How Sofia Coppola Whitewashed The Bling Ring


I’ve had a mild obsession with the “Bling Ring,” a merry band of teenaged robbers, ever since I read Nancy Jo Sales’s incredible profile about them back in 2010. (If you haven’t seen the video of head Ringer, Alexis Neiers, scream-crying into the phone as she leaves Sales a hysterical voicemail, you should probably go do that right now.) When I heard Sofia Coppola was making a movie about these very privileged, very rich, very bored teenagers, I whooped with glee. How could you not love a story where one of the thieves, so confident she won’t get caught, sets aside enough time in the middle of a robbery to take a dump in Rachel Bilson’s bathroom?

As excited as I am to watch Emma Watson vocal fry all over Hollywood while she rubs her face in Paris Hilton’s throw pillows of narcissism, there’s something missing from Coppola’s adaptation (other than Hagrid). One member of the Ring, Diana Tamayo, has been completely removed from the movie. Tamayo, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, has been whitewashed.

There hasn’t been much of an outcry about this particular whitewashing, and maybe that’s because no one wants to fight all that hard to ensure that The Bling Ring includes a negative representation of an undocumented immigrant. Immigrants are already unfairly linked to the rise in crime rates, not to mention wrongly accused of the actual destruction of the U.S. economy. This puts an unbelievable amount of pressure on immigrants in this country to comport with the “model minority” myth—especially since visa approval depends largely on personal behavior. This is a very fragile existence, one that is informed largely by portrayals of immigrants, and racial minorities as a whole, in popular culture.

But does it help to just pretend like Tamayo doesn’t exist? Including her in the movie may have actually helped to chip away at this unfair standard of perfection to which we hold undocumented immigrants. Yes, immigrants make mistakes! They are regular, normal people who sometimes do things that are ill-advised. The Bling Ring could have gone a long way to upset some of the more unsavory characterizations of immigrants by depicting Tamayo as fully-fledged human being with a complicated identity—not just as embarrassing criminal caricature.

Besides, Tamayo is probably the most likable of any of the Bling Ring members. Tamayo attended the same high school in Agoura Hills (a wealthy area outside of Los Angeles) as the rest of the group, but unlike them, lived in a small apartment in Calabasas. She was elected class president and voted “Best Smile” in the yearbook. Despite this, Tamayo initially faced deportation after being charged with burglarizing Lindsay Lohan’s mansion. She agreed to cooperate with law enforcement after, her lawyer said, they threatened her entire family with deportation as well. Tamayo ultimately pleaded no contest, was sentenced to 180 days in jail, and still lives in California.

And now she doesn’t even get to go to any cool movie premiere parties! It doesn’t benefit anyone to erase Latinos from history, even silly celebrity robbery history. Cutting Tamayo out of The Bling Ring was a mistake—a missed opportunity to show an undocumented immigrant as something more than a one-dimensional stereotype. Negative representations are bad, but no representation at all is definitely worse.

Meagan Hatcher-Mays is a recent graduate of Washington University Law School in Saint Louis. She does a significant amount of yelling on Twitter.

Image via Associated Press

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin