American Me (1992, USA)

American Me

Fine drama, directed by and starring Edward James Olmos, which charts the life of Santana, an East Los Angeles Hispanic crime boss from – well, before he was born, really – through his teenage years, his time in juvenile detention and later Folsom Prison, then back out on the streets and back in jail. It follows a very similar path to Bound by Honour (even sharing features like the main character having a blonde, white-skinned right hand man and a young teenager dying from a drug overdose) but does everything better, including selling the message that gang life is destroying the potential of young Hispanic kids.

Santana is ruthless and in control while in prison, but when he gets out he is something of a fish out of water and is confronted by the realities of his drug dealing, the impact of his gang’s insistence on loyalty to it above all else, and what he’s missed out on by a life in prison. The film was shot on location in East Los Angeles with a truce struck by local gangs to temporarily stop the drive-by shootings, and used gang members on the cast. The prison scenes were shot inside Folsom Prison (while the prison continued to operate, mind you) – again with some prisoners used as extras, and shows prison life more matter-of-factly than most prison flicks, even if the violence is not exactly tempered.

Perhaps it’s a gang movie, rather than a prison movie, but either way it’s provocative and sobering.

American Me #2

Posted on May 18th, 2009 at 8:37 pm. Updated on August 27th, 2009 at 10:10 pm.

2 Responses to “American Me (1992, USA)”

  1. September 5th, 2011 at 5:18 pm
    NotAmerican says:

    This is not only an amazing story, but one “based on true events” – namely, the formation of La Eme (the Mexican Mafia), and their “counterparts”, the Nueresta Familia. Surprisingly, Wikipedia does a fairly good job of explaining how this movie (and the documentary “Lives In Hazard”, which is on the AM DVD) *ENRAGED* the actual La Eme. (Other things aren’t so clear if you use Wiki as your single source; the articles can’t even agree on how “Rodolfo Cadena” [the person understood to be the one portrayed by Olmos in the movie] died, or even if he founded La Eme or joined in later!) Because of the gang’s virulent stance against homosexuality, the fact that Santana [aka “Rodolfo Cadena”] was shown in the movie to have had gay sex [in the “bottom/catching/whatever role”] in Juvie Hall – even though he was raped at knifepoint; even though he killed the rapist – the “spokesperson” for La Eme in 1992 said that there was no way IN HELL they would have let Santana/Cadena into La Eme, never mind START the gang, if that rape really happened. Because of this, two of the “gang consultants” on the film were killed, as well as the woman whose anti-gang activities are documented in “Lives In Hazard”. Olmos obtained a concealed weapons permit out of fear for his life.

    Oh yeah, the movie kicks ass as well. I’ve seen it so many times that I’ve really lost perspective, but my latest observation is how the movie – which shows Santana going to jail at age 15, and getting out as a 33 year old [he said he was in jail “for about 18 summers”] – imagine how that would mess with you! You know dick squat about the world/life/sex/etc, etc, etc (I’m 33 now, and I’m just trying to imagine if I was in such a violent, rigid, ALL MALE place for more than half my life), and suddenly you’re thrust into the world? But it’s happening all around us. The Canadian kid who got tossed in Gitmo when he was 15 – he’s in his 20’s now, and when/if he gets out, everything from computers to sex is going to be a complete mystery to him. Or the “Memphis Three”. They went in jail as (aprox.) 17 year olds. and got out more than 18 years later – i.e., as 35 year olds. Could you even imagine?? You’d be more comfortable (mentally speaking) in jail than out!!

    Go buy American Me. Get the soundtrack as well. But you know how most people have permanently fused “Stuck In The Middle With You” with the ear slicing scene in “Reservoir Dogs”? Multiply that by about 10 (War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness” will make you think of “hooping” a [really frickin’ big] balloon of heroin, or “Heaven and Paradise” is now a soundtrack to a prison yard shanking you’ll never see coming.)

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