The Lincoln Lawyer isn’t a show about the fact that Mickey Haller is Mexican American. And yet, the character undoubtedly is, and the show’s understanding of what it means to exist within that culture, even while not fully showcasing it, elevates it from run-of-the-mill legal thriller to must-watch.
If we’re being fair, though, this is far from the only outstanding thing about the show. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo gives a performance so filled with gravitas it’s hard to take your eyes off the screen. It’s hard to pull off the right kind of courtroom swagger, it’s even harder to do so while still coming off not just approachable, but believable. Garcia-Rulfo doesn’t even seem to struggle with it.
But it’s the show’s respect for the character’s background that struck me as the most important, even transformative thing. After all, despite the fact that the character was previously played by Matthew McConaughey in the 2011 movie The Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller was conceived and written as Mexican American from the start. His story is never just about being Chicano, but that is still who he is.
That’s something TV these days struggles with. There are fewer and fewer Latine shows out there these days, but the ones that exist seem to deal with what it means to be Latine. Those shows are not just valid, they are necessary – as a way to reaffirm our culture, and also as a way to show help others understand. But they are not the whole experience, and the lack of shows about Latine characters doing other things reinforces stereotypes about our culture, at least to outsiders.
Who are we if not the stories that are told about us? Sure, Coco represents a beautiful, important part of Mexican culture, but it is extremely frustrating to come across people who think that watching that movie gives them an understanding of everything Mexico is. It’s even worse to come across people who confuse the specific message that particular movie sends about Mexico with a message about Latin America in general.
Mickey Haller, on the other hand, just is, in a way that’s both refreshing and incredibly important. He doesn’t speak much Spanish, but he drops some words of Spanish here and there, particularly when he’s talking to his daughter. When he does, his accent is a little more obvious. He’s extremely good at being a lawyer – a job that has absolutely nothing to do with who he is or where he was born, and after court, he has a favorite taco spot he frequents, and even takes his favorite people to. It’s normal, and the show treats it that way.
As a community, we need more of that. We need more of our stories normalized. We need stories about our beginnings, our triumphs, and what it means to be Latine, yes, but we also need more stories where we just are Latine and living our lives. Doing good, doing bad, struggling, persevering, winning big cases, or losing big cases. Either way, the thing that makes The Lincoln Lawyer memorable is the way that the Latine representation in it is not particularly memorable. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is here to play a Mickey Haller who was always Latine, and there’s no attempt to hide that. But though this is a story about Mickey Haller, it is a story about something other than his identity.
It’s a story about his struggles with addiction, about rebuilding his relationships one step at a time, and about the people who prop him up when he needs it the most. It’s also a story about justice, and what that means, both for those who have the means and those who don’t. Those are universal messages. It just so happens that the man at the center of this story is Latine.
The Lincoln Lawyer premieres on Netflix on May 13.