Zoot Suit


Zoot Suit
Luis Valdez
1982, Universal
103 minutes, English

LATAMROB rating: ****

NOW A quarter of a century old, Zoot Suit has stood the test of time and can be considered one of the classic movies about anti-Latino prejudice in the US. A brilliant musical rendition of Luis Valdez’s critically acclaimed play, this film harks back to the Sleepy Lagoon murder case of 1942 and the later zoot suit riots in wartime Los Angeles. Daniel Valdez plays Henry Reyna, the leader of a group of Mexican-Americans who have been sent to San Quentin without evidence for the death of a man at Sleepy Lagoon and who are accompanied, spiritually, by Edward James Olmos as the mythical “El Pachuco”. Well-intentioned Anglos defy the mood of prejudice of the era to defend them and a musical is born. This is a brilliant way of addressing the deadly serious theme of violent anti-Latino prejudice in the US at a time of exaggerated national identity when being Anglo was synonymous with being American. The hidden subtext of this story was official and media complicity in the systematic violence by US servicemen that was launched fearfully against an unprotected minority – ugly racism at its very worst. But Zoot Suit is no less important for recalling the fashion itself, popular among rebellious young Hispanics expressing a colourful machismo but not confined to them, of high-waisted, flared but pegged tramas (trousers), long carlango (coat) with broad lapels and padded shoulders, and a tapa felt hat with a feather. All in all, a stylish and unmissable classic. – EC