Film & TV

Progressives, Stop Comparing Immigrants to Gang Members, It’s Offensive

Jennifer Garner in Peppermint (Trailer image/STX Films)
Sorry, but Jennifer Garner in Peppermint isn’t the face of American hate.

At some point, someone needs to publish the complete list of acceptable movie villains. Yes, we know the easy answers. An action star will never go wrong blasting through Russian mobsters, Nazis, or white supremacists. In the sci-fi world, you can always blast aliens — especially if they’re designed to look or act like Russian mobsters, Nazis, or white supremacists. And let’s not forget the Italian Mafia. You can gun down the goodfellas with impunity. But beyond that? Tread lightly, filmmakers.

For example, look no further than a piece yesterday in The Lily, the Washington Post’s “experimental, visually driven product designed for millennial women.” Writer Monica Castillo says the trailer — yes, the trailer — of a Jennifer Garner action movie “stirs up hate at a delicate time.” Here it is. Judge for yourself:

There’s nothing all that original about the trailer. Let’s call it “Jane Wick.” Or, more accurately, “Woke Punisher,” with a strong woman laying waste to her enemies after they kill her family. From the trailer (an important qualification), it appears to be a classic vengeance story.

The problem is the target. Here’s Castillo:

What makes “Peppermint” gross isn’t its revenge redemption arc but the racist undertones of its heroine’s actions. Riley is a white woman who takes justice into her own hands, killing a lot of Latino characters in the process. We’re supposed to assume they’re all bad and so her actions are justified.

What? Keep in mind that she hasn’t seen the movie. Also keep in mind that drug cartels are very real and very evil. Here’s more:

After watching the trailer, I was convinced this movie bought into the political rhetoric that conflates gang members with law-abiding immigrants.

Again, what? Normal people can watch that trailer and know that the villains are nothing like the Hispanic immigrants with whom they interact on a daily basis. I’ve worked alongside immigrants, served with immigrants in the Army, and encountered immigrants in virtually all aspects of daily life, and I’ve never even seen a person who looks like the villains in the trailer.

There are actual drug cartels, and they do vicious, horrible things. We are also blessed by millions of law-abiding Hispanic citizens. The overwhelming majority of Americans can tell the difference.

I’m reminded of the absurd objections that erupt every time a movie depicts Muslim terrorists. It’s stereotyping, they say. It’s conflation, they say. I remember the wave of outrage over the movie Lone Survivor, which had the audacity to portray the Taliban as one-dimensional and evil. Yet the movie actually understated the level of Taliban depravity.

There are actual Muslim terrorists. Lots of them. There are actual drug cartels, and they do vicious, horrible things. We also have Muslim allies. Lots of them. We are also blessed by millions of law-abiding Hispanic citizens and tens of thousands of courageous Hispanic law-enforcement officers. And here’s a news flash: The vast, overwhelming majority of Americans can tell the difference.

It’s as if the woke world views the American public as a sea of drooling rednecks, utterly incapable of making decent moral choices in the absence of relentless indoctrination. Or perhaps the view is that in the age of Trump, pop culture needs to constantly counterprogram. It’s tit for tat. Trump says something sloppy or hateful, and movies need to, ummm, make sure that if they’re blowing anyone away, they’re blowing away a European?

Is there anything for a progressive to enjoy in those problematic two minutes of the trailer? After all, Garner is walking in Charlize Theron’s shoes and declaring that kicking tail isn’t a male-only business. But no:

While some are already heralding the girl power vibes of seeing Garner back in action, what I saw was the empowerment of one white woman at the expense of nameless brown faces.

Those few minutes in the trailer preview [have] the makings of a white savior trope. Someone thought it’d be a good time to cash in on the current fears about Latinos when our lives — from families ripped apart at the border to the post-hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico — are at stake.

But who, exactly, is doing the racial stereotyping here? I’d be willing to bet real money that Garner’s character isn’t just randomly shooting “brown faces.” If the movie is true to the typical vengeance storyline, there’s probably not a lot of subtlety on display. The bad guys are apt to be obvious, and they’ll be very, very bad.

I know Castillo’s critique is but one piece — albeit in one of America’s most elite media outlets — but it’s par for the course in progressive media criticism. And it’s most certainly par for the course in the outraged reaction to Trump’s calling members of MS-13 “animals.” It’s as if all too many members of the Left have reacted to Trump allegedly making gang members represent immigrants by, yes, making gang members represent immigrants.

I’ve got a bold two-point plan. It’s so bold, it just might work. First, let’s not judge movies by their trailers. And second, stop conflating immigrants with gang members, and Muslims with terrorists. That means you too, progressives. Your fellow Americans can watch a classic revenge story and look at the scowling, machine-gun-toting hitman without thinking, “Whoa, the Walmart manager might be MS-13.”

Cartels are real. Terrorists are real. Russian mobsters are real. All deserve their moment in the cinematic crosshairs. So, have at it, Jennifer Garner. Keanu Reeves set a high bar for the modern revenge flick. And in John Wick, he unleashed hell over a dog. These gangsters took down your family. Burn them all.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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