‘Half Brothers’ shows immigration from a Latin perspective
By JESENIA DE MOYA CORREA | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Published: December 3, 2020
In a journey that takes us from the grassy hills of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to the urban landscape of Chicago to the deserts of El Paso, Texas, “Half Brothers” is a film that breaks studio barriers and shatters stereotypes of Latino characters. It’s the story of Renato, a successful Mexican aviation executive, who is shocked to discover he has an American half brother named Asher.
The two very different men get to know each other when forced to take a road trip together masterminded by their ailing father, Flavio, as they trace the path he took as an immigrant from Mexico to the United States.
“Half Brothers” also challenges the audience’s perception about the U.S.-Mexico relationship, inviting viewers — through an empathetic lens — to see a migration experience, a family’s struggle and a person’s successes and achievements from a different perspective.
Also notable: It’s a U.S. film production with Latin Americans cast in the lead roles. “Half Brothers” is framed from a Latino-centered vision during a time when many Mexicans and Central Americans have been stripped of their dignity at the border. It’s a story that represents migrants, especially Mexicanos, as fathers and mothers, as successful business people, as human beings.
Luis Gerardo Mendez plays Renato, and is also the executive producer for the film. He said the movie is an experiment that he hopes will give viewers a sense of relief at the end of what he considers a tragic year for families in both countries.
“We wanted to create a vehicle to speak about the differences between Mexicans and Americans but also to talk about the things that make us, in a sense, half brothers, because, at the end of the day, we are not that different,” Mendez said.
“Half Brothers” began to take shape in 2014, when writer and producer Eduardo Cisneros started to reflect on different aspects of his life, from his childhood in Mexico to his present circumstances living in Los Angeles.
“I was looking at what was happening in my life, being an immigrant,” Cisneros recalled. “Then I began to imagine a father trying to explain to his adult children all the things that he couldn’t fully explain when they were kids. So, that was the genesis.”
The 96-minute film showcases a successful, heartbroken, temper-driven Renato, shaped by a promise his dad never kept: When Flavio leaves to look for work in the U.S., he promises his son that he will return. He never does, and his absence changes Renato. On the eve of his father’s death, Renato travels to Chicago to see him, where he meets his father’s wife and his half brother, Asher, played by Connor del Rio.
Asher is the unpredictable, free-spirit younger brother, who is a fundamentally good and well-intentioned, but not easy to get along with. Flavio, the father, is a man coping with circumstances beyond his control, who made mistakes and caused pain to the people he loved.
“Half Brothers” offers a fuller portrait of an immigrant’s struggles to make his way in an America that isn’t necessarily welcoming. It highlights the love and frustration it takes to be part of a mixed family, shaped by emotional trauma, broken promises and two cultures, languages and societies. It also ignites conversations about how class and economic mobility play a role in the migration journeys that some take between Mexico and the U.S.
Studies have found that Hollywood productions have erased Latino narratives, and there is a dearth of Latinos portrayed on screen or working backstage. Sometimes, the few existing Latino characters perpetuate negative stereotypes.
Del Rio, who is half Cuban American, said he was very proud to be part of a movie that changes the trajectory and vision of the American film production. “This kind of movie sets the bar for what has to come next,” he said.
Directing a fully bilingual script, Luke Greenfield had the challenge of guiding actors based on their facial expressions and gestures. Although Greenfield does speak Spanish, he had never directed anyone in a language other than English.
“To be living with those words in English for a long time, and then have it switch to Spanish — that was really interesting,” he said.
“This movie is about forgiveness,” Greenfield said. “It doesn’t matter how mad we get at our parents and our siblings, you have to experience their journey; you have to be in their shoes to truly understand them and their perspective.”