JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Cheech Marin’s character as Machete’s priest brother. Marin’s important film Born in East LA easily paved the way for other social problem films about present immigration issues.

This is the exchange between Sartana and Luz that qualified them for the Bechdel test since they are two female characters who talk about something other than a man.

Luz re-appears at the end of the film sans one eye for la revolución. Though Lim and Garcia say her character doesn’t get “closure,” there really isn’t anything to get. She begins as an independent character who leads the Network, and implicitly continues her work.

Luz, an immigrant rights superhero.

The Network in action: gardeners, construction workers, dishwashers, and other workers stop everything to spread important news. Though fictional, there are many real life networks wherein people let each other know about raids, checkpoints, and other news.

Unity among the Network.

Racialicious

Racialicious[61] [open endnotes in new window] is a blog “about the intersection of race and pop culture” and a “critique of questionable media representations.” The “Racialicious Review of Machete” was a conversation between Latino managing editor Arturo R. García, who usually covers “the geekier side of the spectrum” and Asian American Deputy Editor Thea Lim, an “anti-imperialist Third Culture Kid.”[62]

García begins by critiquing the exploitation genre choice as a vehicle for a political message, stating that setting out to make “an ‘intentionally bad’ movie” sets you up as an “unreliable narrator.” Lim, on the other hand likes the idea of bringing the issue of immigration to an audience that won’t go see documentaries about it and will cheer up audiences affected by it. Lim’s argument echoes that made by Cheech Marin in reference to Born in East LA:

“The best way to make a statement is you slip it in the coffee so that don’t taste it, but they get the effect.”[63]

Though Lim said the film seemed to be for a target audience of Rodriguez fans and people against SB1070, García said that he didn’t enjoy the film even though he is both: he wanted either “full on camp” or “a fully realized action thriller.” Lim speculates,

“I have to wonder how much, in a sense, coming out as a politicized Chican@ in this film, affected the quality of his film.”

But Rodriguez has remained tight-lipped about Chicanismo and has never really come out as Chicano. Even in his interview with AICN he self identifies as “4th generation Mexican-American” rather than Chicano. However, it is unclear, as Lim imagines, how Rodriguez’s coming out might excuse cinematic “lower quality.” If indeed the film were meant to be a semi-personal coming out, then the film’s not resolving the problems associated with immigration reveal where Rodriguez stood politically at the time of it’s making. Perhaps a lack of a long-term vision for revolution could have affected the quality of the plot.

The two reviewers go on to analyze more than just the racial, ethnic, and national aspects of the film to agree that its gender politics were “half-assed,” though the only examples they gave were to mention Alba’s “Sexy Cop” outfit and the plot’s lack of closure for Luz. Perhaps anyone who watched Machete, myself included, might critique its gender politics, although the film did pass the woman-centered, Internet-based “Bechdel test.”[64] Does the film have three dimensional female characters? Does it contain overt sexualization of the female character’s bodies. It certainly has sex scenes unnecessary to the storyline other than to make Machete even more macho, and yes, as Lim points out, Luz gets the shaft, in that though she is the ultimate strong three-dimensional woman of color, her storyline has no closure

If the reviewers were to change anything about the film, García said he would have liked Mexico to be shown with “indoor plumbing and paved streets,” for Luz to have given the speech declaring “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” instead of Sartana, and for the “redheaded cholo” to die. Lim said she would have liked to see other immigrant communities of color and could have done without Torrez’s Asian fetish.[65] This conversation was entertaining for me as it resembles many thoughts and conversations I have had. However, I was surprised that García was so staunchly opposed to the film for what seemed to be no good reason. He kept insisting that Rodriguez has done a better job at portraying Mexico in past films and that this film just “wasn’t clever.”

Lim, on the other hand, sounded critical of the gender presentations, hopeful about Rodriguez’s intentions as a politicized filmmaker, and even happy to see the redheaded “mixed culture” kid, Julio, whom García wanted dead. I found it interesting and distasteful that García wanted Julio to die, especially since the reason was simply that “he bugged” García. This is an extreme reaction to a character who has little signifying factors besides his light complexion. García’s overemphasis on the portrayal of Mexico and de-emphasis on the characters and politics in the film or even the portrayal of revolution made the critical conversation seem like it was between a feminist and a Mexican nationalist rather than two pop-culture race theorists.

Conclusion

Hollywood & Fine, Ain’t it Cool News, Racialicious, and Alex Jones’s websites offer just four examples of how the Internet can collect and store valuable cultural data. Each of these sites and every person behind them has their own definition and opinion about race and whiteness. All groups here should be looked at with a critical eye. In watching Machete I was inspired to think through my seemingly contradictory states of being white, Mexican American, Chicana and a woman. The character of Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) became my new hero as she was Mexican American, a believer in revolution, and a leader. Also, as an activist and an educator in my local day labor community I am pleased that jornaleros are shown at all. However, the film’s camera angles, character arcs and sexualization of two female protagonists were nothing short of a disappointment. Similarly, the lack of character development of the other jornaleros besides Machete shows that this film provides just the beginning of what it might look like to humanize ignored populations.

Additionally, Machete was jornlero-centric, completely leaving out jornaleras such as domestic workers. Machete has sex with a total of four women in the film, something in line with the exploitation genre but unrealistic and unnecessary to the plot. The film ends after the “revolution,” which is more like a small-scale civil war, yet stops short of becoming “la revolucion” that Luz anticipated. Robert Rodriguez’s quote regarding Machete’s character sums up his (and the film’s) stance on xenophobic and racist immigration issues,

“You create superheroes to take care of problems that can’t really be solved another way.”[66]

Thus, as Rodriguez is a nonbeliever in a solution, his film acts as an exaggerated pipe dream. However, I believe that though Rodriguez ultimately means the film to be an unrealistic, superhuman answer to real-life problems, he tapps into a real-life immigrant rights movement that does believe in varying levels of revolution and reform.

Aside from representations within the film, the digital reception of the film is telling in terms of where certain demographics are in terms of discussing race. Pitting action and gore fans against hard line anti-immigrant Libertarians and mixing that in with Chican@s and cinephiles of many political persuasions on the Internet, racial debates about film moved from Black and white to Brown and white. Only in Racialicious were the white and mixed heritage characters who were not part of the vigilante group even discussed, and the array of terminologies used only proved how seldom people have racial debates about Latin@s. Too often immigration debates claim not to be about race, but this time people had to talk about skin color, language, and culture as factors in anti-immigrant sentiment because Machete so blatantly put it out there. Though Machete’s reception has not been very far-reaching, it, like Born in East L.A., has managed to bring a message to Hollywood, and people noticed, were forced to think about it, and responded to it. The racial project never really ends, but for Chican@/Latin@s, being seen as “raced” might just be beginning.

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