BEWARE: This review has spoilers!
You’d be surprised to know that the recent film Lions for Lambs centers around two men of color. They’re not on any promotional materials, yet they’re the driving force in this shared story.
I have to admit, I went to see Lions for Lambs not knowing about Derek Luke and Michael Peña. Needless to say, forty-five minutes into the film, they appear and I have a new interest in the storyline. This was not just a Hollywood film about a Senator (Tom Cruise), journalist (Meryl Streep) and professor (Robert Redford). Rather, it’s a story about our community and the choices we have made these last few years.
This isn’t your usual review, I’ll admit, I have a Latino bias; those heavy-hitting seasoned actors in the film don’t impress me much. Here’s what I believe the real story is: it’s about our men. Am I surprised that most reviews don’t even mention the men of color at the center of Lions for Lambs? No, but it does infuriate me! Here’s what you won’t read anywhere else, but on nocheLatina.com.
When we are first introduced to Ernest (Peña) and Arian (Luke), they are strategizing with their platoon, and then onboard an aircraft to implement the plan Senator Jasper Irving (Cruise) is promoting, and sharing with journalist Janine Roth (Streep). When their aircraft is attacked, Ernest is shot and falls from the plane. Arian jumps out after him, and for the rest of the film, they are surrounded by snow. Ernest is injured as the two friends struggle to survive together. We then learn more about the two best friends. Prior to joining the military, they attend what seems to be a fairly elite west coast university where they remain the minority. Inspired by conversations and coursework with a political science professor (Redford), Luke and Peña are determined to change their social status in their community. The result: joining the military and creating change “from the inside.” Beyond choosing to enlist in the military, Arian and Ernest eloquently argue to their professor over lunch that their ultimate plan is to obtain respect and create change. Their participation in the military is just one step in that direction.
Rarely are the friendships of young adult men of color seen in the media without the need to incorporate homophobic jokes. Often, we see a man of color “take a bullet” for his homeboy; but jumping out of a plane to protect, assist, and simply be with him speaks volumes. Not only does this action speak to their friendship, it challenges the Black versus Latino rivalry, and our ideas about the military valuing our men.
I understand the reasons why Latinos pursue military careers and participation, and it is a powerful decision. In 2003, the Pew Hispanic Center found that Latinos are over-represented in personnel who handle weapons at 18%, and under-represented in technical occupations. What does this mean for our Latinos who come home from war and have only one skill: handling a weapon? One reporter found that Blacks and Latinos returning from the war in Iraq are just as likely as those who have not served in the military, to be unemployed.
Many reviews will tell you that Lions for Lambs is a “talk-a-thon” filled with lectures. I don’t disagree. I just listen a bit more closely, and have a lot more invested when our men and their lives are at the center of a Hollywood film. Of course, no review is going to address this. That would be “pulling the race card.” However, Arian and Ernest live and embody the race card! Not to mention the people who participated in the “What do you stand for?” contest, where young people discuss an issue important to them and then upload it on YouTube’s Lions for Lambs page. One hundred percent of these videos were from people of color.
It would be easy to say that not talking about the importance of their characters is a form of colorblind racism. What is not as easy is trying to figure out what it means that our stories are not considered important to view or discuss. Had this plotline and issue in Lions for Lambs been better promoted, maybe the movie would not have bombed as badly as it did.