Hailed as the first Latino superhero movie, El Chicano is an action-packed saga where identity politics are part of the character’s lore. Riding on a motorcycle and wearing an Aztec-inspired mask, this Mexican-American vigilante is presented as a shadowy figure that has been embodied by different men throughout the years in East LA.
Starring Raúl Castillo in a double role as brothers Diego and Pedro, El Chicano premiered to a full house at the Los Angeles Film Festival as part of its LA Muse section that highlights city-specific stories. Stunt coordinator-turned-director Ben Hernandez Bray and the vast majority of the cast – with the glaring exception of George Lopez and Kate del Castillo – were in attendance to celebrate the landmark production made possible not by a Hollywood studio but Canadian investors.
“I’ve never been in a cast with this many Latinos,” said Castillo during the post-screening Q&A. The actor, who is having a breakout year with Netflix’s Seven Seconds and Sundance hit We the Animals, plays a police officer discovering his deceased brother’s revolutionary interests and taking over the role of El Chicano to rid the streets of crime with his own hands.
Car chases and choreographed fight scenes aside, Castillo felt most attached to the part’s emotional depth. “It’s a story about how complicated families are, how most families are broken, and the relationship between these two brothers. I have a brother, so I connected with that,” he added.
That personal touch is inextricably related to Hernandez Bray’s own memories of growing up in the San Fernando Valley and the people who marked his childhood. “Every Latino knows that, especially living in a barrio, you adapt and you relate,” he explained.
“Everything about this film, including writing this script, was based on my life and what I was exposed to, from my mother Susanna, to my wife Vanessa, and even Diego, who was a homie of mine that grew up across the street.” In El Chicano, veteran actress Marlene Forte is Susanna, while TV star Aimee Garcia plays Vanessa. “The characters are all related to someone or something from when I was a child.”
Originally, the writer-director wanted to create an epic origin story for El Chicano showing him throughout key events in Chicano history, as a hero personified by different Latino men united by the same desire to carry out justice. Hernandez Bray and co-writer and producer Joe Carnahan hoped to open the picture with a montage of El Chicano during the Zoot Suit riots in 1943, at the Chavez Ravine in 1958, the Watts Riots in 1965, the Chicano Moratorium in 1970, and ending in the 1980s where Pedro and Diego are young boys. Ultimately, budget didn’t allow for such an expansive introduction.
In spite of the added challenges of creating an epic of this magnitude with indie-sized resources, Hernandez Bray wouldn’t trade more money for the project’s autonomy. When asked if there were any scenarios in which El Chicano could join the Marvel Universe, the filmmaker promptly responded, “They’re doing their thing; this is our thing.” Carnahan noted there are plans for sequels and more content related to El Chicano, but never as an addition to any existing properties. “It’s meant to be a universe, but I don’t think we’d ever roll that into anybody else’s shit.”
El Chicano opens in theaters nationwide on May 3, 2019.