What is the story about?
In 2018, possibly during the time the documentary ‘The Three Deaths of Maricela Escobedo’ was being filmed in Chihuahua, hundreds of women were gathered to protest against violence and abduction of their children in Mexico. The march for dignity is one of many that reminds us of the human rights crisis in the country, including the many terrible acts of violence and disappearances of women. The film itself gives us the chilling statistic that eight women are killed in the country every day. Maricela Escobedo’s story isn’t just one of them, but as the film again points out, a ‘symbol’ of national resistance against the state and authorities, where the failure of the system often forces families, especially mothers and fathers, to take up the task of searching for perpetrators and demanding justice.
The rightfully named ‘The Three Deaths of Maricela Escobedo’ is Netflix’s documentary that examines the case of Rubie and Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, a young girl who was brutally murdered by her much older boyfriend Sergio, and her mother who then began a two-year-long gruelling mission to bring her justice, respectively.
In 2008, 16-year-old Rubie went missing and her burnt and dismembered remains were found a year later in Ciudad Juarez. Rubie’s boyfriend and the father to her child, Sergio Rafael Barraza Bocanegra was believed to be the perpetrator of the crime after a confession to court but was acquitted due to lack of evidence. Thus began a series of protests by Marisela and the Escobedo family to have him arrested. The case was reopened, he was found guilty and sentenced for murder, but by this time, he was a fugitive. Marisela started a search which resulted in finding Sergio’s whereabouts down to his connection to a powerful drug cartel. On a cold winter evening in December 2010, Marisela was holding a peaceful vigil for Rubie and other victims of femicide outside the State Governor’s office when she was shot dead. A few days later, her brother-in-law was found dead on the street outside their co-owned business. This story isn’t just a personal tragedy for the late Marisela and her surviving kin, but a reflection of Mexico’s failing judicial system which couldn’t protect the women of the state and fails to do so even today.
If you find it absolutely exhausting to go through that synopsis, I wouldn’t blame you. The Three Deaths of Maricela Escobedo is a tightly packed 1hour49 minute documentary but the sheer story that is presented makes it feel like a struggle that is much longer. And why wouldn’t it be? The film opens with a statement from Maricela who states that it was her mission to ensure that her daughter doesn’t just become a statistic, and she dies on the frontlines while upholding that mission. Thus starts a slow unravelling of each of her deaths - the first is when Sergio is acquitted and we see her and her sister completely break down in court, the second is when she is abandoned by the authorities in trying to locate him while on the run (thus ensuring that he never actually fulfils his sentence), and the third when she is shot dead next to one of the most protected structures in the city, completely lighted and under CCTV surveillance and yet we are never really sure if the man eventually arrested for the murder is, in fact, guilty.
The film gives ample insight into a family that has been completely abandoned by the system meant to protect them, mostly by the way of interviews from both of Maricela’s sons, her sister, their legal counsels and representatives, and important former members of the State and local legislation. These testimonies also highlight the helplessness of not just the Escobedo’s but of all those other people who were involved in prosecuting Sergio and weren’t given enough support from the government in doing so at any point. The fact that the film only keeps interviews as testimonies (and at one extremely pivotal point, the footage to the real court proceedings against Sergio) and doesn’t have any other element of visual storytelling makes it more realistic and more heartbreaking, though it sometimes hinders the pace as well.
For Rubie’s oldest brother, it has been an exceptional struggle to live in the reality of both deaths and the need to carry on that fight even as he fled the country in light of threats to his life as well. Watching his testimony is enough to break you down completely. Meanwhile, despite the grief, the vulnerability, and the constant threat of violence or death, mothers in the country continue to soldier on even to as recently as the march for dignity.
What The Three Deaths of Maricela Escobedo fails to touch upon in much detail is the context in which Rubie’s death takes place. It is briefly spoken that Rubie was a young teenager when the married Sergio entered the Escobedos’ life as a worker in their business. Under what circumstances he swayed and impregnated her is unknown, more so the circumstances of her death (citing that he killed her in the rage of her dumping him). What could very well be true for this particular crime could also be a connection to Mexico’s ongoing drug war. The connection between these cartels, the military sent in to combat them, and the government’s connection to organized crime is stated briefly later but never really explored properly. Hence, when the then-Governor of Chihuahua is mentioned as being indicted for embezzling 1.3 billion pesos, we wonder why this wasn’t a more important element in the film. Moreover, how instrumental have the marches and protests been in implementing legislation changes in Mexico’s system, if at all, is also something that you’d probably have to Google.
Did I enjoy it?
Definitely. It will be quite a while before your faith in the flawed system will be restored, but at least you will get a heart-breaking look at why it’s important to keep fighting.
Do I recommend it?
Yes I do