We go to the movies for a multitude of reasons. Mainly, we want to be entertained. We also like to see heroes fighting evil and battling for social justice. I am anxious to see the “Avengers: Endgame,” a movie that features superheroes against evil. I am curious. How does a Marvel movie earn $2.189 billion dollars in just two weeks, breaking all attendance records for an opening weekend?
And very soon, I want to see the all-Latino film, “El Chicano.” This movie is about a Los Angeles police detective Diego Hernandez who discovered that his brother’s “suicide” had actually been a murder by a California cartel. He realizes that playing by the rules will not be enough to stop the cartel from further violence. Thus, he resurrects the masked street legend “El Chicano” with the goal of seeking justice.
Ben Hernandez Bray, who co-wrote the script, grew up in a barrio in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Bray worked in the movie industry as a stunt man and movie director. One day Bray learned of his brother’s death as a result of gang violence. As part of coming to terms with the tragedy, he developed a story about that experience, and with his best friend, Joe Carnahan co-wrote the script, which they titled “El Chicano.” They decided early on that all the characters in their movie would be Latino.
The New York Times review noted that the movie “El Chicano” offered an origin story with a fresh perspective. A “Mexican American cop who lost a brother to gang violence adopts the mantle of a masked avenger to take on a cartel.” Finding someone to produce the movie in Hollywood proved impossible. Bray and Carnahan pitched their movie concept to a multitude of Hollywood studios and producers, but none were interested. Some questioned their goals to have an “all Latino” cast.
As movie critic Cara Buckley observed, “Through no fault of their own, Bray and Carnahan’s timing was also inadvertently off.” In 2018, as Bray and Carnahan were speaking to filmmakers and investors about “El Chicano,” “Black Panther,” with an all Black cast and “Crazy Rich Asians,” with all Asian actors, had yet to appear.
Buckley also noted that while Latinos are “the most avid moviegoers of any ethnic group, they garnered only 5 percent of the movie roles” in 2017. It was investors in Toronto, Canada who made the production of “El Chicano” possible. Interestingly, “El Chicano” opens this week during National Police Week in 600 select theaters located in large Latino communities. In communities where “El Chicano” will premiere, the Latino population surpassed more than 20 percent of the population, and in border communities, Latinos actually approached nearly 90 percent of the total population. I am curious about why it has taken so long to produce an all-Latino movie whereby all of the main characters are Latino, as well as the minor characters.
“El Chicano” will definitely be a new movie experience. Colin Biggs, writing for movie Mezzanine, acknowledged that “most films are a form of escapism, but something as simple as combining sound and moving images has accounted for some of the greatest works of art of our time.”
Some of the most popular movies of the last fifty years, which for me include “The Godfather I and II,” and “Schindler’s List” reveal a world that we would not know otherwise. They are both about sinister characters who commit evil crimes, in one instance against Mafia rivals, and in the later masterpiece by Steven Spielberg, crimes against humanity. The best-written books, in my opinion, do not do justice to the drama and suspense of these two classic movies.
When I think about police theme movies, I think about James Bond. James Bond solves big crimes, those which threaten our very existence. I like James Bond movies because they take us to nearly every part of the globe. We visit exotic locations where Bond chases villains. I like the action, the suspense, and the romance of the Bond movies. Bond is a superhero with human powers.
James Bond movies are action-packed and most often fun. However, for the younger Latino audiences, both boys and girls, James Bond and his female companions are not ideal role models. Bond is a British spy with a license to kill. And kill he does. The female actresses are most often blonde, beautiful and voluptuous. Thus, there is definitely a need for a Latino movie like “El Chicano.”
A good movie, according to writer Anupam Jolly, is “a break from the routine and provides us with respite for a few hours at least. What we cannot experience in real life we can experience through the movies.” That explains why I enjoyed “Coco” so much.
“Coco,” the last Latino movie I saw, fulfilled the entertainment requirement for the Latino community. “Coco” is rich with a family relationship, and much of the tensions revolve around a missing father, who it was thought, had abandoned the family. Later we learn he did not abandon the family. The father was murdered by a thief who stole his songs and the young great-great-grandson of Coco solves the mystery.
The movie relies heavily on Mexican traditions, especially the Day of the Dead celebration. The young boy in this film is likable and we admire his bravery. “Coco” is considered a popular movie both in Mexico and the United States in that it depicts Mexico fairly. I went to see “Coco” with my wife Harriett, a sociologist, my sociology friend Gil Cardenas and his wife Dolores, and one of Mexico’s most prominent sociologists, our host, Dr. Jorge Bustamante and his wife Endy. We had plenty of popcorn, shed many tears, and had a great time discussing the movie afterward. “Coco” is about fantasy and the movie challenges our most vivid imagination. Movie critic Jolly relates to this noting, “This is exactly why we are ready to believe the most absurd situations and fantasies made to seem real on screen. While engrossed in a movie we identify ourselves with the hero or heroine and escape into a world of their dreams.”
The film production of several Black producers, notably Spike Lee, contributed to the evolution of Latino movies. Spike Lee’s marvelous “Black Klansman” is a movie for Black and White audiences, young and old, and people of all political persuasions who will admire this heroic Black policeman who risks his life to seek justice. Based on a true story, the hero in “Black Klansman” is a Black police officer who infiltrates the Klan in the South. He assumes a dangerous assignment and the suspense keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. It is about a tragic era in our history when Klansmen openly espoused hate speech associated with their warped notion of White superiority.
Movies have been gaining in popularity consistently for the past 100 years despite the rise of the internet. In 2018, worldwide, audiences spent billions of dollars on movies, ($11.6 billion in the USA alone) and the end of the theater era, predicated by many, is nowhere in sight. Enjoy yourself and go see a movie about a superhero or an everyday person doing his or her job to fight injustice.