I know I haven’t been blogging much lately because…well, who the hell knows why? Sometimes, these things just pour out like a flood, and sometimes, I don’t really feel like I have much of interest to say. This is unfathomable to you, my loyal fans. (Or A.Leeans as I like to call you and hope you will start calling yourselves because what good is a writer if he doesn’t have a cult-like nickname for his fans?)
What can I say that I haven’t said before? What opinion can I offer that I haven’t offered previously?
Here’s something, I suppose. I saw Machete today. It is not a great film. It’s good. I enjoyed it. Danny Trejo is cool, and when you look at the guy, you realize that this is not a movie star. His craggy face, his tattoos, his ethnicity. The guy is tailor made to be a bad guy, a thug, a brute. And he’s pretty much the same type of character in this film, except this time he’s the good guy. And that’s a good thing.
The thing about Machete is that it apes and parodies a genre that never actually existed. Hispanics and Latinos have traditionally been absent from cinema in any big way. We (and though I am not a guy who you would see on the street and think Latin, I still am going to be part of this group because, for better or worse, I am) didn’t get our blaxploitation period. Say what you want about those films, they were a necessary part of the mainstreaming of African Americans into culture.
There was no Mexploitation explosion. Heck, without Robert Rodrigues, I’m not sure we’d be represented well at all still. And that’s a lot of pressure to put on one filmmaker.
Perhaps this is why it’s so easy to villainize Hispanics. We’ve always been on the outside. Whereas other cultures have managed to make inroads. African American culture has rap and classic films like Boys in da Hood that have taken the otherworldliness of being black in America and made it accessible to the mainstream. Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, and Oprah command respect and influence. Asians have kung fu, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, anime, etc. It’s true that these have come with some negative baggage, but they’ve also largely succeeded in telling stories, of making minorities into characters, and of generally making them sympathetic or, at the very least, interesting.
Hispanics have never really had that. Not in any important, mainstream way. We’ve made some progress. We’ve pushed forward. But George Lopez is no Jay Leno. Antonio Banderas is not Will Smith. And Edward James Olmos is not Morgan Freeman. Just not on the same level. Which isn’t to say that they haven’t contributed immensely. They have, and I’m glad they’re out there. But it’s still a long road ahead of us.
It’s not a question of quality either. It’s quantity too. If you counted all the shows featuring Caucasians and African Americans and stacked them against all the shows featuring Hispanics and Asians, we all know who would come out ahead. If you added movies to that list, the Asians would get a bump. The Hispanics…not so much.
In this way, Machete does something very few films have the guts to do. It’s a movie that says, here’s Hispanics. They have it rough. And indifference and demonizing have made it harder. In true Mexploitation form, “The Man” is out to get them for his own greed and profit. There is no gray area here.
Is it subtle? Hell, no. And that’s the point. And it’s refreshing to see a film that dares to say this, that, at least in the land of this movie, there are obvious good guys and bad guys and, this once, it’s not the guys you think it is.
Of course, there are going to be those sensitive souls who see only the stereotypes offered. And they’re right. There is nothing subtle about an ultra racist vigilante who shoots Mexicans in cold blood. Or a corrupt politician who exploits fear to get votes. Or a money hungry white man behind the scenes who is only interested in profit. I’m sure there are going to be those who whine about their portrayal in such a negative light.
To those people, I say “Welcome to the club.”
And maybe, instead of using this film as an excuse to complain about ridiculous villainization and stereotypes of our particular sub group, maybe we could empathize with those usually on the other side of that. It’s not much fun, is it?
People will miss the point. They always do. Probably because we’re all so busy seeing the world reflected in our own eyes that we fail to see it through the other guys. One Terran’s stereotype is another man’s inalienable truth. We hate it when it happens to us, but don’t see why anyone gets so upset when we do it to others.
To put it another way, we’ve had hundreds (if not thousands) of movies where white people are victimized by thuggish minorities. If those didn’t bother you but this one does, then maybe it means it’s worth taking a look at yourself, at the truths you hold dear.
The best way I can sum it up is through the immortal words of Dr. Laura. I believe she said something like, “I would think after putting a black man in the White House that we wouldn’t have to keep listening to black people complain.” Okay, she didn’t say exactly that, but it was close enough.
My response is this: “I would think after putting 43 white Presidents in a row in the White House that we wouldn’t have to listen to white people complain about black people complaining.”
Neither above statement really works, but if you’re going to open the door, Dr. Laura, someone needs to walk through it.
To sum it all up, Machete is a sucker punch of a film that, while not quite as good as it could be, is still a watermark of our culture simply for its existence. You should see it. Even if you don’t think you’ll like it, even if you think it’ll just be dumb, gorey violence (which, honestly, it mostly is), even if you find the idea distasteful because Trejo isn’t Tom Cruise and the film isn’t quite as clever as Rodriguez wants it to be. You should see it because this is your chance to see the world a different way.
And no matter what side of the equation you’re on, no matter your political affiliation, ethnicity, or feelings on movie violence and sex, that’s always a rare and wonderful thing.
Plus, Danny Trejo beheads a whole buncha people. Which reminds me. What is it about movies that allows people’s heads to be lopped off so easily? Sneeze hard, and your head falls off. But this is a topic for another time.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,