“Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care”

Paper by Marilyn Huitron.

The film industry historically allowed other ethnic groups to be a part of the big screen if only playing a specific type of role. The power allowing racial stereotypes in films and television shows became a strong representation of how minority groups would appear to the public eye and would further strengthen those stereotypes. Actors of a certain ethnic group would only be chosen to play roles inside those stereotypes, more likely than not these roles for men and women would be tied to criminals, service workers, uneducated, etc. In recent times, there has been a change in the industry and more films are being used as a window into different communities of color to better understand their culture and the issues they deal with on a day to day basis. In the films Zoot Suit (1981) by Luis Valdez and Boyz in the Hood (1991) by John Singleton, the representation of race with the Latino and African American community allows us to explore the racial issues, and experiences that stand witness to the ideological agenda behind these films. This paper will present what these two ethnic groups encounter, cinematically, in terms of the effects of racism, discrimination, and violence as opposed to the white patriarchy as it is represented by the film Falling Down (1993) by Joel Schumacher.

There is no doubt that racism has a strong effect on communities of color. This topic is directly discussed in Boyz in the Hood when Furious is talking to Tre and Ricky about how racism is the reason why the neighborhood is suffering. He discusses internal racism and how that is the reason why there are so many liquor stores on every street corner there and not in white suburban neighborhoods, he then connects this to the problems of alcoholism in low-income black communities because he believes this is intentional. This can also be connected to high amounts of black on black crime and gang violence, this idea of internalized racism is discussed in the article The Construction of Black Male Identity in Black Action Films of the Nineties. The author discusses a particular scene where a black police officer harassing Furious and his son Tre after they call the police. This scene is interesting because the hatred he has toward black people is very direct. This officer has internalized the stereotypes focused on the people of his own race which has then grown to a form of self-hatred. This self-hatred is then inflicted on people of his same race, this troubling relationship with black identity is seen throughout the film as Tre wants to leave the “hood” to go to college in hopes of a better future, however, he struggles with leaving the life he is so used to living. Just by looking at Tre’s character, we can see him stand out from the other male characters. He doesn’t wear gang-related clothing as his friends do. He doesn’t believe in the idea of violence. This relationship with cultural identity is also seen in Zoot Suit as we see the main protagonist, Henry Reyna, in an internal struggle between himself and his Pachucho persona embodied by another man. We also see elements of gang violence and how Henry’s gang is rivals with another Chicano gang where this could be a direct effect of the internalized hatred which leads to violence between members of the same race. The effects of racism in the 1940s, which is when the film is taking place, also show how this affects how the judicial system is taking care of the case where Henry and his friends are on trial for murder. In one of the court scenes of the movie, the judge says the jury is having a hard time telling the boys apart and forces them to stand whenever their name is mentioned. The scene then goes on to a man reading a statement regarding the historical reason why Mexicans proceed to violence and killing. The man explains that it is in their blood since the ancestors, the Aztecs, were bloodthirsty and in the case of a violent brawl Mexicans are more likely to kill because of their historical thirst for blood. Instead of this statement being dismissed, the judge is seen to want to hear more and sees how this could make sense of the court case and Mexican gang violence. In the article, The Representation of Cultural Identity in “Zoot Suit” (1981) the author discusses the use of the internal conflict between Hank and the pachuco as a way to show Hank’s struggle with body and mind. Hank wants to join the Navy and his Pachuco spirit tells him why that would be a bad idea and a waste of his time. He influences the way he thinks so in a way the pachuco represents his cultural identity and often times the pachuco gets him in trouble. This leads to Hank always butting heads with the pachuco but while the film ends we see that these are both sides of Henry’s identity, they are one.

In our society today, Black and Latino communities are always statistically more likely to be discriminated against due to the effects of racial stereotypes. The theme of discrimination is expectedly seen in Zoot Suit and Boyz in the Hood but unexpectedly seen in Falling Down since the protagonist who is experiencing this feeling of discrimination is a white man. In Zoot Suit Henry and his friends are discriminated against just cause of the way they are dressed. The film brings up racial profiling since Henry and three other boys are convicted of murder. As the story goes, Henry and Della were at the sleepy lagoon when the Downey gang showed up and beat Henry unconscious. The Downey gang then went to crash a party at a nearby ranch but get kicked out for trying to cause trouble, unaware of this, Henry and his gang go to the party only to have a good time when they are mistaken for the Downey gang since they are also wearing pachuco style clothes and get attacked by the people at the ranch. The police arrest them for murder since the description of the criminals was only based on race and clothing leaving Henry and his friends with no way of defending themselves. In Boyz in the Hood, discrimination is also present when Tre’s mother is on the phone with Tre’s school teacher who discriminates against her since she is a black mother and proceeds to make these assumptions of her due to racial stereotypes on black mothers life as being uneducated, a single mother, and there is no father figure for their child; all to which she defends herself from. There is the discrimination received from the police, as mentioned before, and not wanting to offer any help for Furious after an attempted break-in. It also is shown in how the system itself is discriminatory towards minorities making it hard for students in those neighborhoods to go to college and more likely to lead a life of drugs and crime. This is seen between brothers Doughboy and Ricky who are on different sides of the spectrum. Rickey is a football player with chances of getting into a good university with a scholarship. His brother Doughboy, however, has been in and out of jail numerous times and is more involved in gang activity. Even though Ricky’s chance of getting into a good school is with football that ticket is shown to be temporary as the USC scout tells him how long a football career usually lasts and how he should think about a major he has a future in. This thought stumps him as we see that football is the only thing he knows and how his school system has failed him. When looking at the film Falling Down we witness the ultimate spiral of a white man who feels his world has changed and he has been left behind. In the article, The Extra- Ordinary Man, it discusses the idea of reverse discrimination of a white man who feels that the systems, which has affected him in some negative way, is horribly wrong and no one wants to make things right. This is the complete narrative of D-fens’s life in Falling Down. The system has been built to make white men like him succeed and it has suddenly failed. Everything that feeds the image of the successful white man a job, a family, a home has been taken from him and in the entire film he goes on a rant about the country and how it has failed him. However, when comparing the discrimination in the other films against Falling Down. There is a big difference, William Foster has a choice and the system will still continue to benefit him while as black and Latino communities will have to face a lot more in order to reach a level of success.

In Boyz in the Hood: A Colonial Analysis, the article discusses how black on black violence is a by-product of internalized colonialism. This violence is a result of them fighting for limited resources, racially-based alienation, and strategic motives. This is seen all throughout Boyz in the Hood and is even addressed as an issue by Furious. Doughboy’s character appears to have an issue with some other guys from another group and they but heads throughout the film “Exposed to the temptations to commit murder every day … the native comes to see his neighbor as his relentless enemy …. For during the colonial period in Algeria and elsewhere many things may be done for a couple of pounds of semolina. Several people may be killed over it…. Every colony tends to turn into a huge farmyard, where the only law is that of the knife” (460) This temptation can be seen in the film from many of the characters, however, this temptation is dramatically seen in Tre after Ricky is killed. He wants revenge and goes to his house to get his father’s gun so that he could kill the guys in the other gang. While he is in doughboy’s car the other boys are on the lookout for the men and Tre asks doughboy to stop the car so that he can get out. He leaves and the other boys continue with their original plan. Tre was almost tempted to commit murder. When it comes to other films, a life of gans violence and crime has always been romanticized. In Teaching Mexican American Experiences through Film: Private Issues and Public Problems, the author talks about this common notion of making these films portray this kind of life as dangerously fun, there are ways in which films frame this life in order to make it look discouraging. This means including scenes of extreme violence and sadness, for example, Ricky’s death and when his body is brought back home. This scene filled with blood and screaming stays with the audience and in contrast to other films, does its best to show what a life like this actually looks like. Intertextuality and Cultural Identity in Zoot Suit (1981) and La Bamba (1987) also talks about the exploitation of gang culture and how young students in the 70s wanted to draw attention to the negative portrayal of Chicanos in films. Zoot Suit did show violence but it was including violence in a different narrative. The idea of the pachuco was meant to be decriminalized within the film and is seen to show the pachuco as one who intervenes in violence. Historically, Pachucos and Pachcucas have always been culturally similar to such groups as greasers yet since Pachucos are Chicano and dressed differently than the style at the time society categorizes them into something different from greasers. Chicanos are “inherently violent” and more likely to partake in such things. In the film, we see Henry and his gang rival with another, his friends want to fight but Henry discourages that, telling them that they are not doing anything to be violent when there is no violence, to begin with. The movie sees them as teens who have their own culture but society sees them as some threat. “Its formulation follows this common pattern: from conquistadores (“extremely violent” and unruly) to Indians (“bloodthirsty” Aztecs) to their twentieth-century variations in popular culture as greasers (violent revolutionaries a la Pancho Villa), Latin lovers (sexually promiscuous), and gangs (a fusion of all of the above attributes). (29).” In this excerpt, the article is stating that the negative position of Chicanos is due to how their ancestorial history is looked at and deemed to be problematic and violent members of society. Violence and crime, in regards to both ethnic groups, are told differently in both films but they similarly share the idea of why these two racial groups are systemically more involved in gang violence and how this translates to representation in cinema.

In the films Zoot Suit (1981) by Luis Valdez and Boyz in the Hood (1991) by John Singleton, the representation of race with the Latino and African American community allows us to explore the racial issues, the experiences that stand witness to the ideological agenda behind these films, and how these films decide to express the idea of cultural identity and whether there is conflict or acceptance of one’s culture and how that directly affects identity. These films show their ideology specific to their race and the daily struggles specific to the African American and Latino experience and how society views race historically and psychologically. This paper has presented what these two ethnic groups encounter, cinematically, in terms of the effects of racism, discrimination, and violence as opposed to the white patriarchy as the dominant force as it is represented by the film Falling Down (1993) by Joel Schumacher.

Work Cited

Chan, Kenneth. “The Construction of Black Male Identity in Black Action Films of the Nineties.” Cinema Journal, vol. 37, no. 2, 1998, p. 35., doi:10.2307/1225641.

“Intertextuality and Cultural Identity in Zoot Suit (1981) and La Bamba (1987).” The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film Culture, by Rosa Linda Fregoso, NED – New edition ed., University of Minnesota Press, 1993, pp. 21–48. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttjrs.7. Accessed 17 Apr. 2020.

Fregoso, Rosa Linda. “The Representation of Cultural Identity in ‘Zoot Suit’ (1981).” Theory and Society, vol. 22, no. 5, 1993, pp. 659–674. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/657989. Accessed 17 Apr. 2020.

Valdez, Avelardo, and Jeffrey A. Halley. “Teaching Mexican American Experiences through Film: Private Issues and Public Problems.” Teaching Sociology, vol. 27, no. 3, 1999, pp. 286–295. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1319329. Accessed 17 Apr. 2020.

Nadell, James. “Boyz N The Hood: A Colonial Analysis.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 25, no. 4, 1995, pp. 447–464. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2784403. Accessed 17 Apr. 2020.

Rehling, Nicola. Extra-Ordinary Men White Heterosexual Masculinity in Contemporary Popular Cinema. Lexington Books, 2010.

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