In 2007, directors Robert Rodiguez and Quentin Tarantino released Grindhouse, a two movie package that was more of a hyperreal b-cinema theater experience than a cohesive set of films. The two full-length features that comprised Grindhouse, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, and Tarantino’s Death Proof, were separated by a series of trailers, directed by friends of the two feature auteurs, for movies that did not exist. One of those trailers was for Machete which has since been expanded into an ultra-violent full-length revenge bloodfeast.
The title refers to the film’s central character. 'Machete' is the code-name of a former Mexican federal officer turned illegal immigrant turned blade-wielding superhero avenger. The two ‘turns’ previously mentioned occurred after Machete was first tricked into a set-up that resulted in the death of his family and him being left for dead at the hands of a crime kingpin named Torrez. Machete apparently recovers from this assault and turns up three years later in Texas. The second turn occurred after he was double-crossed on an attempt to assassinate a politician who ran on a nativist platform, a betrayal that revealed an intricate conspiracy of corrupt politicians, business leaders, and the crimelord who killed Machete's family back in Mexico. Machete slashes his way back to the top of this conspiracy, taking revenge on Torrez following an all-out melee between armed Mexican immigrants and nativist border patrols.
Depending on one’s perspective, Machete can be read as the fantasy projections of a marginal population, or a paranoid vision of an American south overrun with violent Mexican illegal maniacs. Presumably, the intention of directors Rodriguez and Maniquis was the former, although almost immediately after the promotional trailers for this film began airing , numerous nativist groups assumed the latter. Assorted ultra-right-wing outfits went into full-blown cold-war defense mode and called their sympathizers to prepare for a race war. Example: conspiracy theorist and ultra-conservative doomsayer Alex Jones has produced numerous videos and radio spots pertaining to the Machete scare.
In this video, one of many Machete-related clips produced by Jones, allusions to the official script for Machete are combined with footage of actual Mexican-immigrant protests. The effect of this is to intertwine real efforts made by a vulnerable community to improve its social conditions with film violence in order to maximize paranoia. Jones cynically conflates a real struggle for social justice with a fictional violence against racist whites in an attempt to mobilize whites against Mexicans under the guise of concern for their safety. His conflation is intended to instruct the viewer to be on-guard against any form of Mexican or anti-nativist protest, as Jones implied that the end-result of such activity is what is envisioned in Machete.
Andrew Yeoman, leader and spokesperson for the Bay Area National Anarchists directed his cadre of neo-nazi ‘anarchists’ to picket theatres showing Machete. White Nationalist publication (and white power online news centre) American Renaissance, a publication discussed at length in Carol M Swain’s 2002 analysis of the contemporary white power scene, The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration, published a number of articles criticizing the film as racist... for portraying whites as racist. Alex Jones claims that the film is propaganda in the tradition of the Third Reich. Incidentally, Robert De Niro plays a nativist senator who accompanies the border vigilantes on patrol and even kills illegal border-crossers himself. De Niro's Senator McLaughlin runs a campaign advertisement comparing illegal immigrants to worms and cockroaches, in a metaphoric use of imagery that recalls the Nazi comparison of Jews to rats in the 1940 German propaganda film, Jew Süss. Additionally, the fictional Senator McLaughlin ad, shown here:
is simply an exaggerated parody of a real campaign ad by ultra-right wing congressional hero, Ron Paul, shown here:
Indeed, the film’s white characters are, for the most part, racist, although there are cracks in the nativist analysis of the film, and besides, there really are border vigilantes assaulting and murdering Mexican immigrants. The film also shows that Senator McLaughlan was losing ground in his election due to his racist rhetoric - in Texas, no less - implying that a mostly white state had lost its taste for hate politics. Additionally, in Machete the illegals of Texas are assisted with meeting their needs by a loosely organized underground community of white and Mexican American citizens referred to as ‘The Network’. In this film, whites are not strictly portrayed as racist and it is significant that Machete only kills men who are explicitly criminals and/or members of unofficial nativist vigilante border patrols.
Generally, those who called the film racist are, themselves, notoriously proud racists who used the film as a thin pretense for advancing their own cruel rhetoric against one of the most exploited and vulnerable populations in the United States. The ‘threat’ of migrant labour from Mexico and Central America has become the paranoid soil upon which new forms of race-based laws enforcing white supremacy are constructed. The ‘race war’ rhetoric of the hatemongers, who think Machete is little more than a propagandistic call to action, falters. It appears more that the film serves to expose how rabidly ludicrous the views of such people are. Of course, a wave of Machete-inspired anti-white violence never occurred although racist anti-Mexican-immigrant attacks, both symbolic and physical, are ongoing in the American southwest.
The film provides a superhero to the population of Mexican illegal immigrants. Machete is a Punisher-type avenging figure who is shown through the movie to be so effective at killing his enemies that his ultimate victory is a foregone conclusion. In the film’s use of actual socio-political conditions as grounds for an ethnic hero, it recalls John Singleton’s 1997 film Rosewood, which depicted an anachronistic superhero named Mann (played by Ving Rhames) who fought against lynch mobs in the 1923 anti-black massacre at Rosewood, Florida (an actual event). Racism and hate is still an organizing principle for American society and a driving force for American politics (websites like AlterNet, Thinkprogress and SLPC’s Hatewatch publish near-daily critical accounts of racist, nativist, Islamophobic and homophobic rhetoric and behavior amongst organizations and high-profile politicians such as Michele Bachman and Rick Santorum. In reality, the forms of hatred (and its accompanying violence) against Mexicans depicted in Machete has counterparts in the real world, what the real world lacks is a Machete figure to avenge those crimes.