The Load (2016) Portrays 16th-Century Mexico


The Load (2016) — La Carga in Spanish — is a really, really interesting movie set in 16th-century colonial Mexico. The plot summary may sound slightly strange to you, so bear with me while I set it up. First, you have an Indian insurrection brewing against Spanish rule, and a real-life Caxcan Indian leader (Francisco Tenamaztle) who has been imprisoned. Next, you have Elisa, a Spanish widow (played by María Valverde) who wants to testify in Tenamaztle’s defense as she knows The Dirt. Various Franciscan priests who are in support of Tenamaztle need to get Elisa away from the Spanish officials and to the coast so she can sail to Spain and testify. And that’s when Painalli — an Indian man who works as a tlamemeh, porters who carry goods around the country on their backs — is recruited to literally carry Elisa (the load) on his back for hundreds of miles.

2016 The Load

Like this, among other methods.

The film is interesting for a number of reasons. First, there are multiple scenes showing Caxcan Indian life, and I’m always interested in realistic depictions of native cultures.

2016 The Load

Stopping in Painalli’s village.

There’s also a lot of adventure and a real sense of what 16th-century Mexico may have been like.

2016 The Load

Okay, and there’s also this sort of thing:

2016 The Load


On to the costumes! They were designed by Adela Cortázar, who weirdly isn’t credited on IMDB. The film appears to be set in the 1550s (based on Francisco Tenamaztle’s timeline). First, you get an actually-researched look at 16th-century Mexican dress:

Codex Magliabecchi, XIII, 11, 3

On the left, an Aztec man wearing a cape and loincloth. On the right, an Aztec woman wearing a skirt and blouse | Codex Magliabecchi, XIII, 11, 3.

2016 The Load

Painalli and other tlamemes porters wear wrapped loincloths.

2016 The Load

The men wear capes, and the women wear blouses and skirts.

Elisa’s wardrobe is overall pretty decent. She’s the only female character (aside from some nuns and a maid, who will look at in a minute), so we’ll focus on her. She starts in this black gown that evokes all my ideas of 16th-century Spanish dress — she’s in black because she’s a widow:

2016 The Load

Black and gold, high neckline…

2016 The Load

Compare it to the lines of the (way more formal) gown worn by Isabella of Portugal:

Portrait of Isabella of Portugal by Titian, 1548, Museo del Prado

Portrait of Isabella of Portugal by Titian, 1548, Museo del Prado

Looking closer, however, I was disappointed to see that what appears to be a partlet is actually sewn in and therefore Officially Weird:

2016 The Load 2016 The Load
2016 The Load

At least her hair is (beautifully) up!

Elisa spends most of the film roughing it in this pale yellow gown, with no hoop for practicality’s sake. I generally liked this dress, although the fabric pattern seems more 18th-century naturalistic than 16th-century geometric — but the contrast is so pale it doesn’t really register.

2016 The Load

However, someone doesn’t know how to dress a spiral-laced bodice, and the gown is misaligned in back, a pet peeve of mine.

2016 The Load

I’m pretty sure those are metal grommets, too.

2016 The Load

I do want to know how, no matter how off-road things got, Elisa managed to always hang on to her earrings.

2016 The Load

Late in the film, Elisa ditches her gown for what she has presumably been wearing underneath, an open bodice petticoat straight out of the Tudor Tailor.

2016 The Load

Somebody did their research!!

Near the end of the film, Elisa wears this doublet-bodiced gown:

2016 The Load

I question the fact that no one has thrown a scrunchie at her.

2016 The Load
2016 The Load

Side-back lacing makes me happy!

And finally, at court in Spain, she’s all dressed up in a red damask dress:

2016 The Load

Really pretty!!

2016 The Load

The pearled caul is right out of period portraits… Except someone got the plastic jewels and glue gun out *sigh*

2016 The Load

And again, someone doesn’t know how to spiral lace. I understand, this has happened to me. BUT THEN YOU UNLACE AND START OVER ON THE OTHER SIDE. Also, these grommets are DEFINITELY metal.

Looking at other characters:

2016 The Load

Elisa’s maid looks quite plausible!

2016 The Load

The Spaniards could use more hats.

2016 The Load

Especially at court, come on guys!


Watch The Load. You’ll be glad you did!


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

13 Responses

  1. Penny H

    I wondered if there is a zipper up the back of the side-back-laced dress.

    • Trystan

      That center back seam is suspicious … same with the center-back seam on the black dress. sigh

  2. Roxana

    It strikes me as really strange that the Franciscan fathers would prefer to entrust their vital witness to one man, however trusted. What if they’re waylaid? A mule and a couple of escorts makes more sense. And possibly a little less noticable than a native Porter carrying a Spanish woman on his back.

  3. Spends too much time looking at lacing

    Wouldn’t the spiral lacing misalignment occur because the eyelets aren’t set up in a way meant for spiral lacing? All the spiral lacing holes I’ve seen have them offset with the top and bottom pairs of eyelets aligned horizontally so it effectively locks the ends in place. With what’s seen here, the shifting would occur since there isn’t anything locking them together horizontally.

    • Sarcasm-hime

      Yeah I think that’s what’s happening. These here don’t have the closer spacing at opposite top and bottom to balance it out.

    • Kendra

      It’s taken me far too long to respond, but I just need to state that your username made me LOL! (And yes, I think you’re right about the lack of offset hole layout)

    • Paul Dada

      I’m amused by the lacing comments. This is backwoods colonial Mexico circa 1542! If you were a noblewoman out there 350 years before fashion magazines, you’d have to be very lucky to have a dresser available who knew how to get your clothes lined up right and to have a full length mirror so you could check your back to see. I’d regard the misalignment as verisimilitude on the part of the director, whatever other anachronisms or stretches of credibility are onscreen.

  4. Nzie

    Ooh this sounds really interesting. Thanks for sharing about it!

  5. Lily Lotus Rose

    I’ve only seen this actress in two other films–The Limehouse Golem and Cracks–both of which were interesting and good. So, I’ll give her credit for picking at least two good projects. I’ve never heard of this film before. Thanks for putting this on my radar.

    OK—just roll with me for a second…does anyone else think that the very first picture, the native man in the front looks like Tommy Lee Jones–in the face. Please tell me that you can see that! When I saw the thumbnail, I was like, did they find some random vintage Tommy Lee Jones movie? Um…no. But still…that guy’s face looks like his (to me at least)!