‘Lowriders’ Isn’t Very Good, But I Still Hope It Succeeds
There’s this part in The Sellout, the 2015 Paul Beatty satirical novel about a black man that brings back slavery and racial segregation to his fictional hometown located on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where several characters, triggered by a screening of Little Rascals episodes, lament how little Hollywood has changed in terms of black on-screen representation since the minstrel days.
“At least you people have a Hollywood history,” rebuts Nestor Lopez, the only Mexican-American in the group. “What we got? Speedy Gonzales, a woman with bananas on her head, ‘We don’t need no stinking badges,’ and some prison movies!”*
I’ve been thinking a lot about this bit from Beatty’s book since watching Lowriders, the Mexican-American family drama disguised as a car movie. There are so few Latinx characters on film and television—to be more precise, between 5 and 5.8 percent of all speaking roles, compared with making up 17 percent of the total population—that I find myself gravitating towards any movie or show that has one as a central character, regardless of how good that film or program might actually be.
Lowriders isn’t particularly good. The characters are underdeveloped and the car porn is more Skinemax than XXX-rated. The movie also hits just about every square in “Stereotype Bingo”—a Mexican dad that vacillates between stoicism and being a drunken hot mess, a jailbird brother, and cholos, to name a few. It relies on tropes instead of subverting them. Suffice it to say that no one whose opinion on cinema is worth a damn would ever tell you with a straight face that Lowriders is anything but a paint-by-numbers movie that misses the mark, and those who are trying to are likely doing it because they don’t want to be pegged as the guy hating on the Mexican movie (I see you, Richard Roeper). The only standout is Demian Bichir, but that has more to do with the fact that he’s the Mexican Daniel Day-Lewis. Literally everything you need to know about this movie can be gleaned from the trailer.
And it didn’t help that Lowriders felt like watching La Mission, but set in Los Angeles and a son’s artistic aspirations being the source of the film’s central conflict in lieu of San Francisco and a son’s sexuality.
But even a meh movie about Latinx characters is preferable to nothing because I want to see our stories told, to have our existence acknowledged. And the only way for that to happen is for Lowriders to make money. At the end of the day, cash rules everything around the movie industry. They made Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 and 3 because the first one made close to $150 million worldwide. If it’s profitable, then who knows, maybe Blumhouse Productions will continue to bet on brown**, and we’ll get our own Get Out (which they produced), or Moonlight, or Atlanta, or Insecure, or Master Of None, or Blackish.
But until that happens, this excuse to let Theo Rossi play another Mexican gangster will have to do. What other choice do I have?
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*To be fair, those prison movies are fucking dope. Blood In, Blood Out and American Me are part of the Latinx cinematic canon.
**Betting on brown is a really good idea. Latinxs make up a disproportionate percentage of box office ticket sales. “Hispanics are far and away the most important consumers at our cinemas,” John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, said in 2014.