Director Ben Hernandez Bray believes that it’s finally time for a Latino superhero – and he’s the one to do it. Bray is making his feature film debut with “El Chicano.” The film follows fraternal twins Diego and Pedro who survived the streets of East LA. As young boys they witnessed the murder of a gang kingpin by a motorcycle-riding El Chicano. As an adult, Pedro is now a LAPD detective and new murders are now popping up with El Chicano’s MO. It’s up to him to unravel the mystery of El Chicano. “El Chicano” will appear as part of the Maryland International Film Festival-Hagerstown lineup. The Maryland International Film Festival-Hagerstown features 148 films from 16 countries with a three-day film festival March 29-31 in Hagerstown, Md. “El Chicano” will be part of opening-night festivities at the Historic Maryland Theater in downtown Hagerstown.
The film has a special connection with the film festival as Bray co-wrote “El Chicano” with Hollywood director Joe Carnahan, also the film’s producer. Carnahan is MDIFF’s creative director.
A superhero is born
The film made its debut in September at the LA Film Festival in Bray’s hometown, and has been hitting major festivals since then. “El Chicano” will make its nationwide release on May 3. “It’s been tremendously exciting,” Bray said during a telephone interview. “It’s surreal you keep pinching yourself. We’ve had such a great response from everybody – from all the festivals we’ve been involved with.” With the runway success of “Black Panther,” Bray believes that there’s a Latino audience who wants to see themselves onscreen as well. And Bray has the numbers to back him up. In 2017, Motion Picture Association of America released its annual Theatrical Market Statistics Report that said Latinos purchase the most theater tickets than any other minority. And yet, there has not been a Latino breakout superhero, but maybe it’s about timing. “It just came out at a perfect time with ‘Black Panther’ and the diversity we’ve been seeing these last couple of years,” he said. “… I really believe there’s a reason for all of this.” The biggest challenge for “El Chicano” for Bray is that he didn’t have the juggernaut of Marvel behind it. “We had to explain the origin story. We don’t have a comic book. We don’t have an illustrated novel. We here we are basically having the film itself tell the story of this Mexican superhero,” he said. So far the feedback has been positive. “The reviews have been great. People have really responded. Not just the Latin culture – every culture,” he said. “The American audience has really enjoyed the film.”
The film is especially close to Bray’s heart. Film is a symbolic representation of Bray’s life and how he was able to leave the streets and change his life. He was inspired to write it after the death of his youngest brother, Craig, to gang violence. Two of the characters in the film are named after his mother and wife. He said it hopes the film is an inspiration for others.“It’s so nice to get this response. You write it, you direct it, you edit it. It’s a labor of love and just hope the audience responds the way you do,” he said. “And that’s how it’s been.”
More El Chicano
With the response, Bray said they’re already planning comic and graphic novels to help build up the story of El Chicano. As well starting to work on a sequel and a prequel, he said. Most of all, for Bray it’s really about having Latino people see themselves on the screen. “Being able to seat and see on the big screen the next generation of Latin kids, even the older generation … to watch the film and see a familiar face,” he said. For tickets and a full schedule, visit MDIFF’s website at https://www.marylandiff.com.