A little warning first:  This post is about spelling.  It might not seem that way first, but I’ll eventually get there.

Sometimes I like to venture to forums other than CHUD for specific movie chatter.  A few discussions I encountered recently reminded me of a conversation I was repeatedly forced to deal with back in the Paleozoic when I was a measly teenager:

“So you’re Mexican, right?”

“No, I’m from Colombia.”

“Yeah, Mexican.”

“No, that would make me Colombian.”

“It’s the same thing.”

“No, it’s not.”



The relevance of this conversation in relation to this post is not entirely clear to me as I type this, but there it is.

Whenever a minority is represented or misrepresented in Hollywood movies, great debate is generated and many people get offended even before the movie comes out.*  A good example of this is the whole “why is Jake Gyllenhaal playing the Prince of Persia when he’s not Persian?” argument.

The recent debate that caught my attention comes from the forums discussing Colombiana, the movie with Zoe Saldana that comes out this week.  I will now attempt to summarize the two variants of this debate:

Variant 1:  An appalled Colombian or an organization working to improve Colombia’s image posts an article or creates a forum thread about how this movie damages the image of Colombia as a nation, despite not having seen the movie.  This argument is met with responses such as “Chill, it’s just a movie” and “How do you know the movie is damaging if you haven’t seen it?”  The original poster responds by arguing that the image of Zoe Saldana holding a gun with the word Colombiana printed on the promo poster gives the impression that all Colombians are violent, thus constituting a misrepresentation of the good people of the nation in question.  People then argue that all minorities are misrepresented; some think the original poster should relax and take it as pure entertainment; others become infuriated with the original poster for assuming only Colombians are being misrepresented.  And the cycle continues.

Variant 2:  An appalled Colombian finds it offensive that a Colombian actress wasn’t cast for the main role in a movie called Colombiana.  People tell the original poster to relax, since many times a character representing a minority is played by an actor that doesn’t come from that minority.  Original poster apologetically says it simply would be nice to have a Colombian actress take the role as Colombian actors won’t be known unless Hollywood gives them a chance.  Some people agree, adding that at least Zoe Saldana is a latina.  Then someone says Zoe Saldana is not a latina because she was born in New Jersey.  Some respond by saying she is latina because she is of Dominican origin.  There’s some more arguing about her not being latina, and then someone brings it back to the movie, writing that Zoe Saldana is a bad choice for the role because she’s not Colombian.**  Someone makes a douchy comment about Colombian drugs.  The response accuses the USA of being one of the greatest consumer of Colombian drugs, which is in turn met with “How do you know if you’re not even American?”, taking the argument into the dangerously volatile realm of 7 continents vs. 5 continents and how people are or aren’t American because they come from South and Central America.  Someone mentions that the nations of Central and South America are catholic and catholic priests are rapists.  And the whole thing devolves into infantile name calling.

Just to be clear, please keep in mind that similar debates are generated by the appearance of a leading character representing a minority in movies.  These debates will always happen, as minority misrepresentation and character stereotypes will probably always be used in movies.

As the very unpatriotic Colombian that I am, I’m not really angered by some of the arguments that come from the debate generated by Colombiana, though some of them can get very annoying.  Whenever I see a movie where Colombia is geographically misrepresented, like in Mr. and Ms. Smith, my reaction is that of everyone in the theater:  we collectively have a laugh, sigh, and continue seeing the movie.***  Other forms of misrepresentation are expected.

There is, however, a third debate showing its ugly face on the Colombiana boards, as well as other boards unrelated to the movie:  the proper spelling of the South American country’s name and the word referring to those originating from this country.

Because the second O in Colombia is pronounced as U in English, many people spell the South American country’s name as Columbia, thus referring to people from that country as Columbians.  This is wrong.

When referring to the South American nation, the correct spelling is COLOMBIA, thus making people born in this country COLOMBIANS.  In the case of the Zoe Saldana movie, the correct spelling of the title is Colombiana, with two Os.

 When referring to the District of Columbia, Columbia University, British Columbia, and the Columbia River, the correct spelling is COLUMBIA.

Misspelling Colombia is hardly a sin when people don’t know how the county’s name is spelt or as an innocent typo.  Typos happen.  It’s normal.

What I find deeply infuriating is when a few justify their continued misspelling of Colombia by pulling some weird etymological explanation out of their asses, by saying the correct way to spell it is the way it’s pronounced in English, or my personal favorite: “I’ll spell it any way I want.”  Google “Colombia vs Columbia” and you’ll find these comments in abundance.

Every time I see these comments anywhere, the first thought that pops into my head is “Read a fucking dictionary, you fucking morons.”  Again, this is not aimed at those who innocently misspell Colombia.  I’m sure not many will care, but if you misspell Colombia when communicating with a Colombian in writing, you’ll get a fervent rant similar to mine in this post but much shorter, even if you’re dealing with an unpatriotic Colombian.

If this unnecessarily long rant seems patronizing, I just don’t care.

*People get offended way too easily.  Like me, apparently.

**Zoe Saldana is a great casting choice.  I think she looks more like a ballerina than an ass kicker, but she’s proved she can kick ass.  And she definitely can pass as a Colombian easily.

***The best geographic representation of Colombia can be seen in Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe.  This movie was shot in Bogota, Colombia, and never misrepresents the people of the country.  It also shows Sam Axe riding a burro.  It’s pretty hilarious.