That's the basic question asked by Maria Full of Grace a movie that, like City of God, explores the effects of poverty and crime with the tenacity of a documentary.
Maria is Columbian, 17, and pregnant. Tired of being mistreated by her boss, she quits...only to be yelled at by her mother and sister because now she can't help pay for her nephew's medicines. Her boyfriend and the baby's father doesn't really love her, nor does she love him, so she dumps him. Then she finds a new job...
...as a mula, a person, usually a woman, who swallows thumb-sized, plastic-wrapped pellets of illegal drugs to get them past US Customs and into the States.
It's harrowing work, and the narrative follows Maria unflinchingly as she flies to New Jersey, watches a colleague die when one of the capsules breaks, escape from the Columbians' US contacts, talks her way into getting the dead girl's sister to take her in, and, finally, confronts the drug dealers.
It's a story of sheer, grim determination. It pulls no punches, and, refreshingly, it takes no sides. Drugs are bad...but they are Maria's salvation. Maria is a good person, but she does some bad things to survive. This is a study in shades of grey.
It's what's inside that counts