Friday, July 24, 2015

Guest Blog: “Scarface” Remake: Same Latino Stereotypes, New Anglo Face

By Edwin Pagán.

Scarface... times three?
It’s hard to believe that more than 30 years have passed since Brian De Palma’s Scarface blew the doors off theaters in 1983, and went on to become a pop-culture phenomenon in the U.S. and abroad. Now another remake of the property– the third– is poised to make its way into local cinemas and online streaming services. But before you get yourself worked up into a lather with excitement, read on.

An updated remake of Scarface has been licking around Hollywood for some time. Back in March the trades were abuzz with the news that Universal was marching forward with the project in earnest. At the time, Al Pacino, who comprised the Tony Montana of lore we have come to love/hate, told Hollywood Reporter that he might be interested in doing one himself: “I may remake a movie I saw recently,” he said. “I can’t say what it is. It’s about 50 years old.” While Pacino didn’t name the film, his attempt at being cool with the possibility off a remake fell short, choosing to tease out an enigma instead. Sour grapes perhaps?

Now that the United States has reconciled a few of its differences with the island nation of Cuba, and has just opened an embassy in Washington to continue to foster diplomatic relations, the Hollywood casting machine (and the United States by extension) will have to find a new so-called rogue nation and people to fulfill its endless need for a nemesis and psychotic villains. And how is the film being refreshed, you ask, now that sources have confirmed that the story will not be based on tragic-hero-villain Tony Montana or based in Miami? Enter México. 

Al Pacino as Tony Montana.
In the 1932 original, Scarface (uno) was set in Chicago during the bootlegging epoch of prohibition. Paul Muni, a leading actor of his day, played Tony (simply Tony). In 1983, Al Pacino reprised the role of Tony (now Tony Montana) in Scarface (dos) under Brian De Palma’s watch. This time Tony was morphed into a Cuban refugee during Miami’s “Cocaine Cowboy” epidemic, whose insatiable ambitions transform him into a larger-than-life drug lord who wants ‘the world and everything in it.’

Word now is that this next reboot will be based in Los Angeles where a Mexican immigrant rises to become a cartel-like crime figure. So, in essence, this Scarface is participating in a film witness protection program where the names and locations have been changed to protect the studio’s profits. The one thing that will carry over from de Palma’s version: the lead character will be played by an Anglo actor and not a Latino actor (insert GASPS here). So who has been tapped to play the central role in a film that is surely to receive the full tentpole treatment? Say hello to my little friend— Leonardo DiCaprio. Sorry Pacino, this boat is definitely setting sail without you.

The film is slated to be helmed by Chilean national Pablo Larraín, who most recently directed Gael García Bernal in No. While Larraín has been attached to the project for some time, the jury is still out if he will actually end up in the director’s chair when principal photography begins now that DiCaprio has signed on. Straight Outta Compton scribe Jonathan Herman is penning the final screenplay after earlier attempts by David Ayer (Training Day) and Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco). Given how new to the game Herman is, the assumption is that he will “keep it real,” one can only think.

Now that DiCaprio is onboard, the film is almost assured to go into production and hit theaters nationwide and internationally and whatever writing, acting or directing choices are made, they will be seen far and wide and have an impact regionally on the people, places and things depicted. While Universal has claimed that Scarface (tres) “will be a new and original take on the immigrant story”, we’ve seen this portrayal on mainstream news a million times when it comes to Mexican and Latin American immigration. Even presidential hopeful (and hapless bigot) Donald Trump has inserted the immigrant-as-killer frame into his faux stand against the attack on Americana, casting them as mere harbingers of drugs, crime, and rape (is that a plot spoiler?). 

“Perhaps Trump is working for the studio as a story and marketing consultant”. 

Already, purists and diehards are flooding chat boards crying blasphemy. For them, De Palma’s take (a remake itself) sits atop the Pantheon and should not be altered or remade. But the real outcry will be from the community that will be (mis)represented, and I fear, exploited for profit (AGAIN!). Maybe we need to sign onto those forums and join the conversation, too.

Marlon Brando in Viva Zapata!
Even with DiCaprio’s chops, it’s hard to see how he will read as a Mexican, and what his choices will be as he feigns a Latino accent. Will he pay homage to Pacino’s mouth-full-of-marbles garble (spit or swallow, boy)? Tip the hat to Marlon Brando’s Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! (the horror)? Or genuflect to Sean Penn’s shiny gold-toothed Cuco Sánchez in Before Night Falls (¿Gua?)? Following this warped Hollywood connect-the-dots thinking, and the fact that Scarface has become such an iconic staple in the hip hop community, we can also imagine that African American actors will have central roles, if only to serve as affable comic relief to the more serious storyline. One hopes that is not the case (the added stereotypes, that is).


Joaquín "El Chapo"
Guzmán Loera.
So what will the impact be of another slanted Hollywood film where caricatures dominate millions of insular minds at a time when there is an open cultural war being waged against Latino immigrants in the U.S.? Clearly, Universal is fixed on the bottom line of profits and not the project’s potential negative social implications. Only time will tell. Suddenly, the daring (or not so much) escape of Sinaloa drug cartel overlord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán makes perfect sense– he needed to update his headshots. Can we expect a cameo? After all, Universal, he’s ready for his close-up. Glint.

A release date has not yet been announced.

Edwin Pagán is the founder of Latin HorrorHe is a writer, filmmaker (with over 20 years production experience in the narrative and documentary film sectors), photographer, cinematographer, curator, cultural activist, and lifelong horror fan. He has curated the New Latino Filmmakers screening series at Anthology Film Archives for the past 10 years, where he also now hosts LATIN HORROR's 'The HORRORphiles' fear series several times during the year, including its annual MIEDO MASHUP that celebrates the website's anniversary. In 2008 he founded LATIN HORROR, an online niche market website specializing in Latin-influenced horror, its documentation, and promotion as a distinct genre. Pagán is at the forefront of the Latin "Dark Creative Expressionist" movement, a term he coined as a means of identifying the millions of lost souls who live outside the rim of mainstream society and whose lifestyle and work is grounded in horror, the macabre, and gothic arts. He is a Executive Board Member of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) and film reviewer for Latin HeatCurrently, he is penning a book entitled MIEDO: The History of Latin Horror.

No comments: