Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Changing of the Guard: Pinche Pintas and "Family"/Familia in Contemporary Chicano Film

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Changing of the Guard: Pinche Pintas and "Family"/Familia in Contemporary Chicano Film

Article excerpt

AS THE CREDITS ROLL at the conclusion of Edward James Olmos' American Me (1992), a depressingly heavy rhythm mix accompanies the following rap lyrics:

The diegetic interaction of gender, familial and gang leadership, and imprisonment suggested by these lines pervades studio-produced contemporary Chicano films. Olmos explains that American Me shows "a cancer in this subculture of gangs," anticipating criticism from the Mexican American community for the depiction of Chicano "manhood" (qtd. in Fregoso 123). However, in its portrayal of gangs, both in and out of prison, American Me equates the "cancer" of the barrios with the dysfunction of the Chicano family, and in so doing, it offers some negative and stereotypical Chicano representations and mirrors similar contemporary gangxploitation films, including Blood in, Blood out: Bound by Honor (1993) and the quasi-feminized Mi Vida Local My Crazy Life (1994) (Huaco-Nuzum 92-94). American Me may not have been meant to stand as definitive scholarship on Chicano gangs in the barrios or in prison; however, as it distorts Chicano cultural expressions and vitiates the traditional strength of the Mexican American family, it exemplifies contemporary mainstream film.

In contrast, Gregory Nava's Mi Familia/My Family (1995) reveals the challenges inherent in belonging to the constantly evolving Chicano family. Nava explains his intentions: to try to present "images up on the screen that are ... not stereotypical... that place us in the society with our communities [and] put family in the center of our culture" (qtd. in West 27). Fusing "old world" traditions and spirituality with modern pragmatism, Jimmy Smits' Jimmy and the rest of his family create successful yet realistic modes of survival. Foregrounding the potential of the Chicano family, My Fam Uy prof fers a hopeful, affirming vision of the future for La Raza.

Though a simple comparison proves these two films to be oppositional in their treatment of Mexican-US cultural influences, a number of significant narratological and ideological threads bind them. Both American Me and My Family symbolize the struggles not only between individuals and their dominant cultures but also within individuals, in their confusion and uncertainty over literal and figurative imprisonment. Both films also interrogate notions of Chicano masculinity, Chicana femininity, and types of family. By surveying theoretical conceptions of the Chicano family and its relationship to gangs and imprisonment within the Chicano community, American Me and My Family reveal how filmic representations are derived from various constitutive cultural paradigms; as a result, both films undermine and critique the very process of stereotyping. This paper argues that American Me and My Family reflect both the diversity of the Chicano community and the manner in which contemporary Chicano films balance the demands of Hollywood styles with specifically Chicano aesthetics. Both films employ a multicultural discourse in addressing mainstream audiences; however, where My Family progressively reflects integrational social politics in American culture, American Me recalls the separatism of Chicano nationalism, even as it paradoxically upholds traditional social science conceptions of identity.

Social Science "Myth" in American Me

American Me presents the biographical story of Santana (Olmos), a Chicano crime lord, illustrating the ethnic prejudice he battles and the brutality that allows him to rise to leadership in and out of prison. According to Olmos, Santana embodies a "subculture in which loyalty, friendship, and family become part of a twisted and deadly code of ethics" passed "from father to son" (qtd. in Lee 26). Testament to its complexity and realistic style, the film garnered praise for its antidrug and antigang themes, especially in its didactic conclusion, which shows that the violent gang lifestyle "serve[s] neitherthe individual northe community" (Newman 98). …

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