I can already see the headlines and think-pieces and outrage brewing for this one. If you thought the Cloud Atlas “yellowface” outrage (read: nonsense) that peppered the internet was bad, just wait for a controversy with an actual basis in something…
You will recall that David Ayer has been prepping a new Scarface film since about this time last year, and that he was angling at directing as well as writing. With all of the critical favor that surrounded End Of Watch and the relatively strong returns on the low-budget film, I expect that directing opportunity will be open for him if he wants it. In any event, the news of the day is actually that the background and general synopsis of Ayer’s film has been dug up by the gentleman at Latino Review, despite the character’s origin being “kept under wraps.”
Turns out, Tony III is going to hail from Mexico, and he’ll be introducing the mexican drug cartels to his little friend. It makes me wonder if Michael Pena –the End of Watch star born of Mexican immigrants– is being measured for some sharp suits and picking out cigars somewhere…
There are a few things to consider here, not least of which is how much shit is going to fly when one of the most notorious criminal icons ever to exist in fiction is recast as a Mexican drug lord taking the American dream to its most intense extreme in a contemporary USA. That’s delicate, hot-button ground to tread on, lest you provide more ammunition to the fearful by feeding stereotypes of Mexican immigrants as thugs. You can already feel Rush Limbaugh having a minor heart attack with glee out there somewhere.
That being said, let’s not act like this isn’t a completely natural choice with some resonance to it. For one thing, Hispanic people have become a great force in the movie-ticket buying market, so more and more films are going to cater to that demographic, regardless of the context. Beyond that, the Mexican drug cartels are genuinely frightening, massive organizations that are as powerful now as ever. In other words, the cartels represent a potent playground for such a story, as the way over-maligned Savages demonstrated earlier this year. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that Ayers will do something genuine interesting with this dynamic, and will have worthwhile things to say in the course of the film.
The real danger here is that Scarface is perhaps the film to have its iconography most aggressively appropriated by gangster culture, without regard to the actual subtext of the films. The expectations are going to be high and the dice very loaded in this case, even if Ayer is fixed on the idea of drawing from the spirit of both films to tell something new. How do you draw on that iconography without reveling in it and just handing more gangster posing to guys like James Franco’s Spring Breakers character?* I think the filmmaker has built up some benefit of the doubt with the unexpected impact of End Of Watch, but I’ll still be curious to see how the politics of this all play out.
*I haven’t seen the film, but apparently he keeps Scarface playing on a loop in his house.