McAllen’s Raúl Castillo takes pride in first Latino superhero role

When actor and playwright Raúl Castillo first read the screenplay for “El Chicano,” the McAllen native said he was “taken aback.” He’d never seen anything like it, he said of the movie billed as the first Latino superhero flick which opens Friday.

“I didn’t see how it could even exist,” the McHi graduate said. “You can’t make a movie unless there’s a movie like it that’s already been a successful example of the thing … (because) the industry is constantly trying to recreate success stories.

“For an industry built on imagination, it’s oftentimes lacking imagination.”

Major studios passed on the project at least partly because director and co-writer Ben Hernandez Bray wouldn’t compromise his vision of an all-Latino cast, he revealed to the New York Times this week.

“I kept telling them, ‘As a filmmaker and storyteller, this is everything I was exposed to my entire life,’” Bray told the paper. “There wasn’t any Caucasian people living in my neighborhood.”

Monitor interviews with Castillo often turn to inclusion in film, and this conversation was no different. He highlighted the disparity of Latinos in movies, citing the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism study finding only 3% of speaking roles are filled by Latinos — this despite Latino families seeing movies at a rate that exceeds their percentage of the population, according to a recent Motion Picture Association of America study.

“Latinos are one of the biggest movie-going audiences, demographically speaking, and the most underserved,” Castillo said. “We’re not being recognized.

“People haven’t seen movies like this in a long time. It’s been 21 years since ‘Selena,’ which was probably the last major film with an all-Latino cast.”

‘El Chicano’

Castillo plays a detective, Diego, who becomes the “Ghetto Grim Reaper,” donning the mask of “El Chicano,” to face the cartel connected to his brother’s death.

“El Chicano,” described by a New York Times review as a “ultraviolent east Los Angeles epic,” stars veterans like George Lopez, Kate del Castillo, Marlene Forte and Marco Rodríguez. Aimee Garcia, Jose Pablo Cantillo and David Castañeda join Castillo as the younger generation of Latino talent in the cast.

With such a deep cast, Castillo said he took being number one on the call sheet as “an opportunity (he) didn’t take lightly.”

Starring in an action film directed by a professional stuntman, Castillo said he left the experience with a newfound respect for action-film stars.

He said it reminded him of playing cops and robbers with his friends at Bill Schupp Park.

“Not only was it physically exhausting but it was also emotionally exhausting,” he said, attributing that to the fact “El Chicano” is a “family drama at its core.”

He said chemistry on set is alway a crapshoot, but “we knew we were working on something that was more important than our own individual egos.”

While one predominantly Latino project can’t fix the business, it can serve as an indication to the industry that we matter, he said, “and by ‘we,’ I mean the Latinx community.”

“I hope people turn out because I do think Hollywood is paying attention,” he said, adding he wished he could be in the Valley for opening weekend.

Castillo spoke with pride that his family could “go to the theater down the street and be able to see this movie,” and said he was grateful when the Valley takes notice of his work.

Castillo’s last release to hit Valley theaters was the acclaimed independent film, “We the Animals,” which he helped ensure was a hit at local theaters last fall. His supporting role in “Animals” earned Castillo an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

Castillo is also best known for parts in HBO’s “Looking,” FOX’s “Gotham,” Starz’s “Vida” and Netflix’s “Seven Seconds,” “Atypical” and “Special Correspondents.”