Shia LaBeouf: A new case of brownfacing in Hollywood?
The release of The Tax Collector trailer triggered controversy and director David Ayer had to deny the accusations. Does LaBeouf play a cholo?
Brown, recently ultra-tattooed and with a slight Chicano edge to his voice, this is how actor Shia LaBeouf appeared in the trailer of David Ayer's new production, The Tax Collector, which premiered last Thursday and immediately triggered critical comments on LaBeouf's appearance.
A "brownfacing" accusation that the Jewish-born actor, who plays an LA gangster, refused to face, but when social media began to boil over with hundreds of accusations, especially at a time as complex as this, Ayer was forced to step forward and emphasize that LaBeouf does not play a cholo, of course not, but that he plunged into his role as a gangster and even got a tattoo for the cause. Yeah, well, he wasn't very convincing there.
"It's very sad that we don't have enough Chicano actors who were in gang life for roles like this. Thank God for that little white boy who stepped in and saved the day," commented one user just after the trailer appeared.
To which another user responded:
"Oh hey, another movie with Latinos and Blacks in the glorified gang culture that reinforces the stereotypes and fears of whites and promotes the police mentality that 'it's a battlefield out there'. Hollywood, come on. We don't need this right now."
In response to requests for clarification, Ayer said LaBeouf does not play a Hispanic, but rather someone who grew up in the hood culture, just like him.
"I grew up in the neighborhood and I'm a white kid. Chicano culture is inclusive-I've seen whites, Asians, blacks, Filipinos all working for the barrio. It's part of the street culture," he wrote. In addition to denying that The Tax Collector was a cops movie, he pointed out forcefully that he studied how a real homie behaves to do justice to the culture of the neighborhood and reality.
"Shia is playing something very specific. He's not a brownface," said Ayer, adding that "he's one of the best actors I've ever worked with. He goes with everything, and I've never met anyone who's committed."
The most interesting thing about this exchange of comments and criticisms of the actor's alleged "brownfacing" is that it has generated a debate about how the different cultures that coexist in Los Angeles feed and enrich each other, as Ayer implied when he stressed that he had grown up in the 'hood' culture.
These other voices, these other experiences of miscegenation in the streets should be a bridge rather than an act of cultural appropriation and usurpation. Because it is only possible to understand the other by putting oneself in their shoes and no culture is pure, nor is it static. They all survive in a constant contamination, beyond the clichés to which we are accustomed in Hollywood about Latinos and that, thanks to the revolution born in the streets, they have their days numbered.