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Imagining the future from the margins: cyborg labor in Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer

Abstract

Sleep Dealer is a feature-length, science fiction film by Alex Rivera that explores relations between Latin America and the U.S. from an unusual location: impoverished southern Mexico, sometime in the near future. We argue that the film’s multi-sited, polyvocal views on migration, labor exploitation and violent, proliferation of borders deliberately creates dissonance, wonder and ultimately hope. Rivera’s decision to locate his futuristic sci-fi film in rural, agrarian, indigenous Mexico challenges hegemonic conceptions of a future that is already known. We also suggest Rivera’s film allows viewers to imagine simultaneous co-production of futures (plural and collective) by destabilizing pervasive notions of progress and ethics. Instead Rivera proposes a relational understanding of how the world works. Encouraging viewers to identify with Memo, a cyborg-laborer and the central protagonist, Rivera asserts the power of human agency, the significance of everyday, mundane choices. Memo, Rivera insists, and others who appear to possess little control over their destiny, are capable of imagining and creating their own future. In this way, Rivera’s filmic strategy invites viewers to assess their own situation, their own personal values and reflect on the future they might choose to imagine. Rivera asks: how does one create an ethical life in a world of increasingly rapid, exploitative, material and discursive exchanges linking the powerful and the powerless, the core and periphery, the blessed and the damned? Rivera’s imaginary landscape in Sleep Dealer is a field of hopeful experimentation, negotiation and possibility.

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Notes

  1. A coyote is a person who smuggles Mexicans to the United States. This use of the term stems from a mythical anthropomorphic figure of the coyote, a trickster that mediates humans between worlds of life and death, common to indigenous cultures of North America. In Rivera’s version of the near future the coyotech inserts nodes into the Mexican body so that labor can be performed at a distance without leaving the country.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Alex Rivera for sharing his insights in a personal interview and permitting us to use images from Sleep Dealer; and Cornelio Campos whose art exhibition Sueños Americanos at the UNC-Chapel Hill FedEx Global Education Center in North Carolina in 2011 inspired us to screen, and analyze, Sleep Dealer.

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Correspondence to Altha Cravey.

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Cravey, A., Palis, J. & Valdivia, G. Imagining the future from the margins: cyborg labor in Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer . GeoJournal 80, 867–880 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-015-9652-4

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Keywords

  • Latin American–U.S. relations
  • Cyborg labor
  • Human agency
  • Mexico
  • Cinematic geographies
  • Future geographies