Superheroes are basically cops in tights and capes, plus some enhanced abilities and generally minus any oversight or accountability to the law. As a result, they don’t always look so heroic from the perspective of marginalized communities, where people are disproportionately on the receiving end of violence from law enforcement. That’s a problem for Ben Hernandez Bray’s new movie El Chicano, which is billed as the first live-action film with a Latinx superhero in the starring role. Bray wants the film to be another straightforward superhero empowerment narrative. But he keeps stumbling onto complicated questions he doesn’t want to acknowledge or resolve.

The first scenes encapsulate the problems with putting a superhero in the East Los Angeles barrio. The movie opens from the perspective of three kids: twins Paco and Diego Hernandez, and their friend Shotgun. Shotgun is the son of a notorious gangster named Shadow. As the kids watch, a bunch of cops roll up to harass Shadow, who they say has been involved in the deaths of some fellow officers. After the police leave, El Chicano, a masked vigilante, rides in on a motorcycle. He throws Shadow from his wheelchair, then stabs him to death in front of his family, his friends, and the kids.

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