Two years ago, I wrote a post about what Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales termed the “commercial garbage” being promoted by some of our own inside and outside of Hollywood. More to the point, the post questioned the “commercial garbage” that Eva Longoria was producing and actively participating in through her role as executive producer of the racist and sexist television show Devious Maids.
In part I wrote:
With Eva’s Chicana/o Studies master’s degree in mind, I return to Corky’s original challenge to the artists and writers of our community. By implication, majoring in and receiving a degree in Chicana/o Studies establishes the idea that the individual is committed to challenging existing racist, sexist and classist institutions in whatever field that individual will specialize in after obtaining a Chicana/o Studies degree.
What is the Role of Chicana/o Studies?
A Chicana/o Studies degree is not a stepping stone to INDIVIDUAL success nor an open license to create and reproduce racist and sexist stereotypes for the benefit of a White Supremacist structure. Rather, a Chicana/o Studies degree is meant to be a transformative experience for the individual providing her/him with the necessary tools to move our gente towards COMMUNAL empowerment.
The relevancy of asking what did Eva Longoria learn while she worked on and earned her master’s degree in Chicana/o Studies from California State University, Northridge (CSUN) cannot be overstated or ignored?
It is important to continually question Eva and to be sure, anyone who “proudly” proclaims to hold a degree in Chicana/o Studies when they go around creating racist and sexist content that reinforces White Supremacy rather than directly challenging it.
Most importantly, we must consider the role of Chicana/o Studies in academia and in our community.
Is Chicana/o Studies just another academic discipline that students passively take as part of the overall factory-style educational experience? Or is Chicana/o Studies an oppositional academic discipline in which students and professors are genuinely committed towards the complete liberation of the Chicana/o community?
Between the two, the choice of what Chicana/o Studies should be would seem obvious, but as Eva has demonstrated since earning her master’s degree in Chicana/o Studies, the ideological and political distance between what was envisioned by El Plan de Santa Barbara and what the discipline has become is monumental.
If Eva Longoria’s degree serves as an intellectual barometer, then, it is apparent that Chicana/o Studies has been reduced to creating assimilated Brown Capitalists who participate in and reproduce White Supremacist narratives.
Representation and Resistance
In late 2014, it was revealed that Eva Longoria, along with Demián Bichir, Tony Revolori, Gabriel Chavarría, Theo Rossi, Yvette Monreal, and Lily Collins (later replaced by Nicola Peltz) had signed on to take part in a Universal Pictures film entitled Lowriders, which according to the film’s abbreviated byline “takes place in the East LA world of lowrider cars and street tagging.” (Note: with both Lily Collins and Nicola Peltz now out of the film project, Melissa Benoist has been cast in the film).
Per the film’s description, “the project is an inspirational youth culture movie set in the East Los Angeles world of lowrider cars and street tagging. The story revolves around a teen caught between his traditional father, to be played by Bichir, and the teen’s estranged gangbanger brother, who are both competing in the annual lowrider Supershow.”
Whereas cinematic narratives never fail to assert Euroamerican superiority over the “Other,” and in the case of the film’s description, it is quite obvious that a community/familial wedge is purposely given prominence between the “traditional” (Mexican) and the “estranged” (modernity/American) to spotlight the old racist adage: Chicanas/os solve all problems with violence or the threat of violence and only by assimilating to the tenets of American Exceptionalism and rejecting Chicana/o culture can there be a positive outcome.
It is mind-boggling that Chicanas/os are to draw “inspiration” from old-tired Hollywood racist and sexist tropes.
As I wrote previously in my book review of Lowriting: Shots, Rides & Stories from the Chicano Soul (2014), the aesthetic of lowriding has historical and cultural ramifications that must not be viewed as some Euroamerican hipsterish fad or through the racist prism of hypermasculine gang-banging car culture.
Rather, lowriding is a cultural community phenomena whose origins are grounded in resistance against the hostile encroachment of Euroamerican jurisprudence that led to the segregation and discrimination of Chicanas/os during the 1940s and 1950s.
In the pages of Lowriting, both Art Meza and Santino Rivera capture the true essence of lowriding and explain why lowrider culture is not what Hollywood portrays it to be. The images that Art Meza captures and the stories told by the contributors of Lowriting are of a generation of families not of “gang” members.
It is dishonest to use Eva’s degree for “community legitimacy” while portraying her as an “advocate” and “community activist” when it is apparent that Hollywood, and she are opposed to everything that Chicana/o Studies stands for.
I bring this up again, because late last week, the residential area in which I live in (Boyle Heights) received a “Notice of Filming” flyer. Almost immediately, images of another outsider (Hollywood) neighborhood disruption entered my mind, as well as the knowledge that this would be yet another Hollywood gang exploitation and/or cultural deficit film about Chicanas/os, and as it turns out, this time under the guise of the cultural aesthetic of the lowrider.
In his groundbreaking article, published in 1985, The Image of the Chicano in Mexican, United States, and Chicano Cinema: An Overview, Gary D. Keller wrote that most Hollywood films documenting the Chicana/o experience are steeped in the “cliché trappings of a barrio culture sufficient to permit a reasonable recognition by an Anglo audience, yet at the same time sufficiently alien to inspire a nightmarish fear where the known is distorted into a menace.”
There is no doubt that Lowriders will resurrect old stereoptypes.
As yet another largely non-Chicana/o written and produced film project and even without having seen this film, and I can honestly say that I won’t be seeing or supporting this film, Lowriders will be a typical Hollywood misrepresentation of Chicana/o culture.
This isn’t the first time that Universal has pushed the gangsploitation genre. Rosa Linda Fregoso in The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film Culture (1993) writes that in 1979, Chicana and Chicano students formed the Gang Exploitation Film Committee to research “gang themes” within Hollywood.
As such, the students planned a picket and boycott of the film Boulevard Nights (1979). Prior to the protests, Universal had planned a series of Chicana/o gang films, but the negative publicity forced Universal to abandon further gang films and to not release Walk Proud (1979) in any major Chicana/o market.
Lo Mismo de Siempre
Carlos E. Cortes in his study on Chicanas in Film: History of an Image states that in general Chicanas/os “have never been particularly visible in U.S. motion pictures, but neither have they been totally invisible.”
And lived experience says much about the power of these racist and sexist Hollywood films that “document” so-called Chicana/o culture to the point that even my own mother when these films come to our block will not hesitate to say, “lo mismo de siempre, otra pelicula de cholos” (the same as always, another film about gangs).
My mother’s own assessment of the film speaks volumes. After all, who is Universal Pictures making this film for? Who is the intended audience? Is having Eva Longoria (mind you, in a non-starring role) sufficient enough to declare this a legitimate film for “Latinas/os”?
I can tell you that this film is definitely not a Chicana/o production by any means of the imagination. One can only wonder why Mr. Cartoon and Estevan Oriol would sign on to produce this film (money, access, fame)?
For a Chicana/o Studies master’s graduate to participate in a film that will reproduce racist stereotypes as well as exploit for financial gain the pain and suffering of the Chicana/o community which has experienced and witnessed the destructiveness of gang-violence is cultural terrorism.
These Hollywood films go beyond misguided “commercial garbage” but in fact can be termed cultural terrorism. In the 1967 edition of Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, both Kwame Ture and Charles V. Hamilton called on Blacks to reclaim their history and identity from what must be rightly called “cultural terrorism” that emanates from a paternalistic and racist American society. Chicanas/os are in their right to critique this project.
Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle (1987) is a semi-autobiographical film, which explores Townsend’s experiences and the challenges he faced trying to “make it” in Hollywood while ironically being told by a White director that he was not “Black enough.”
Ironically, Eva Longoria recently revealed to The Wrap that she had to “convince” the power-brokers (one would assume they’re white and male) of Universal Pictures that “she could play an inner-city Latina” spoke volumes about the institutional racism inherent in the Hollywood Shuffle, but also to the cinematic “commercial garbage” that will be once again unleashed to worldwide audiences with the making of this film.
That Eva had to beg her way into a so-called “Latina/o” film by having to explain “that hydraulic vehicles were a part of her upbringing in Corpus Christi, Texas, as the modern low rider is said to have originated in El Paso” was just insane, given that some of the leading actors like Melissa Benoist and Theo Rossi, for example, didn’t have to prove to anyone that they were authentic to the lowrider culture or that they could play a role about inner-city Chicanas/os.
According to Eva, her glamorous image as an L’Oreal spokesperson was difficult for the white producers of Universal Pictures to fathom.
As Eva puts it, “This doesn’t look like East L.A., I get that,” Longoria said, gesturing to her outfit, “but I get really upset when producers don’t have imaginations. Like, ‘Oh, she can’t play it.’”
That these white male producers have been conditioned to view Chicanas/os as gang members, maids, and gardeners demonstrates the long-standing racist power of Hollywood narratives.
It is unfortunate that Eva and other Chicana/o Hollywood insiders cannot distinguish between cinematic representations of community self-determination and cinematic participation in the reproduction of racist and sexist stereotypes is illuminating.
The dissonant relationship between self-determination and oppression is central to analyzing not just the role of Chicana/o influential playmakers in Hollywood but of Chicana/o Studies as well. José E. Limón’s Stereotyping and Chicano Resistance (1973) highlighted the urgency of challenging Chicana/o stereotypes as they appeared in films and other mediums.
Forty-two years after Limón’s study documented historical resistance to Chicana/o stereotypes in film, it is apparent that Chicanas/os are also now at the forefront of knowingly and unknowingly reproducing these images.
After meeting with some resistance regarding the content of Lowriders, Longoria’s publicists released a statement that said “Eva would never do anything that insulted the Latino community, she fights for the Latino community in her longtime advocacy.”
That Eva cannot understand why the Chicana/o community is upset (in the same way Eva couldn’t understand why people were upset with her Devious Maids show) proves that she is clueless about the significance of her Chicana/o Studies master’s degree. One can even go as far as to say that her Chicana/o Studies degree is meaningless (some might say worthless) to our community.
Boyle Heights Under Hollywood Assault
For the next three days (June 8-10, 2015), a residential area of Boyle Heights will be invaded and assaulted by Hollywood. During every racist film-making disruption that makes it way to the neighborhood, I end up having a discussion about it on Twitter with several Chicanas/os where we share thoughts about the usual Hollywood Shuffle. It never fails that there are Chicanas/os in social media who advocate participating in their own Hollywood oppression simply because a “role is a role.”
From an economic standpoint, I always wonder what is the financial benefit of having these racist and sexist films in our community? I was told once that the actors and other film staff are “encouraged” to patronize local establishments.
But my experience has been that this is not the case, as the film shoots always bring in their own catering companies. So whatever the financial boom to our community (in this case Boyle Heights) appears to be minimal. To be sure, however, someone is benefiting from these film shoots (Hollywood, L.A. City Council). Gentrification and stereotypes are not a financial or cultural benefit to our community.
As for the positive aspects of union-jobs that these film shoots purport to create, from what I can tell, the majority of the film crews are Euroamerican, and for the most part, the only Chicanas/os I see on staff are the security guards and the extras (gang members). I wonder if these positions are outsourced to third-party job agencies, thus negating the benefits of union-jobs for our people.
Similarly, it is unthinkable that our current local councilmember José Huizar and his staff would not be more actively involved in interrogating the types of film shoots that are being held in his district.
Furthermore, the power that these film shoots have over the neighborhood is striking, especially because barrio residents are made to feel like outsiders in our own community. Our movement and space is controlled and curtailed, which is enforced not just by hired security guards, but in actuality through the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
This “occupation” and exploitation by Hollywood is real. Hollywood reaps the profits, while the community does not benefit at all. Meanwhile, the larger American society’s perception of the Chicana/community community is filtered through a racist lens facilitated by Hollywood. This is an experience that cannot be easily quantified, but frequently rears its ugly head when the Chicana/o community is scapegoated by American politicians and/or when we become victims of Police-Migra brutality.
Sadly, Eva Longoria despite “proudly” proclaiming her Chicana/o Studies degree (un)wittingly participates in classic cultural terrorism. Whatever her Chicana/o Studies professors taught her was definitely not self-determination. It should be clear by now that entrance into Hollywood is not acceptance and a Chicana/o Studies degree for some is not necessarily liberating.