As an individual who thoroughly enjoys watching films, there are certain filmmakers that appeal to this writer’s visual/contextual preferences. One of those filmmakers is Robert Rodriguez since first seeing the film From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Robert Rodriguez has proven to be a director that can appeal to a wide variety of audiences but his depiction of personal relationships, violence, and storytelling are somehow his signature. Those elements are all very present in the screening this week of Machete Kills. For those who have not seen the original Machete (2010), there will be a screening later this semester in class but Machete Kills (2013) is the follow up to the first film. Machete Kills displays Latinx characters as impulsive, flashy, and ultimately at the mercy of Anglo American social structures. This is a recurring theme in the films we have seen so far and here we can see how the similarities continue.
In the opening scene, we see American soldiers are getting ready to make a sale of military grade weapons to the Mexican cartel when they are foiled by Machete and his Federal Agent love interest/partner. The members of the cartel who are depicted as more of the low level enforcers arrive in old pickup trucks and are dressed in jeans/t-shirts but the higher level figure, or “the boss” who has given the orders to the lower level gangsters, arrives in a purple lowrider while dressed in a boisterous blue dress shirt, tucked into his pants while showing off his large belt buckle. “Chicanos are dynamic social formations whose dynamism is a product of creativity, and agency” (Fregoso, p. 28). This creativity and limited agency can most easily be observed in the way individuals are dressed in the film. The fashion carries a lot of subcontext including the flashy way the cartel bosses dress, the way Vox, an American weapons manufacturer, is always shown in a suit, and the way Machete’s associate dresses when she “dresses to kill”. All of these different choices in the styling of these characters is reminiscent of how those in similar roles are depicted in such films as Scarface (1983) and Zoot Suit (1981).
Another theme that remains is the impulsive nature of the Latino male. In Machete Kills we see it in the characters of The Chameleon and Marcos Mendez. The Chameleon is a hired assassin who has the otherworldly power to shift his physical appearance at will. He ends up shedding this image 3 times in the movie because his impulsivity has led him to kill 3 individuals who inconvenienced him. The other character Marcos Mendez is portrayed as an individual with dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder) who, when he is “the madman” is so fixated on revenge that he programs a ticking time bomb onto his heart. Marcos’ other personality, “the revolutionary”, is seeing a better future for the people of Mexico but “the madman” personality takes over in extreme stress situations and cannot control his desire to end the life of anyone who does not view him as the penultimate authority figure in the cartel. “This negative positioning of Latino masculinity is shown as ‘inherently violent’ and ‘sexually and morally pathological’ in media since the 1960’s” (Fregoso, p. 29). Machete Kills definitely perpetuates these depictions of Latino machismo that has been in place for the last 50 years.
Although Machete is portrayed as having a huge following by vigilantes in Mexico, he aligns forces with the U.S. government to take down Marcos Mendez. In the process he becomes a U.S. citizen and is offered another assignment from the President of the U.S. This shows that the way to prosper in America is to play by the rules of the existing social structures. If Machete had declined the request of the president to detain Marcos Mendez he would not have been granted U.S. citizenship and would have to continue on as an outlaw. This is another way of reinforcing that there has to be some kind of concession to Anglo culture in order to prosper in the U.S. Even with all the perpetuation of Hollywood stereotypes of Latinx people, Machete Kills is a fun movie that uses humor and violence to veil political statements on the relationships between U.S. and Mexico.
Fregoso, Rosa Linda. Bronze Screen : Chicana and Chicano Film Culture, University of Minnesota Press, 1993. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/csudh/detail.action?docID=310258.