Cholo culture emerged in Southern California during the 1960s, an extension and evolution of the pachuco culture born in the 1940s and ‘50s’ in El Paso. A way for Chicanos to showcase the natural blend of their Mexican and American identities, show pride for their barrios, and represent who they are, it has stood the test of time, passing down from generation to generation, partly through Cholo films. Cholo culture influences the world with its fashion, music, cars, art, slang, and more.
One way in which outsiders are introduced to cholos is through film. This is a double-edged sword, as is the case with the portrayal of Latinxs in movies across the board. Cholo films often focus on gang violence (which is prevalent in many barrios), and not enough on the positive aspects of Chicano cultures. However, a handful of movies have proved to be classics, a timeless peek into what it means to live the cholo life. So check out our list of the five top classic, must-see cholo films.
Boulevard Nights (1979)
Released in 1979, Boulevard Nights takes us to East L.A., the epicenter of cholo culture and the setting for several of its films. There, we meet brothers Raymond and Chuco. Raymond wants to open his own car repair shop, has a fiance, and manages to get away from the local gangs, while his brother is the complete opposite. He uses drugs and joins the VGV, rivals of the 11th Street gang. The film follows Raymond as he does what he can to save his brother from a life that usually has two outcomes–prison or death.
Duke of Earl (1979)
Another cholo classic that came out in 1979 is The Duke of Earl. Taking its name from the oldies song (a major part of the cholo culture), this film also focuses on gang rivalry. This time it’s Tokers Town, with its leader Duke, and the 14th Street gang. While in prison, Duke brokers a peace treaty between the mortal enemies, but when it’s not honored, violence ensues.
American Me (1992)
If a movie was centered around Chicanos, and made in the ‘90s, there’s a good chance that Edward James Olmos was in it. One of his biggest films is 1992’s American Me. A fictionalized look at the rise of the Mexican Mafia within the California prison system, the film takes viewers back to 1943 and the Zoot Suit Riots and continues up until the 1970s. Olmos plays Montoya Santana, the gang leader who spends 18 years in Folsom State Prison and has to adjust to life in the real world when he is finally released. He realizes that gang life isn’t something that is easy to walk away from, especially when he is such an integral part of it.
Mi Vida Loca/My Crazy Life (1993)
Mi Vida Loca is a 1993 film that has a special place in the heart of many Latinas. While most cholo films center around men, this classic is all about the cholas. The L.A. barrio of Echo Park is at the center of this story, where homegirls Sad Girl and Mousie are torn apart due to loving the same man. They and the other women in their group have to be strong and hold it down for themselves and their families, even as they face gang violence while navigating young motherhood. Plus, Mi Vida Loca was Salma Hayek’s first film and the soundtrack is a definite must-listen.
Blood In Blood Out/Bound by Honor (1993)
The final OG cholo film on this list is 1993’s Blood In Blood Out/Bound by Honor. Set in East L.A, from 1972 to 1984, it stars Benjamin Bratt, Jesse Borrego, and Damian Chapa, and is based on experiences in the life of writer and screenwriter Jimmy Santiago Baca. Blood In Blood Out shares the narratives of three Chicano family members–half-brothers Paco and Cruz and their cousin Miklo. While they all are members of the Vatos Locos gang, their lives end up going in very different directions.