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Does Machete Matter?

I imagine that Robert Rodriguez was bracing himself for controversy over his new film Machete. Given the uproar that the use of foul language in Kick-Ass caused, I think it’s safe to say that Rodriguez’s retro “mexploitation” film was just asking for trouble when it came out. I anticipated a lot of politically correct discussions about the film’s premise, and potentially some discussions of negative stereotypes it might evoke. However, I certainly could not have suspected that it would provoke some sort of “race war”.

Knife to see you...

Basically the context of this discussion is that Arizona has passed some controversial immigration laws and Rodriguez decided to have a bit of fun by sticking a reference to it at the start of a trailer for his new film, which sees a Mexican assassin named Machete (you don’t even need to ask why he’s called that) set up for an assassination attempt on a United States Senator as a pretense to start some racial politics. Now, keep in mind we aren’t talking about a film with the subtlety and complexity of Syriana or Traffic here, we’re talking about a movie about a man named after a large knife.

Apparently the fact that this is a spin-off from a movie that nobody saw and is an intentional throwback to the era of exploitation films somehow slipped by some commentators, who have offered not-at-all over-the-top snippets such as this one:

Hello friends, this is a very important message. We’re trying to avert a tragedy and possible trigger for serious race war in the United States, something the establishment has been stoking and preparing for decades. Whether he knows it or not, Robert Rodriguez– I would say it’s a 90% chance right now — is going to trigger racial riots and racial killings in the United States with the September release of his film, Machete.

Yes. Machete, a film that will be lucky to scrape into the top ten in its opening weekend, will start a race war. I doubt it. I honestly don’t think the film is on anybody’s radar at the moment, let alone serving as a match to ignite the flames of racial hatred.

I’m not even sure how I feel about the film. I kinda want to see it because it looks so ridiculous and gratuitous (and because it features Robert DeNiro), but I also didn’t like Grindhouse, the movie which spun it off. I liked the concept of it, but the execution left me cold. This is a movie based off a two-minute fake trailer that was stuck inside a film which really failed to make an impact. It’s hardly a racially-charged call to arms.

Looks like this might be a film for hacks...

It’s simply a (hopefully enjoyable) bit of pulp cinema which has the same fun with Mexican stereotypes that recent blaxploitation films like Undercover Brother or Black Dynamite have had with their own clichés. Or to put it more succinctly:

The movie is a farce of course, poking fun at Mexican stereotypes while empowering Latin actors in lead roles, similarly to Blaxploitation films. Although they can laugh at themselves in the film, its just a strange coincidence that SB 1070 actually got passed into state law – the bad guys do exist!

Of course there will be debate and discussion over the Arizona law – and it would be great if Machete contributed to it and encouraged any engagement – but let’s not kid ourselves. Anyone buying a ticket to Machete isn’t buying a ticket based on politics. the film doesn’t represent a public and considered rejoinder to the legislation in the same way that Milk provoked a debate on California’s gay marriage ban (I don’t think the fact that they are celebrating an annual day in his honour for the first time after the film took home a lot of Oscars is a coincidence) or Oliver Stone’s Nixon attempted to frame a retrospective debate on that most controversial world leader. The people who will see Machete will be people familiar with Rodriguez’s filmography – those who liked Desperado or even Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

It was a bit cheeky for Rodriguez to stick that little segment in front of the movie’s first official trailer, but it was at most an immature prank and – at best – would have encouraged a few people to have a quick google search to be ‘in on the joke’. It certainly wasn’t a declaration of war on the state of Arizona by a fictional Mexican assassin (no matter how ridiculously badass) or his director. Of course, the term “proportionate response” has no meaning in either the worlds of politics or entertainment, so it wasn’t long before people were throwing around terms like “race war”. It’s disappointing that Rodriguez appears to have conceded a bit of ground and has cut some scenes from the film itself.

It’s even more disappointing because it means I can’t close this article with the note that “they f*cked with the wrong Mexican”.

17 Responses

  1. Hahaha, I’m still totally on board for this one. That trailer was a freakin’ riot. It’s about time I revisited the Mexico trilogy again anyhow. Desperado all the way.

    • I wasn’t sold upon “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”, I’ll confess – although psychopathic Johnny Depp goes a long way, I’ll concede.

  2. Seriously, this movie sounds more awesome by the minute and the trailer was a blast! I definitely will be seeing it in theater so let’s hope it does scrape into the top 10 (or better) on opening weekend. I couldn’t care less about the politics behind the trailer.

    • Yep – I really don’t think it’s fair to label it a political movie in any context, no more than,say, Transformers is a political movie, for example. It certainly doesn’t – from what I can see – have a racial agenda.

  3. I doubt anyone would take this film seriously enough for it to start a race war. I mean it’s Robert Rodriguez.

    • Yep. For everyone of these movies, I have a score card in my head for complaints I expect to be leveled. “Too violent” is always a good one, and I would have called some sort of Mexican Defamation League protesting the the premiere, but “it will start a race war” was nowhere near my list possible complaints.

  4. Machete is going to be fucking hot.

    • With a bit of luck. I’m hoping it turns out better than Planet Terror, which I thought was just a disappointment.

  5. Danny Trejo is a badass. That’s all there is to it!

    I can see this being a lot of fun if people will check their need for P.C. coating at the door. As “Pulp Fiction” taught us, pulp can be loads of fun.

    • As long as it doesn’t descend into Planet Terror territory.

    • It’s fantastic that Danny Trejo is getting some well-deserved time in the limelight. He’s been an excellent supporting badass for years (and actually has great comic timing – “He gets cleaned up good”).

  6. Rabble rousers are always looking for touchstone events to drum up attention for their own agenda. So while they’re issuing warnings about a looming race war (which I thought you were joking about BTW) what they’re really doing is thanking Rodriguez for stoking their own ignorant fires.

    To honest, I couldn’t give a shite about this movie. But if it keeps this kind of retro-cinema revival that’s been going on, I’m all for it.

    • Yep. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a joke either. There are some strange political beliefs out there (and this is a complaint that frequently gets leveled at the states, but the UK and Ireland have their own particular brand of political wackos as well).

  7. Great post, Darren. I have a feeling this one may underwhelm as well. I’m still going to see it. I actually hope it is more in the vein of Desperado than the Grindhouse movie… which gets better with repeat viewings… especially Death Proof.
    Oh, and to address the other stuf… this film will not inspire any race wars or violence… that’s ridiculous!

    • Thanks. I was just really surprised by those claims. I figure Grindhouse will improve on rewatch, but I’ve been busy and it’s hard to muster up the enthusiasm to put it back on, to be honest.

  8. I, for one, am really looking forward to Machete – though I must say, I was blissfully ignorant of any controversy. The idea that a film could start a race war is insane though – Who is the Alex Jones fellow?

    In any case, if some violent race war does somehow develop it obviously won’t be because of a movie… I imagine the years of oppression and societal marginalisation will have something to do with it…

    • Part of me thinks it fascinating if, in the god-forbid unlikely event something happens, Robert Rodriguez’s Machete would become a “historically important text”. That cracks me up.

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