American Me: Wikis


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American Me

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Edward James Olmos
Produced by Executive Producers:
Lou Adler
Floyd Mutrux
Irwin Young
Edward James Olmos
Robert M. Young
Sean Daniel
Written by Screenplay:
Floyd Mutrux
Desmond Nakano
Floyd Mutrux
Starring Edward James Olmos
William Forsythe
Pepe Serna
Music by Claude Gaudette
Dennis Lambert
Cinematography Reynaldo Villalobos
Editing by Richard Candib
Arthur Coburn
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release date(s) United States:
March 13, 1992
Running time 125 minutes
Country United States
Language English

American Me is a 1992 film directed by Edward James Olmos, his first film as director, and written by Floyd Mutrux and Desmond Nakano. Olmos also stars as the movie's main character. The executive producer was Lou Adler, a record producer.[1] It depicts a fictionalized account of the founding and rise to power of the Mexican Mafia in the California prison system from the 1950s into the 1980s.

The film covers the life of Santana (Edward James Olmos), a Chicano youth who breaks the law and becomes part of the "legalistic machine" that includes the horrors of serving prison time at Folsom Prison for many years.

The film tells of most of Santana's life and how the "system," in toto, works against him, in and out of jail. When Santana is released from prison the question becomes: is there an escape? As important, the film introduces audiences to California gang life, both on the street and in jail.



The film depicts 30 years of Chicano gang life in Los Angeles. It focuses on Santana, a teen who, with his friends Mundo and J.D., form their own gang. They are soon arrested for a break-in.

Santana gets into trouble again, going straight from reform school to prison. He spends eighteen years there, becoming the leader of a powerful gang, both inside and outside the prison. He is finally released. Once out, he tries to relate his life experiences to the society that has changed a lot since he left it 30 years before.


  • Edward James Olmos as Montoya Santana
  • William Forsythe as J.D.
  • Pepe Serna as Mundo
  • Daniel A. Haro as Huero
  • Sal Lopez as Pedro Santana
  • Vira Montes as Esperanza Santana
  • Danny De La Paz as Puppet
  • Daniel Villarreal as Little Puppet
  • Roberto Martín Márquez as Acha
  • Dyana Ortelli as Yolanda
  • Evelina Fernández as Julie
  • Joe Aubel as Tattoo Artist
  • Rob Garrett as Zoot Riot Bystander
  • Lance August as Young Sailor
  • Jacob Vargas as Paulito
  • Eric Close as Juvie Hall Attacker
  • Christian Klemash as Blond Kid in Yard
  • Brian Holechek as Juvie Officer
  • Rigoberto Jimenez as Big Happy
  • Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as El Japo
  • Robby Robinson as Drug Thief
  • Paul Bollen as Doc



Factual basis

The character of Montoya Santana is modeled after Rodolfo Cadena, who was a high ranking member of in the prison gang La Eme, known popularly as the Mexican Mafia. Cadena unsuccessfully attempted to steer La Eme into left-wing activism before being stabbed to death by members of the rival Nuestra Familia. J.D. was based on Joe "Pegleg" Morgan, a White-American that was a high ranking member of the Mexican Mafia. Morgan died from liver cancer in 1993, while he was incarcerated at California State Prison, Corcoran.


Edward James Olmos, in neo-realist fashion, used actual prisoners as extras and bit players when he filmed at Folsom Prison.

Filming locations

Filming locations include Folsom Prison, Represa, California; and East Los Angeles, California.


The producers of the film used the following tagline to market the film: In prison, they are the law. On the streets, they are the power.

Box office

The film opened in wide release in the United States on March 13, 1992 (830 screens). The opening weekend's gross was $3,378,100 and the total receipts for the first three weeks were $9,108,435. The film was in wide release for three weeks (seventeen days). In its widest release the film was featured in 830 theaters across the country. The final box office gross amounted to $11,318,100.[2]

Critical reception

Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, liked the reality that came through in the film and that it rang true, and he wrote in a review, "What I felt watching American Me, however, is that it is based on a true situation - on the reality that street gangs and prison, mixed with the drug sales that finance the process, work together to create a professional criminal class."[3]

Janet Maslin writes in The New York Times, "But Mr. Olmos's dark, slow and solemn, so much so that it diverts energy from the film's fundamental frankness. Violent as it is, American Me is seldom dramatic enough to bring its material to life."[4]

Marjorie Baumgarten, a film critic for The Austin Chronicle, thinks the movie at times has a choppy feel that it keeps coming at her without centering on the important aspect of the film, and she wrote, "American Me is crafted with heart and conviction and intelligence. It demands no less of its audience. It insists that there are no quick fixes, but that solutions are of the utmost urgency."[5]

The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.[6]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 63% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on eight reviews.[7]

Mexican Mafia reaction

The real Mexican Mafia continues to revere Cadena and was enraged by the film, as the Cadena character is portrayed as having been raped as a juvenile ward of the court at the beginning of his foray into the criminal justice system and ultimately stabbed to death by his own followers at the end of his criminal career. Eme godfather Joe "Pegleg" Morgan allegedly attempted to extort money from Olmos, the director and lead actor of the film. An Eme member-turned-informant raised the possibility of putting out a contract on him. Court documents show that Olmos was a victim in one extortion count contained in a 33-count federal indictment. According to reportage by CBS News weekly 60 Minutes, three consultants on this film were later murdered because of the depiction of a homosexual rape scene which offended the Mexican Mafia's internal code of ethics.[8] The first killing occurred 12 days after the movie's premiere when one of the film's consultants Charles "Charlie Brown" Manriquez, who was a member of La Eme, was slain in Ramona Gardens, L.A.'s oldest public housing project.[9] Another well-known person of East Los Angeles and paid consultant to the film, 49 year old grandmother Ana Lizarraga commonly known as "The Gang Lady", was murdered when she was gunned down in her driveway unloading groceries.[9] A federal indictment accused La Eme of ordering the 1992 murder of Ana Lizarraga.[10]


Soundtrack cover

Since the film deals with a Latino sub-culture, the music included in the soundtrack was Latino oriented; late 1970s urban sounds and oldies from the 1950s.

The original music soundtrack was released on April 28, 1992 by Virgin Records.

The CD has ten tracks and includes songs performed by various artists including: Los Lobos, Santana, Ike & Tina Turner, Bobby Day, Kid Frost, War, and other performers.

See also


  1. ^ American Me at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ American Me box office data at The Numbers. Last accessed: April 14, 2008.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times, film review, March 13, 1992.
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet. The New York Times, film review, March 13, 1992.
  5. ^ Baumgarten, Marjorie. The Austin Chronicle, film review, March 20, 1992.
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: American Me". Retrieved 2009-08-15. 
  7. ^ American Me at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: November 28, 2009.
  8. ^ Lombardi, John. New York Magazine, "Scenes from a Bad Movie Marriage." January 12, 1998.
  9. ^ a b Katz, Jesse. article from June 13, 1993 Los Angeles Times, upload/LA times American Me.doc
  10. ^ Associated Press, October 24, 1996.

External links


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