David Ayer directorial, The Tax Collector officially released today after the trailer first made waves last month. The film contains all the elements of a modern Los Angeles gangster flick – guns, lovely Latinas, thumping music and attractive men in the exotic cars riding around the flatlands of L.A. Almost all actors are brown-skinned Latinos except for one- Shia LaBeouf who appears in dark-trim hair, black sunglasses and a barrio accent.
Social media users were quick to point out and accused Shia LaBeouf of taking on a Los Angeles cholo persona and looking ‘Mexican’ for entertainment purposes. The latest accusation comes at a time amid spark of this spring George Floyd protests, and the sweep of reparative action that has taken place in Hollywood. During which, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon have also issued apologies for past blackface comedy routines and the removal of “30 Rock” episodes with blackface scenes.
While the accusations of brownface rained down on ‘The Tax Collector,’ the film’s director David Ayer took to twitter and tried to put the accusation to rest. He clarified that LaBeouf is not playing a Latino character but an Anglo steeped in Mexican American culture. He said LaBeouf is “a Jewish dude playing a white character.”
Over the course of two interviews with The Times, Ayer also claimed that the film “The Tax Collector” as a family crime drama about love and loyalty. LaBeouf plays a supporting role of David to lead Bobby Soto otherwise the entire cast is Latinos or Blacks. He further clarified that the film doesn’t expressly establish the ethnic identity of LaBeouf’s character, calling it a “hood culture thing.”
The alleged accusations bring up the less discussed topic of California Culture, which is non-Latinos integrating into real-life among ethnic Mexicans. And when it comes to film and art, it opens up a debate of who gets to adopt the whole culture, especially in a period of intense cross-cultural scrutiny over cultural appropriation.