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
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
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,
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.
to The American Conservative
(because I don't post my magazine reviews online until long after
the films have come and gone)