Monday, September 10, 2007
Illegal Tender: Hispanixploitation?
(Haga click aquí para la versión en español, publicada en El Diario / La Prensa.)
In a short film review, the New York Times says Illegal Tender (released August 24) is the typical urban action movie, but with a new twist the paper dubs “Hispanixploitation.” The term is, of course, indebted to the “blaxploitation” films that first became popular in the 1970s and that have specialized in sensationalizing the African American “underworld.”
According to the Times, the same traffic in stereotypes (but with a Latino twist) is now available through this movie written and directed by Franc. Reyes, produced by John Singleton, and starring Wanda de Jesús, Manny Pérez and Tego Calderón. Now “Latinoness” is the lucrative seasoning for the crime and sex fantasies that have historically fueled much of the film industry.
Not that the formula is new. Scarface (1983) is definitely the most prominent example, but there are many others. What makes Illegal Tender different is that it was made with ample resource$, written and directed by a Puerto Rican, with Latino characters and actors, and uses as a commercial hook the growing global success of Latino urban music and culture. Neither is it common that in this movie the action goes way beyond ghetto borders and its protagonists move just as easily in university circles and in moneyed Connecticut suburbs. (A welcome change, according to me.)
Illegal Tender did not debut as a box office hit and it has not received great acclaim among critics. Rottentomatoes.com says the acting is weak and the plot is ridiculous; the Times describes the dialogues as “telenovela style.” (I have to agree on all counts.) So it remains to be seen if other directors, producers and film studios will follow this approach that at the same time shatters and perpetuates stereotypes. I’ll be happy if next time someone comes up with an equally Hispanixploitative film it at least has good plot, acting and dialogue.
And Tego? Tego did a good job. I say bring him back on.