Though complaints justifiably abound when it comes to the way white filmmakers have perpetuated the negative stereotyping of nonwhites in movies, up and coming young filmmakers of color may not be making matters much better. Bronx-reared Nuyorican director Franc. Reyes compounds that cultural negativity with Illegal Tender, a bloody shoot-em-up with the accent on ruthless South Bronx drug dealers with lifelong grudges, and their scantily clad Latina ‘Simple Simon Says’ assassin sidekicks. There’s also supposed a family values clause tossed into the violent mix, that goes something like, the family that slays together, stays together.
Produced by John Singleton as part of an endeavor to support filmmakers of color telling their own stories on screen, Illegal Tender stars Wanda De Jesus as Millie. She’s a tough single ghetto mom who relocates to an affluent Connecticut burb after her drug dealer spouse is gunned down by colleagues in the biz, the night she coincidentally gives birth to their first child, Wilson (Rick Gonzalez).
Two decades pass, and Millie has been partying hard and given birth to another son in the interim, whose father has taken off. Millie seems to have lots of mysterious cash to spare, plus assorted hit squads still pursuing her from back in the hood. Wilson, now a college student, is moody and resentful about growing up without a father, and with a mom who flaunts sex appeal and hangs out with far too many guys. But there are far more troublesome issues recently to worry about. The assassins are closing in, and Millie needs Wilson to spend some quality time with her, mowing them all down.
Movies are sorely in need of more realistic and positive, or in the least balanced images of people of color and women alike. In particular single moms who are increasingly getting a bad rap on screen as the source of failed families, not the men who aren’t there for them. Or worse, the US economic system that has thoroughly abandoned any pretense of protecting its most vulnerable and at risk populations, including mothers, fathers and children of the poor. Illegal Tender does nothing constructive in that regard, and especially does a disservice to its own culture by claiming to defend and elevate its own, while emphatically debasing them.
Universal Studios Home Video
DVD Features: Deleted Scenes; Featurette: The Making of Illegal Tender; The Making of “Dame Dame” Music Video; Music Video – Dame Dame – Que No Featuring Dicky Ranking and Abusivo.