La Oferta

March 25, 2023


March 7, 1992

By Yolanda Reynolds

La Oferta Newspaper.

“American Me” is a movie about a Latino Youth, originally a victim in his barrio of East Los Angeles, who later becomes a leader in victimizing his own community.

The movie is based upon a story of the life of a prison/gang leader named “Santana.” written by Floyd Mutrux. The movie does not gloss over the violent life of those involved in such a life of crime.

According to the Hollywood actor, Edward Olmos, who played the role of Santana: this film allowed him to draw attention to the increasing violence that plagues many communities. The film is due to be released to the movie circuit on the 13th of this month.

In an unusually long preview period, prior to the general screening of the film, Olmos has traveled throughout the county, meeting directly with and talking to viewers in order to assess their feelings about the movie.

The reaction to the film has been sharply divided. The film can be evaluated on many different levels; for the acting, for the reality of the portrayal of life of a typical gang member and leader, for the reality of prison life, for the general artistic level of the film including direction of this film, the effectiveness of the “message” and, the impact of the movie upon – children, policy, leaders, parents, the Hispanic community and others.

The protagonist in the movie, Santana, lived a life of crime that did not end – even while in detention. Santana seemed to have spent almost more time incarcerated first with the California Youth Authority (CYA), and later in prison-than free. His life of crime ended only when his own gang, sensing weakness in Santana, killed him right outside his prison cell.

The movie, and almost each of the scenes, is very powerful. Following the showing it was clear from the audience’s reaction that the film had a great impact. The questions from the audience to Olmos revealed considerable skepticism that the film would bring about the changes in the community which he had hoped for – to reduce criminal behavior in our communities.

Even more disturbing, eat prisoners, say that, though the portrayal of prison violence is real, this movie fails to reveal that, within the prison population, 3/4 of the inmates abhor prison violence and actively work to reduce it. Nuestra Familia, considered by many to be a prison gang, was originally formed to protect its members, mostly Latinos, from inmate abuse by other organized gangs. Those who have spent time in prison say that if “American Me” is shown in prison it will likely cause increased violence that can very possibly erupt into prison riots. If such happens. even more inmates maybe injured or even killed. Already large numbers of prisoners lose their lives while in prison.

For the Latino community these facts are significant. Unfortunately, the largest single ethnic group in California prisons is Latino.

Though 0lmos reminded the audience that the movie was about only a small segment of the community, those intimate, with prison life say that even the movie’s portrayal of prison life, reflects the experience of less than a quarter of that population.

After the movie, Olmos told the audience that having to stand before the people of San Jose to discuss his film was one of the most “painful” things that he has ever done. He explained that his purpose in doing the film was to show a particular life style among a “small slice of the Hispanic community…” and that in fact, gang membership and activity was not limited to Hispanics, but occurred within all groups.

Many people have strong opinions about the film which they expressed to Olmos. One viewer asked Olmos if this was just another movie that would exploit the Hispanic community. Olmos answered that the movie was done not to exploit but to bring to the attention of everyone the problems that gang and drug related activity is causing. Another viewer asked if Universal Studios would set aside at least one dollar from each ticket sale to help wipe out delinquent behavior among youth. (That question mused cheers front the audience). Olmos replied that Universal had already made a $20 million investment in this movie and added that he hoped that the movie would be a great success and that the studio would make its initial investment and a profit as well.

J. Manuel Herrera, an Eastside resident of San Jose, who saw the preview of the movie, said. “it (the movie, “American Me”) is difficult to watch, but I respect Eddie Olmos and support the work that he is trying to do with this movie – to shock the small percentage of our community that is into this lifestyle – especially the youth who might be romanticizing gang life and machismo.”

Artistically this writer found the movie to be excellent. The film creates a strong emotion in the viewer and the images and events in the movie last for days and days, an effect that most creative persons attempt to achieve in their audience, regardless of the medium and the message.

What is less certain is the effect that the film will have upon that small segment of the community that indulges in this behavior, or on the political establishment that is blind to the needs of the young and their parents.

One viewer, poet Robert Duran, said that, though the film accurately depicted aspects of prison and gang life, the film did not properly depict the legal system and its role in creating “a monster.”

“PRISONS WERE NOT BUILT TO REMAIN EMPTY” a poem by Roberto Duran expresses in these few words the problems of our justice system. Some reports indicate that the United States leads the world in number of prisoners. Until South Africa and the former USSR released thousands of political prisoners the United States ranked third. Both countries, the former USSR and South Africa were known for their undemocratic forms of government and abusive police system.

Olmos attempted to explain that everyone has choices and that is what this film is all about. Olmos said that the real heroin the movie was not Santana but a woman. “Julie.” She is played by Evelyn Fernandez, who rejects Santana and his life style and instead chooses to go to college, while he continues the life that leads him to an early death.

The movie will likely remain controversial and its impact will probably be both good and bad. It is a movie that does engender strong images. Edward Olmos is a talented director and actor and though he achieved success with “Stand and Deliver” and “The Ballad of Gregorio Corte,” this movie is so different that it is hard to predict what its lasting impact will be. © La Oferta Newspaper.