On a Wednesday night, I dragged my husband to a 9:35 p.m. showing of El Chicano. We are in our mid-thirties, so going to a late-night viewing is a big deal, but we support all things Latinx, so off we went.
I knew little about the film other than it was a story about a Chicano superhero starring Raúl Castillo set in East Los. A Latino Superhero! Played by Raul Castillo, who has done beautiful work like We The Animals. I didn’t need to see a trailer. I just needed to go spend my money to support a Latino cast, producers and writers.
I should have read some reviews, someone should have warned me, because what played on screen was one of the most irresponsible pieces of content I have ever seen in my life.
In the opening scenes of the film, a cop, played by George Lopez, shows up to harass a group of cholos partying in their front yard. He’s looking for information on the killing of two cops. Predictable, yes, but I didn’t want to write off the film in the first two minutes. The action continues to a scene where El Chicano, our vigilante superhero, kills in cold blood a cholo in a wheelchair. Why? We don’t know.
I don’t remember Batman killing anyone in COLD BLOOD. Aren’t superheroes supposed to be complex? Aren’t they supposed to wrestle with what is right and wrong? They are layered and have complicated feelings about human life, and when a life must be taken to save the world. But not our Chicano superhero. He is a savage. Deadpool style, but with zero humor.
I’ve only ever walked out of a movie once, in 1999. It was only because my mom made me take my eight-year-old brother with me to the movies with my friends and we were watching South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. When my brother asked, “What is a clitoris?” I knew it was time to jet. So I wasn’t about to walk out on El Chicano.
Halfway through the film, it’s been established that Diego, played by Castillo, is a cop whose brother took the “wrong” path and ended up in prison for selling dope. Not Diego though, he is a detective, he’s an upstanding citizen. A hero even before he puts on El Chicano’s mask. This is where things start to go from bad to worse to harmful.
Through a series of predictable plot lines, Diego becomes El Chicano and sets out to avenge his brother’s murder at the hands of none other than the big, bad, Mexican cartel. The Jefe doesn’t only want to control the streets of LA by selling dangerous drugs, he wants California returned to Mexico. But El Chicano he lets him know, “This isn’t Mexico,” and “You will die on American soil.”
Never mind that El Chicano’s powers come from an Aztec knife. His bat cage is decorated with a plethora of Aztec Warriors wall art. His mask looks like the “Jaguar Warrior Vector” on Shutterstock. This superhero wants to rep all things Aztec, but doesn’t seem to like Mexicans very much.
This film draws on every imaginable Latino stereotype—the cartels, the ganster Cholos, the drugs, the violence, the dangerous Latino man who is coming to take your streets. And it goes further, pinning U.S.-born Mexicans against Mexicans born on the other side of the border. I didn’t think it could get worse. But this film kept shocking me with its poor imagination and laziness.
Later in the film, a police station is blown up by the Mexican cartel, sending El Chicano on a killing spree. He saves a woman cop from being hanged. It’s worth noting she was maybe the third woman in the film with any lines. After killing the man responsible for his brother’s death, he awakens in an ambulance with his mask and cape gone and his police badge around his neck.
The film ends with George Lopez comparing the police station bombing to 9/11. Yes, to the worst terrorist attack our country has ever experienced. Imagine that! A film making a direct line between Mexicans, terrorists, and 9-fucking-11. No wonder people are scared of us. We are doing this to our own community, perpetuating dangerous narratives and adding some Tajín on top.
As for Diego —the detective, vigilante superhero— he is given a medal for his efforts to keep East Los safe. That’s probably about the only thing the film got correct. A cop being allowed to kill whoever he wants, with zero consequences and medals around his neck.
Julissa Arce is a speaker, writer and nationally best-selling author of My (Underground) American Dream and Someone Like Me. She was named one of People en Español’s 25 Most Powerful Woman of 2017. She is a leading voice in the fight for social justice, immigrant rights and education equality. She tweets from @julissaarce.