Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A superhero I can believe in

Robert Rodriguez’s current film, “Machete,” is clearly meant to be an antidote to the current anti-Mexican political rhetoric and anti-immigrant hysteria. Anyone who looks “Mexican” is fair game to bigots and racists, and against these evil forces even the right to self-defense—orally or otherwise—is denied. Thus “Machete” serves as a long overdue Mexican-American revenge fantasy, with Danny Trejo looking every bit the part of a gringo’s stereotypical nightmare. Unlike “The Expendables,” where Sylvester Stallone and his right-wing friends go to some unnamed Latin American country and serve out right-wing mayhem depopulating yet another non-Caucasian country, Rodriguez’s film turns the tables on the bigots, with comic book violence and with a discernable political and social subtext.

All the evil-doers of the present time are present: Robert De Niro plays the Tom Tancredo/Russell Pearce politician using his hatred of Latinos to stir-up more hate; Jeff Fahey plays a businessman who sees profit in the anti-Mexican hysteria; Don Johnson is the racist border patrol agent who gets his jollies killing anyone he sees crossing over, even children; and Steven Seagal as a crime lord with whom Trejo’s Machete has a special score to settle with. Machete is a former member of the Mexican federal police with a reputation for just mayhem, but who winds-up as a day laborer in Arizona. The businessman, looking for a particular “type” of laborer, picks-up Machete and offers him a job he can’t refuse, for monetary and ethical reasons. It turns out that it is all a set-up: Machete is supposed to assassinate the politician, except that he is the one who is to be killed as the Mexican “terrorist” to be used as a prop to further advance the politician’s mission of race hate. Machete manages to escape detention, and decides that since he is taking-out the people who set him up, he might as well take care of the rest of the racists and bigots, with the help of a priest, an ICE agent and a immigrant-rights revolutionary—and an army of the targeted oppressed and the like.

This is over-the-top, exploitation business, but it does feel good—unless, of course, you are one of the bad guys and girls who treat “Mexicans” like vermin and garbage. And there is the possibility of truth to the set-up; no one knows who killed the Arizona rancher whose death was used to incite support for the Arizona immigration law, although it was recently reported that the killer is likely an American. The rancher was known to be sympathetic to border crossers; for all anyone knows, he was killed by a person or persons who wanted his death to be blamed on illegal immigrants for the purpose of providing political cover for a law patently based on racial profiling.

The film has received mostly positive reviews. An exception is Karina Longworth of the Village Voice, but then again she also mercilessly trashed Oliver Stone’s “South of the Border,” so she may merely be allowing her anti-Latino bias to cloud her judgment; it’s not a good sign when a reviewer slobbers over (white) women’s films and pukes on minority films. Meanwhile, the anti-Mexican agitators are busy stirring-up paranoia about the film inciting a “race war” targeting whites, which is of course BS, but it is useful for people to note that "If you're going to hire Machete to kill the bad guy, you better make damn sure the bad guy isn't you!" Or as the original fake trailer pronounced, "They f--d with the wrong Mexican."

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