Donald Trump may have tapped into whitey anger about brown people, but that's been a proud vertebrae in the American backbone long before his big fat mouth began braying about it. Just ask Robert Fontaine. In the early 2000s, Fontaine and his wife lived in Brooklyn, where she was a journalist. She was tracking a spate of recent killings of migrant workers in Pennsylvania and New York, and it caught her husband's attention.
"There seemed to a lot of the hate from the working class who felt that migrants were taking their jobs," says Fontaine, who turned his real-life interest in the story into the self-produced film, Mi America, which opens for a one-week run in Los Angeles County tonight.
"But it's not like Americans were being forced out of jobs," Fontaine continues. "The migrants were taking jobs that most Americans were too spoiled or (had too much) misplaced pride to pick up."
He began researching the story and realized the hundreds of hate crimes that go unreported among undocumented victims–and the browner they are the more they're hated. "It's not white Hispanics," Fontaine says. "It's people who are Mayan and other Meso-American descent."
Having started working on a script in 2003 that involved the murders of migrant workers in Brooklyn, it would take 10 years and $1.2 million to finally begin shooting the film in the summer of 2013, in Newburg New York, a city along the Hudson River about 70 miles north of New York City.
But with Trump's bombastic bullshit now leading every nightly newscast, it seems, Mi America is as applicable in 2015 as ever.
"I think the anti-immigrant (rhetoric) has become more heightened now, but I think there is an intrinsic racism here that is fueled by the economic crisis," Fontaine said. "No one is telling the truth about undocumented people. They're blaming Mexicans, but 40 percent are the ones who have overstayed their visas. There are Russians, Chinese, everyone. But Mexico is the new scapegoat for this resurgence, which I find really horrible."
With that said, this isn't a political film. Ask Los Angeles-based actor Mike Brainard, an Orange County native who attended Fullerton College before starring with Fontaine on Santa Barbara in the 1990s and has since worked at Stages Theatre in Fullerton, along with lots of other film and theater projects (he also builds furniture out of old doors).
"The movie opens up with the murder of five immigrant laborers from Central America," Brainard said. "It is a cop procedural drama from that point forward. It goes into the ins and outs of the detective's life who is now investigating the people of this town he grew up with as a child. And there are skeletons in the closet."
Brainard plays the heavy, a contractor in the city whose business is failing and who feels threatened by immigrant contractors and laborers who are taking work from him though lower bids.
Fontaine agrees that this is a character- and plot-driven story rather than something with an agenda. However, he does think it works on a deeper level.
"I'm not a political filmmaker, but I think it's an important film," he said. "I was born and raised in America and am of mixed ethnic descent, but these days, with people like Trump carrying a banner and focusing on these faulty issues, I don't know where I belong anymore. I think the film tries to help people to see the need to embrace ourselves as a multi-cultural, diverse nation. That's the only way we're going to go forward. It's not about packing people up and sending them home, or some kind of segregation mentality."
Click here for information on Mi America's LA run that starts tonight. Its trailer was the top-rated download on iTunes for three days last week.
If the film gets good houses and positive reviews, it will go to wider release soon, Fontaine said. The first review, from some third-rate publication that rhymes with "cue york chimes," was positive. (The film opened in New York last week.)