Mi America


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Mi America
"Mi America makes an important statement about an issue neglected by the big studios."

Cinema has taught us that women and children should always be wary of going to lonely places with strangers, but it tends to overlook the risks faced by men. There's a combination of discomfort about male vulnerability and recognition of economic necessity that makes it a taboo subject. As always, those who are most vulnerable are the poorest. In the US, those who are most targeted are gay and trans men and members of ethnic minorities. Whilst hate crimes against other groups have gradually been declining, for Hispanic men, they've been getting worse.

Mi America is set in a small town where people from different ethnic backgrounds have lived alongside each other - albeit sometimes uneasily - for decades. All that changes the day five labourers are hired for a job, driven out to a deserted warehouse and beaten to death. Police detective Rolando Ramirez (Robert Fontaine) is assigned to the case, and initially sees it as just another crime (albeit a nasty one), but as his investigation proceeds, he becomes increasingly conscious of his own ethnicity and what it means about how other people see him. He's also concerned with trying to get a teenage petty criminal back on the right track, ad as the kid gradually begins to wise up, Ramirez in his turn grows more alert to the pressures that undermined his faith in the system in the first place.

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When hate crime laws are first introduced, they almost always trigger some negative reactions, with people protesting that everybody ought to be equal under the law and so crimes ought to be treated equally, regardless over their targets. What tends to be missed is that a hate crime isn't an act committed against just one person - it's an attempt to intimidate a community. This film is very conscious of that wider effect, but not only do we see the way it impacts local Hispanic people - and brings back memories of other incidents buried deep in the past - it also looks at its impact on white people as they come to fear retaliation, to doubt each other, or to behave fractiously as a result of their personal guilt. Ramirez has to work quickly to keep the violence from spreading.

Despite having multiple sources of tension to exploit, Mi America doesn't have the impact it should. The pacing is too slow and the performances just not strong enough to bring what is really an ensemble piece to life. Ultimately, we've seen the basics of this plot - and its romantic subplot - many times in the past, so it needs to work harder to make its mark. Nevertheless, it makes an important statement about an issue neglected by the big studios. Its small scale approach will bring it closer to home for many viewers living in similar towns, especially those who, like Ramirez, are questinoing what it means to be an American.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2015
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Mi America packshot
A brutal anti-Hispanic hate crime leads to the disintegration of the multi-ethnic community in a small American town.

Director: Robert Fontaine

Writer: Robert Fontaine

Starring: Robert Fontaine, Michael Brainard, Grant Boyd, Michael Derek, Mariana Fernández, Lily Autumn Page

Year: 2015

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: US


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