It is 1972 and the illicit tamale conflict is at its peak. Sour cream supplies are close to exhausted as new tamale joints open all over town. In this ruthless power struggle there can be few survivors. Enter Felipe Federico Fernandez, an enigmatic Mexican immigrant whose courage and wisdom can help end the Californian takeout wars forever, for his tamales are the best. “First, you start with a big hunk of shit,” he tells a cowering rival.
That was the general premise to the first series of Masa & The Power, the web series featuring Pedro Herrera III, aka rapper, comedian and social commentator Chingo Bling, as the upstart Felipe F.F. The show channels pop-cultural narratives into a tale of struggle, sacrifice, and late-night munchies.
Now, the show’s creators at Desmadre.com have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of the second series, which follows Michael Corleon… sorry, Felipe as he seeks to expand his empire and defend the honor of his loved ones: close advisor Gueyne Wade and green-fingered guru Juan Hierbas.
We talked to Desmadre’s head honcho Jesus Beltran – filmmaker, writer and tamale enthusiast – about working with Chingo, celebrating the Latino experience, and why people should get behind the Kickstarter campaign. This is what he had to say.
Who is Felipe Federico Fernandez? What’s his motivation?
FFF is an intellectual in search of the truth. He is an immigrant who wants to be remembered for his grand ideas and bold vision. He is an American pioneer in the truest sense – forging his own path without asking permission. He also makes badass tamales.
For those who haven’t seen season one, can you give us a rundown of what happens?
“He’s fed up working for the man so he decides to start his own thing – an illicit tamale enterprise.”
Season one of Masa & The Power begins in 1972. Felipe Fernando Fernandez is an ordinary Mexican immigrant working as a cook at a shitty inauthentic taqueria. He’s fed up working for the man so he decides to start his own thing – an illicit tamale enterprise. He recruits his co-worker Gueyne Wade, who becomes his consigliere and entrée to the white business world. They eventually bring on Juan Hierbas, a Mexican gardener and hydroponics expert, to help grow the finest Aztec corn the West Coast has ever seen. Season one takes us through their formation as a syndicate as well as the trials and tribulations of their first cook and sale of masa to the masses. The season ends with endless promise for their budding enterprise.
Why did you decide to make the show?
I’ve done a few short films and tried to develop a feature length screenplay but they’ve all been on the dramatic side and I found that despite festival acclaim these projects rarely get seen. They just die on the festival circuit. So a year ago I teamed up with my cousin Sammy Tomsing Martinez and producer Amy Lo to start Desmadre.com , a digital platform aimed at reaching who we think our core audience is – bicultural Latinos, degenerates and intellectuals alike. So I started thinking of ideas for a comedy series and I knew I wanted to work with Pedro CHINGO BLING Herrera III in some fashion. Chingo is the original Tamale Kingpin – a moniker he has used in the hip-hop world for around a decade now. He’d been getting into acting so I approached him with a general concept for Masa & The Power and he was totally game. I wrote the first episode – we shot it and it came out pretty cool. So we shot four more and now Chingo is part of the Desmadre team as a Founding Artist.
That’s really just a long way of saying: We’re trying to make cool shit that we want to see but that nobody else is making and that no one else would ever probably greenlight because they don’t get it.
What’s the background of you guys? Are you all pals since a long time ago?
Sammy T Martinez and I are first cousins. Our moms are sisters, grew up in Mexico together and came to the US as adults. Amy and I are classmates from Stanford but actually didn’t meet ‘til a few years after we graduated and were both in the film world. I made a short that played at Sundance then we teamed up on a feature script that I wrote and she’s producing and that went through the Sundance producing labs. Chingo Bling is our long lost cuz. I was a big fan of his before this project and wish we’d met earlier but Aztec cosmological forces had their way.
“One of our biggest missions is to tell stories unapologetically.”
What can the show teach us about the Latino experience in the U.S.?
The immigrant experience is not sacred. There’s a lot to be proud of – a lot to admire about the immigrant ethos – but we think it’s ok to pick it apart and explore it through the use of satire (and whatever other approach you might choose). So one of our biggest missions is to tell stories unapologetically. We’re tired of the same old depiction of immigrants in culture – basically what I call The Bicycle Thief sob story approach. You know, “Woe is me. Working all day for my family here and back in the mother country. I can’t do any wrong, blah blah.” Let’s turn that upside down a little bit and have fun for fuck’s sake.
Where can people catch up with season one?
All links are at our Kickstarter page!
Why should people back your campaign?
Aside from the fact that we’ve got a great show and there are great Kickstarter rewards for our backers, we’ve been working hard for years trying to tell stories nobody else dares to. Access to capital in this space is tough for anyone but especially for creators working in our space. So going directly to our fans and likeminded people is not only a way for us to keep making dope stuff, but also serves as validation to others that we’re on the right path. So you’re helping not only us but also other creators who want to take a chance and tell their own unique stories.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Do you want to see another movie with Michael Peña or do you want to see Chingo Bling build his tamale empire in the 1970s? Enough said.