Movie News & Reviews

Sacramento’s Joe Carnahan helps deliver first Latino superhero movie, ‘El Chicano’

It’s no secret that superhero movies have been dominating the box office for the past year.

During its opening weekend, “Avengers: Endgame” grossed $1.2 billion worldwide. “Black Panther,” praised by movie critics and social media users alike for featuring a black superhero as its main character, grossed $520 million during its opening weekend worldwide.

Enter “El Chicano,” the newest superhero movie to hit big screens, co-written and produced by former Sacramento-based director Joe Carnahan. Carnahan and co-author Ben Hernandez-Bray teamed up to make a movie specifically for the Hispanic audience, which doesn’t typically see superhero films with Latino characters.

“Ben was very steadfast in his belief that people need see themselves on screen,” Carnahan said. “People saw themselves in ‘Black Panther,’ people saw themselves in ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ We needed to have that kind of Latinx component and we said we think ‘El Chicano’ could be that thing.”

A 2018 USC study found only 6.2% of popular movies surveyed featured a prevalent Latino character in 2017. That figure has nearly doubled since 2007, when only 3.3% of popular movies featured prevalent Latino characters.

The movie follows Los Angeles Police Department Detective Diego Hernandez as makes his transition into El Chicano, the masked crime-fighting street legend similar to Batman or Spider-Man. Hernandez and his brother, Pedro, parted ways in adolescence and chose two different paths – Diego, law enforcement, and Pedro, crime.

Carnahan said the idea came to Hernandez-Bray after his brother died from gang violence. The pair talked about the idea, but it wasn’t until Hernandez-Bray and his wife lost their daughter and Carnahan left “Bad Boys 3” that they decided to fully focus on producing “El Chicano.”

“The only kind of comfort or consoling I could do for them was say, ‘Listen, let’s turn all of our attention to ‘El Chicano’ and throw ourselves into it,’” Carnahan said. “Let’s take this kind of horrible energy and reconstitute it and turn it into something that is positive and creative.”

From there, Carnahan said he and Hernandez-Bray pitched the movie idea to production studios in an attempt to get funding. When they said no, the pair decided to find funding on their own.

“It was a really interesting, the process of seeing, wow, they really don’t understand the market or the fact that the Latinx population purchases almost 25% of the movie tickets,” Carnahan said. “They might be missing the boat, missing a key demographic or culture to program for.”

Since it premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, “El Chicano” has won Best Feature Film at the Maryland International Film Festival and was nominated for the LA Muse Award.

Carnahan said the response from crowds who have seen the movie early have been positive.

“Marco Rodriguez, who plays Jesus, when we screened it at the Latino Theater Company downtown in LA a few months back, I went up to him afterward, he was shaking and I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ He goes, you know Joe, I’ve been, I’ve been acting for 43 years. I’ve never seen us onscreen like that.’ I was so moved and flattered and touched by that,” Carnahan said. “Those moments are what make all the rest of the nonsense more than worth the struggle.”

“El Chicano” premieres in select theaters Thursday night.

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