Matthew Heineman Already Faces Backlash Over Upcoming Maria Felix Film

Distractify Staff - Author

Aug. 5 2021, Published 4:44 p.m. ET

Matthew Heineman
Source: getty images

On August 2, 2021, Deadline reported that I Care a Lot's Eiza Gonzalez had been tapped to play the iconic Mexican film star Maria Felix in an on-screen adaptation of the actress's life directed by Matthew Heineman, in partnership with Maria Felix's estate.

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Maria Felix — known as "La Doña" and "Maria Bonita" in the 1940s and '50s — starred in nearly 50 movies in Mexico, France, Italy, and Argentina until she stopped working in 1971. And while several people are excited to get a glimpse of the icon's life through Eiza's role in the upcoming biopic, many are taking issue with the fact that director Matthew Heineman is attached to the project.

So, what's the controversy surrounding Emmy-winning director Matthew Heineman? Get comfortable while Distractify explains.

Matthew Heineman
Source: getty images
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This isn't the first time Matthew Heineman has been called problematic.

According to Deadline, the team behind Maria Felix's biopic is currently "looking for a Latin American writer" to adapt her life for the screen.

This note rubbed many on social media the wrong way, as people were quick to point out that this film about a Mexican woman is just the latest in a long list of problematic projects Matthew Heineman, a white man, has directed in recent years.

Readers may be familiar with HBO's two-part Tiger Woods documentary series, which was released earlier in 2021. Tiger, directed by Matthew Heineman and another white director, Matthew Hamachek, was critically panned for being yet another story about a Black person told by white men.

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What's more, the production was initially meant to air in July of 2020, in the middle of a summer marked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, a summer full of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and nationwide protests.

Though HBO held off on releasing Tiger until January, industry professionals and casual viewers alike were quick to call out the lack of Black talent on the docuseries' roster. "I ... feel compelled to ask you — in the spirit of being anti-racist — why did you both, two white men, opt to direct this film?" Geeta Gandbhir, the Emmy- and Peabody-winning director and producer asked on the Facebook post where Matthew Heineman had proudly announced the film.

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She continued, "I want to make you aware of the asks from the Black and brown community — as you have a huge platform, and the whole community needs to grapple with the issue of systemic racism in our community. Why was there not a director reflective of the community on this project? ... Accountability and leadership are needed at this time — you are in a great position to be a positive example."

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More than 200 comments followed Geeta's, many of which also called out film projects of Matthew's that preceded 'Tiger.'

Matthew directed 2015's Cartel Land, a documentary about Mexican cartels that Vadim Rizov of Filmmaker Magazine called the one film at the Sundance Festival he "really and truly despised." "Cartel Land is an absolute mess of a film," he wrote, calling some of Matthew's choices "egregious, manipulative, unnecessary, and all kinds of problematic."

Others called Matthew's 2015 project a "xenophobic" and "myopic view of Mexico," that offers troubling "moral equivalents" and "problematic if not ridiculous" comparisons between the Michoacán autodefensa organization and a group of vigilantes who patrol the U.S. side of the Arizona/Mexico border.

On Twitter, viewers were less careful with their words. "Matthew Heineman you must be a racist f--k! How much did you pay those Mexican families?!" one person wrote.

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The film, despite these oversights, earned Sundance Film Festival's "Best Director, U.S. Documentary" and "Best Cinematography, U.S. Documentary" awards.

Matthew's next project was the 2016 documentary short The Third Man, which according to its synopsis, "explores the fight for racial equality at the 1968 Olympics." The director followed that project up with 2017's City of Ghosts, about a Syrian media activist group who risked their lives to document atrocities committed by ISIS.

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After releasing A Private War in 2018, Matthew directed Showtime's The Trade for two seasons, which "offers a visceral look at illicit industries" with a keen interest in Central America. Season 1 follows the opioid epidemic, "from cartel-controlled Mexico to heartland America," and Season 2 "centers on human trafficking and smuggling, following Central Americans on a perilous odyssey to the U.S."

Then in 2020, Matthew directed a documentary following Colombian reggaeton singer J Balvin, before returning once again to the headlines for his Tiger docuseries on HBO.

Following the backlash he received online for the two-part Tiger Woods series, Matthew expressed his regrets in the same Facebook post where Geeta had initially left her comment. "I absolutely should have done more to diversify our Tiger crew," he wrote in a lengthy statement. "I wish I could go back in time and change things, and it's my responsibility to course-correct and do better."

Flash forward to August 2021: Many onlookers are perplexed about how exactly Matthew's choice to tell the story of a Mexican woman is the white director course-correcting and doing better. Or, as one person on Twitter put it, "It's not right to have a white guy who stereotyped Mexicans be at the helm" of this Maria Felix film.

Do you think Matthew should have done better after expressly saying that he would, or do you think social media is just overreacting?

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