping of 43 trainee teachers in the Mexican State of Guerrero (a crime that was committed with the help of local government and police) sparked outrage and protests across the country. And in the past year alone, eight Mexican mayors have been arrested for connections to organized crime.
But rather than actually trying to solve these problems, it seems that the Mexican government is more interested in making itself look good to the outside world.
Emails leaked during the recent Sony hack indicate that the Mexican government offered MGM and Sony tax incentives worth up to $20 million in exchange for specific edits to the the New James Bond film “Spectre”, which is set to be released later this year. Part of the movie is filmed in Mexico.
The Mexican government’s edits included the following:
- The main villain, “Sciarra”, had to be played by a non-Mexican actor;
- One of the “Bond girls”, “Estrella”, had to be played by a Mexican actress;
- The target of an assassination plot in the movie had to be changed from the “governor of the Federal District” (ie. the mayor of Mexico City) to an international leader;
- The Mexican police that were in the script had to be replaced by a “special force”; and
- A cage fighting scene in the original script had to be replaced with footage of Mexico’s popular Day of the Dead celebrations.
The government also asked the filmmakers to highlight Mexico City’s “modern” skyline in the movie.
Brian Bardwell of TaxAnalysts.com was the first to break the story. According to Bardwell, Mexico offered the studios $14 million in tax incentives so that the film would shoot its prologue there.
The edits mentioned above, which he says amounted to a total of just 4 minutes of movie time, were worth an additional $6 million.
“You have done a great job in getting us the Mexican incentive,”
wrote MGM president Jonathan Glickman in an email to Amy Pascal, who was chair of Sony’s motion picture group at the time. Glickman continued,
“By all accounts we can still get the extra $6M by continuing to showcase the modern aspects of the city, and it sounds like we are well on our way based on your last scout. Let’s continue to pursue whatever avenues we have available to maximize this incentive.”
In a subsequent email, Pascal encouraged Glickman to make a harder sell on those additional edits so that the two studios could receive as much of the financial incentives as possible:
“We should insist they add whatever travelogue footage we need in Mexico to get the extra money,”
she wrote in the email.
It is not uncommon for movies filming in foreign countries to have to jump through a few hoops before they’re allowed to start shooting.
Some governments require foreign films to pass a “cultural test” before they are allowed to operate within the country, while others simply demand that the country be portrayed in a positive light.
Bardwell acknowledges this fact in his piece for TaxAnalysts.com, but says that…
“…the changes to Spectre appear to go well beyond that, with the studio permitting Mexican authorities to make casting decisions, dictate characters’ ethnicities, and even change the occupation of an unnamed character that never appears on-screen or figures into the story outside of the opening scene.”
According to Bardwell, a review of the new script shows that all of the edits happen in the film’s opening scene and have virtually no impact on the rest of the movie. So for Sony and MGM, who were, “facing a budget that is far beyond what we anticipated” (according to Glickman), the tax break deal was a no-brainer.
The Mexican government, on the other hand, now faces an extremely difficult task: explaining to the Mexican people why they chose to spend $20 million on a few minutes of inconsequential movie edits while the country is being ravaged by poverty and violence.