Movie Review: “The Tax Collector” reinforces negative Hispanic stereotypes

Shia LaBeouf is one of the stars in the gang thriller. His casting in the movie was considered controversial by many. (Illustration by Julian Navarro | Viewpoints)
By Stephanie Arenas

Another formulaic Latino gang film has stained Latinx culture.

Filmmaker David Ayer produced a poorly written storyline with his thriller “The Tax Collector,” which further cemented stereotypes about the Hispanic community.

Gangster enforcers Creeper (Shia Lebeouf) and David Cuevas (Bobby Soto) work collecting taxes from Los Angeles street gangs for a prison boss named Wizard.

Once you get past the cliche dialogue, disjointed plot and appallingly written characters, you are dealt a horrendous display of racist stereotypes.

Representation of the Hispanic community is scarce when it comes to film and television media. According to the Hollywood Diversity Report, less than 5% of films have had a Hispanic lead since 2007. 

In rare cases of a Hispanic lead or characters, the films themselves usually fuel the stereotypes that gang violence, drugs or simply picking fruit under the hot sun are accurate depictions of the culture.

The 1961 film “West Side Story” depicts a gang rivalry between a white American gang, the Jets, and a Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Ideally, this film should have featured a large cast of Hispanic actors playing the Sharks. But the casting directors insisted on instead bringing in white American actors to do brownface.

One of the many controversies surrounding “The Tax Collector” was the speculation that Labeouf would be doing brownface. That was proven false as Labeouf’s character is depicted as someone of Jewish descent who grew up in a Hispanic neighborhood.

Nonetheless, it is still quite questionable that Ayer did not just write in both of the main characters as Hispanic.

Even in instances where the potential of having a Hispanic lead is within grasp, Hollywood always seems to get its own way by casting someone white or white passing.

A current example is 2019’s “The Curse of La Llorona,” based on an old Latin American folklore. It would be ideal to have the main character cast as someone of Latin origins, right? Instead the casting directors thought it would be a good idea to cast Linda Cardellini, a white American actress.

The Hispanic community always seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to representation in TV and film. “The Tax Collector” only perpetuates this problem by glorifying gang violence in Hispanic culture and casting a white American as a main character.

Beyond the problematic nature of the casting, this film is still trash.