Not just a pretty face

Salma Hayek leads in this biopic about the Mirabal sisters, whose murder by the brutal dictator Trujillo changed the Dominican Republic’s history


In The Time Of Butterflies
Mariano Barroso
2001 (English), MGM
95 minutes

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

LATAMROB rating: ***

ON 25 NOVEMBER 1960 the bodies of three sisters – Minerva, María Teresa, and Patria Mirabal – were found dumped by cliffs on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic.

The press attributed the deaths to an accident, but later it was proved by a younger sister, Dedé Mirabal, that the women had been assassinated by agents of the brutal dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo.

The Dominican-American author Julia Álvarez published her fictionalised novel about the killings, In the Time of the Butterflies, in 1994, and the story is recreated in this film starring Salma Hayek as Minerva and Edward James Olmos as Trujillo.

The dictator ruled the island from 1930 to 1961 with an iron fist – a truly dark period in the country’s history defined by his greed, corruption and unspeakable violence. His rule was characterised by the silence of opponents, with even the press daring not to question the ruler’s behaviour as they knew full well what happened to his detractors.

Born into a high-status Dominican family, the Mirabal sisters grew up to be good students and were educated in a religious school.

Brutal womaniser

Trujillo was a cowardly but insatiable womaniser, a fame that won him a nickname – “the goat” – and he did not welcome being refused. At his request, the attractive Minerva was taken by the Mirabal family to a ball in honour of the dictator, but when he made a pass at her, her tale of courageous resistance was about to begin.

After her father was tortured because of his daughter’s behaviour at the party, Minerva joined the Agrupación Política 14 de Junio, an underground movement dedicated to overthrowing the dictator. She was joined actively by her sister Maria Teresa.

Patria later lent her house to store weapons for the insurgency. Their collective nom de guerre was “the butterflies”, and at various times they were jailed and tortured.

The Butterflies married members of the movement, who were also incarcerated and, on the dictator’s orders, Minerva, María Teresa, and Patria were ambushed in their car after visiting their husbands, taken to a canefield, suffocated and stabbed.

After the popular uproar caused by their deaths, the opposition grew to the point that in May 1961 Trujillo was assassinated.

In honour of their sacrifice, in 1999 the UN General Assembly set 25 November as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Julia Álvarez’s parents were also involved in the movement but fled to America to escape arrest.

This film was first screened as a TV drama which concluded on the 40th anniversary of the Mirabal sisters’ assassination. To its merit, the entire cast is Hispanic.

Salma Hayek was nominated for an Academy Award for her thoughtful and powerful performance of Minerva, and Edward James Olmos is truly sinister as Trujillo.

Mariano Barroso has both directed and scripted other films with social content such as Lucrecia: Chronicle of a Kidnapping (1992); Hormigas en la boca (Ants in the Mouth, 2005) and Invisibles (2007).

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer