Fifteen Candles

Quinceañera

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, September 11, 2006

 

The massive May Day marches by illegal immigrants appear to have made film critics finally notice that the American entertainment industry has largely ignored the 28 million people of Mexican origin in this country. In compensation, reviewers are now praising extravagantly "Quinceañera," a modest but lively and likeable $400,000 drama about an American-born Mexican girl's bumpy ride to her traditionally lavish 15th birthday party, or quinceañera.
 
While this is the second straight sentimental movie about minorities by white filmmakers to win the Sundance film festival's Audience Award, at least it's an improvement over its deplorable predecessor, "Hustle & Flow," which featured that Oscar-winning song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."
 
Young Magdalena lives in Los Angeles's Echo Park, which the press gingerly describes as "vibrant." That euphemism means shopkeepers, fearful of local gangs, lower the metal bars over their store windows at 6pm, leaving the commercial streets desolate after dark.
 
Still, Echo Park is superbly located in hills overlooking the skyscrapers of downtown LA. So, an influx from trendy Silver Lake of white homosexual men, the standard shock troops of gentrification because they are less vulnerable to crime than male-female couples, has begun economically cleansing Chicanos from Echo Park's quaint but dilapidated clapboard cottages.
 
When Magdalena (glumly played by newcomer Emily Rios) suddenly can't fit into her quinceañera gown because she's pregnant at 14, her security guard father, who preaches in a storefront Protestant evangelical church, doesn't believe her assertions that she's still a virgin. So, she walks out in a huff and moves in with her cheerful, accepting great-great-uncle Tomas, an octogenarian street peddler. Along with her cousin Carlos, a sullen gang-banger who has their area code "213" tattooed on his neck, they form one of the "random families" so prevalent in the slums.
 
Then, the two white men from the entertainment industry who have just become their landlords invite thuggish Carlos to their housewarming party, which turns out to feature 1970s disco music, fussy decorations, and no women.
 
Although there are four million Mexicans in Los Angeles County, only a handful play an important role in the film industry, with Robert Rodriguez, director of the "Spy Kids" franchise, being the most notable. Indeed, "Quinceañera" was written and directed not by Mexican-Americans, but by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, two former gay pornographers who restored a house in Echo Park.
 
The best aspect of "Quinceañera" is that it offers the least sugarcoated portrayal of homosexuals in recent memory. Since Tom Hanks's "Philadelphia" in 1993, Hollywood has been depicting gays as St. Sebastians who die for our sins, rather than as individuals with their own agendas. Glatzer and Westmoreland, in contrast, portray their alter egos in the film as sexual predators who mutually lust after "cholos in wifebeaters" like Carlos. But after weeks of simultaneously abusing the poor boy from the car wash, one of the gentrifiers develops some non-carnal feelings for him, which provokes a spat with his roommate. To eliminate the cause of jealousy, the two gays evict Carlos, Magdalena, and Tomas.
 
While a definite improvement in realism over typical movies featuring homosexuals, the gay subplot is still phony. That Carlos would be utterly macho yet also so convinced -- even before he meets the landlords -- that's he's homosexual that his father threw him out of the house is more gay fantasy than reality. What's more common is for wealthy white homosexuals with a taste for masculine minority youths to corrupt them with money or drugs. This exploitation is one source of the widespread homophobia in the inner city.
 
Unfortunately, the gay white filmmakers don't have the courage to criticize their Mexican characters the same way they take on their own.
 
Eventually, heartbroken Uncle Tomas dies. At his funeral, Carlos delivers an impassioned eulogy that provides the film's moral: he was a saint because he didn't judge anybody.
 
Well, swell … Except not judging teenage girls who get pregnant out of wedlock is the kind of upper middle class liberal advice that's disastrous for Mexican-Americans, who are suffering an illegitimacy epidemic: 48 percent of all American-born mothers of Mexican descent are unmarried, compared to 41 percent of Mexican immigrant mothers. Apparently, Mexican-Americans are, as is so often blithely claimed, assimilating … but toward African-American norms. Latinos need more intolerance of socially destructive behavior like Magdalena's, not less.
 
Rated R for language, some sexual content, and drug use.

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