From start to finish, Madonna’s portrayal of First Lady, Evita Duarte de Peron, dazzled and amazed American viewers in the musical film, ‘Evita,’ with a tenacity that has kept alive the stage show of the same name since its debut in 1996. The casting could not have been any more perfect in Madonna as Eva Peron, Antonio Bandera as Che, and Jonathan Pryce as Juan Peron, as the more highly billed actors, for more than just their outstanding acting ability. Each cast member brings unique and equally fantastic vocal talent to the table in this musical as well.
Evita is the based-on-a-true-story detailing of Eva Duarte’s life amidst Juan Peron’s and the Peronist’s rise to power. Eva, almost single-handedly, established a middle class in Argentina during her time as first lady to Juan Peron. She also established a love between the poor and their working class representative and president through her connections with the people. Her radio show provided a way for the working class to sympathize with and support Evita. It is because of her sway as a radio personality that Juan Peron was elected to the presidency in the first place. (Minster, Maria Eva)
The film begins at the end, with the announcement of Evita’s death in a movie theater in Argentina. Chaos erupts as lovers of Evita mourn her loss and her critics celebrate in the streets amidst the funeral ceremony organized by her husband, the Argentinean president, Juan Peron. A representation of the average citizen of Argentina, Che, narrates the legacy left behind by Evita through song as a saint to some and a joke to others. Che, himself, expresses a negative attitude toward Evita, though it isn’t exactly explained why, but he refers to her as an actress and scoffs at others calling her a saint. Che narrates the film as Eva’s conscience and critic as well as a protester and symbol of the “Every man.” (Evita)
Che starts telling Eva’s story when she was a child, poor, illegitimate, and attending her father’s funeral alongside her family. Eva enters the church to pay respect to her father and, along with her mother and siblings, is forcibly removed from the building by his wife and other family members. This begins Evita’s resentment for the upper class that she displays in the rest of the film. (Evita)
The next scene picks up in Eva’s adolescence when she is planning to leave her hometown of Junin for Buenos Aires with much older tango dancer, and lover, Agustin Magaldi. He warns her of the danger she would be in as a poor girl in the big city, but she is adamant on going, cursing the upper class for attempting to stop her. Shortly after the arrival, Magaldi leaves her for his wife and Eva is forced to survive through relationships with increasingly influential men. Through her less than scrupulous social climbing, she becomes a model, actress, and, finally, a radio personality. It is while she is a radio personality that she meets Colonel Juan Peron at a fundraiser in the wake of the 1944 San Juan earthquake. There is an instant connection between them and Eva goes home with Peron. (Evita)
His relationship with Eva helped in strengthening Peron’s political climb, as they were both from the working class and Eva promoted Peron through her radio connections, even when he was jailed by the government in order to slow his rapid climb to power. Eva rallied the working class in large, uncontrollable protests and successfully managed to force Peron’s release. Shortly after his release, the two were married and Peron was elected to the presidency with Eva as his first lady, promising that the government would show special treatment to the poor. (Evita)
From the beginning of Peron’s presidency, Eva was despised by the wealthy politicians for her poor heritage and the illegitimacy of her birth, pushing Eva to rally alongside her husband for aid to the poor, those who loved her from the beginning. In response to this, she embarked on, what she named, her Rainbow Tour to Europe. In the first country she visited, Spain, she was loved by the people, but in other countries, such as Italy, she was heckled, called names, such as whore, and had food thrown at her. Throughout the Rainbow Tour, Eva weakened with her impending illness. Despite her declining health, Eva managed to establish a foundation and distribute aid for the poor. (Evita)
Shortly afterward, Eva was hospitalized for cancer and labeled terminally ill. Her husband offered her the position of Vice President, a position she turned down as she believed she would be too weak to do the position justice. She made a final broadcast to the people of Argentina and, with a large crowd providing a candlelight vigil outside the Casa Rosada, the home of Juan and Eva Peron, Evita passed away. (Evita)
As far as historical accuracy goes, many complaints have arisen over the portrayal of Eva in the movie. In the article, Former Argentine’s Issue Warning on Movie, ‘Evita’: Don’t Believe It, many Argentinean citizens contribute to the argument that the movie was not accurate in portraying Evita, having seen or heard about Eva Peron firsthand. “‘I liked it very much as a film — a fiction and a musical,’ she [Viviana Plotnik, professor of Latin American studies at Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University] says. ‘But it isn’t a historically accurate portrait of Evita. She was much more powerful and original than the movie portrays her.’” Plotnik then went on to say:
“‘She was despised as a low-class person,’ says Plotnik, 37. ‘For that to come across clearer, Madonna would have to speak with a very low-class accent. People used to make fun of Evita because she would mispronounce words.’” (Murray)
Author of the article, Steve Murray of the Chicago Tribune, also comments that the film, ‘Evita,’ thinly covers the political facets of Eva’s story, or skips over them entirely. Most of the buildup of Eva’s political career, rather than being explained with the lengthy background of Eva’s struggle to the top through her radio show and hard work, is chalked up to sleeping with the most influential men she could find, including her one-day husband, Juan Peron. +Costa supports this with this contribution to the article:
“From what I have read, it makes Eva Peron look like she got where she got because of bedroom intrigues.” (Murray)
In this way, ‘Evita’ can be described as not only inaccurate but also slightly offensive to the Argentinean audience:
“Costa says Hollywood’s use of sex and oversimplification in telling the life of his homeland’s former first lady ‘would be like Argentinians making a film about lesbianism, and putting Eleanor Roosevelt in it.’” (Murray)
Furthermore, the differences between the film and reality continue in the film’s narrator, Che Guevara. However, it is still debated whether or not the “Che” played by Antonio Banderas was the same Che Guevara that played such an important role in the Cuban Revolution. The aforementioned revolutionary has become a symbol of rebellion, idealism, and death (Minster, Ernesto “Che”). Thinking over the scenes in which Banderas stood at the front of the protests and riots in ‘Evita,’ it seems clear that the ‘fictional’ Che was, indeed, named after Guevara, but the similarities end there. (Evita)
On the other hand, Banderas’s Che can only be called a symbol of men stalking women. Che does little to move along the plot of the film, he just follows Evita around without much explanation as to whether he is a figment of her imagination, someone from her past that she is remembering, or someone who is actually there. He mostly gives away the exposition of the film from a sarcastic viewpoint. Assuming that Che is meant to be the revolutionary, it would make sense that he dislikes Eva and the government , but this is never explained completely. In reality, Che Guevara and Eva Peron never saw each other face to face. It was also never documented what Che’s views were toward Eva. (Minster, Ernesto “Che”)
All in all, ‘Evita’ was a musical triumph. Madonna underwent training with a vocal coach to improve her range for the film and it clearly shows in the songs she sings, such as “A New Argentina,” and Banderas was no stranger to vocal performances by this point in time, around 1996. As far as it’s adaptation from the stage, the film was very true to source material and therefore can be forgiven for some of the historical inaccuracies. And, if solely for the point of entertainment rather than as a musical documentary, ‘Evita’ has served its purpose time and time again.
Evita. Dir. Alan Parker. Perf. Antonio Banderas, Madonna, and Jonathan Pryce. Cinergi Productions, 1996. DVD.
Minster, Christopher. “Biography of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.” About.com Latin American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Minster, Christopher. “Biography of María Eva.” About.com Latin American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Murray, Steve. “Former Argentine’s Issue Warning on Movie, ‘Evita’: Don’t Believe It.” Chicago Tribune (1997): 1-3. Print.