Peppermint is Lakeshore Entertainment, H Brothers Production and Jennifer Garner (“Lakeshore & Co.”)’s latest assault on the American people. Here is the trailer:
Garner plays Riley North, a white middle-income mother at a carnival in a white neighborhood with her daughter and husband. Next, we see a bunch of face-tattooed esses driving by in a beat sedan with machine guns, resulting in the killing of North’s husband and daughter. The murders stem from the Garcia family, a powerful cartel that is able to buy off white neighbors, law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges from testifying, investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating the cartel’s case. North’s grief drives her into hiding, returning to take revenge on all Latinxs she encounters, who are all gang-bangers.
Peppermint’s invented narrative wholly ignores the effects of our retributive justice system on Latinxs and how the interaction forever haunts their liberty. The movie laughs in the face of the social responsibility Lakeshore & Co. have to their viewers and that we have to one another.
America’s prevalent segregation champions the argument for the implausibility of the Peppermint story line. Reports of Latinx gang victims, even MS-13’s, are not white middle-class victims. Victims of gang violence are Latinx and Black youth. So, MS-13 coming to North’s neighborhood is unrealistic. In fact, a 1995 study looked at effects of L.A. drive-bys of 677 victims. All were Latinx or Black.
Further, the movie’s gang members are tattooed men with shaved heads and tan complexions. Wouldn’t North’s neighbors have called the cops if they saw these characters? We are living in a society where fully armed military officers call ICE on Latinx pizza deliverers for not having enough forms of identification, yet the Garcia affiliates are able to roam the neighborhood without raising suspicion.
Lakeshore & Co. sought to invoke fear of Latinxs. Some people in the U.S. have only encountered Latinxs on television or by political references wishing to use unfounded fears to advance agendas and racism. The presidential administration discusses MS-13 in the same breath as all Latinxs, to create a message and justification for barring Latinxs from this country. Viewers are incentivized to embrace this one-dimensional stereotype and to continue to ignore the complicated origins of gang violence and drug trade.
Latinxs are trying to feed their families and minimize their suffering and extinction. Latinx gang members have committed crimes just as white gang members have. However, as highlighted by writers of The Appeal, you never see white U.S. born citizen commits murder on a news headline. The accurate reporting of portraying white U.S. born citizens as not just one type of person allows us to see them as whole people. While the unyielding depiction of Latinxs as murderers never allows us to see their full humanity and it is costing Latinxs their lives. I’m not exaggerating. Public perception of Latinxs as gang members has led to policies such as family separation; the denial of legitimate asylum claims, returning Latinxs to countries where they will be killed; and increased hate crimes against Latinxs.
Yet, Lakeshore & Co. pours gasoline on the fire, by portraying gangs as wielding power over the justice system. This fiction rejects all these realities: the tenacious use of racial profiling by police leading to incarceration and deportation; the excessive unchecked power of prosecutors to invent conspiracy and RICO charges against alleged gang members and anyone in their vicinity; and mandatory sentencing laws that impose a 15-year minimum against low-level offenders. In reality MS-13 gang members are prosecuted for the murder of Latinx youth and when they are arrested, they are found in low-income communities.
So, while Peppermint concocts premises to invoke terror, what is real about this movie is the cost of Latinxs’ livelihoods and a divided country, so that Hollywood can make a dime. Lakeshore & Co. have a social responsibility to be cognizant of what they produce and who they cast against the current reality.
In Garner’s interviews about this movie, she highlights how she wanted to be a strong female character fighting for her family. What a beautiful story, she tells herself. The truth is this: real strength is found in the mothers of color who without resorting to violence, carry on every day after their child has been taken from them by gang violence and suffered the indignity of police unresponsiveness. Garner may just be an actor but she has the agency to decline socially irresponsible roles that she has no business playing.
So to “liberal” Hollywood, if this is the way of turning a profit so that you can make flashy donations to progressive campaigns, save yourself the hassle and just stop making these films.
Nathalia Alejandra Varela is a Legal Fellow at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.