The new FX series “Mayans M.C.” — a spinoff of the long-running “Sons of Anarchy” — is one of the few TV shows with a primarily Latino cast.
There are currently some comedies — The CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” Disney’s “Stuck in the Middle” and Netflix’s “One Day at a Time” reboot — but the only other hourlong drama in the category is USA’s “Queen of the South.”
And, like “Queen of the South,” “Mayans M.C.” centers on criminals. (It premieres Tuesday on FX — 8 p.m. on DirecTV and Dish; 11 p.m. on Comcast.)
So … is “Mayans” a step forward toward multiculturalism and inclusion or a step backward into racial and ethnic stereotypes?
The show’s creators aren’t claiming they’re do-gooders out to make the world a better place, but they’re also quick to reject the idea that they need to apologize for “Mayans M.C.”
“You know the stories that I like to tell and the characters I like to create are damaged, right?” asked creator/writer/executive producer Kurt Sutter. “And they live outside the parameters of … what’s expected. So as a result of that, there’s a rogue component, an outlaw component.”
Just as there was in “Sons of Anarchy,” a series about a criminal biker gang made up of white guys. And nobody criticized that show for its portrayal of Anglos.
Sure, there’s a case to be made that there are far fewer TV shows about Latinos — there are far fewer Latino actors in starring roles on TV — so casting them as criminals doesn’t serve the greater good. But I’d rather focus on the fact that instead of doing a sequel to “SOA” filled with another predominantly white cast, “Mayans” went in a different direction.
Executive producer and co-creator Elgin James said he’d thought about the issue “a lot, especially since I grew up in a world of gangs and violence.” He said he vowed to himself he’d never portray that world “once I became an artist” and then realized “that it’s exactly what I have to do as an artist as opposed to pretend it doesn’t exist.”
And, he correctly pointed out, the characters in “Mayans M.C.” are not the same one-dimensional Latino villains we’ve seen for decades on TV. Yes, they’re criminals. Yes, they’re sometimes violent. Extremely violent.
But they're flawed characters, not offensive caricatures.
“I never write these guys or these women from a point of view of them being dangerous or bad,” Sutter said. “I write them from the idea that they’re human beings with complex feelings, complex external pressures, complex relationships.”
James drew on his own past as a gang member, and he's not alone.
“A lot of the people on ‘Mayans M.C.,’ both in front of the camera and behind the camera, actually grew up in the cycle of poverty and violence and then incarceration,” he said. “And I know that I did. And so this is the first time we get to tell our own stories from the inside out, which is incredibly important to me, because this is the first time we get to put a human face to it.”
It's a powerful point.
And Sutter, who knows more than a bit about antiheroes — he was a writer/producer on “The Shield” before he created “Sons of Anarchy” — rejects the idea that people tuned in to the former because the lead character was a dirty cop or the latter because it was about a biker gang.
“People didn’t show up for ‘Sons’ because it was about [expletive] outlaws, right? People showed up for ‘Sons’ because it was about a [expletive] family,” he said. “And I feel like we’re able to do the same thing here.”
He’s 100 percent right about that, too.