Monday, July 15, 2013

Michael Innis-Jiménez's "Steel Barrio"

Michael Innis-Jiménez is an assistant professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama. He has also served as a scholar for The Latino New South Project, a public history project sponsored by a three museum consortium consisting of the Levine Museum of the New South (Charlotte, NC), The Atlanta History Museum, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940:
As a work of non-fiction I wasn’t sure if I could come up with a dream cast for the movie version of Steel Barrio. In the end, I had fun and I think I came up with a great cast of primarily Latino/a actors that would help bring to life early Mexican South Chicago.

I would start by getting Gregory Nava, Edward James Olmos, or John Sayles to direct. They each have experience directing socially relevant movies with Latino working-class themes. Edward James Olmos could also serve as the narrator and as Jesse Escalante, the person who collected many of the oral histories. Two men critical to the gathering and maintaining of the interviews, data, and primary sources important to Steel Barrio are Manuel Gamio and Paul S. Taylor. Oliver Platt could star as Gamio and Jeff Bridges as Taylor.

Three of the major figures in the book whom we watch develop as leaders throughout Steel Barrio are Tejana social worker Mercedes Rios-Radica, business owner and athletic club organizer Eduardo Peralta, and track worker turned newspaperman and boarding house owner Francisco Huerta. America Ferrera would be perfect as the smart, tenacious, and socially conscious Rios-Radica. George Lopez could be Huerta and Hector Elizondo would bring Peralta back to life.

The other main characters would be the Mexican immigrants who enter South Chicago in the 1920s as teenagers or adolescents but progress into their 40s by the end of the book. Jimmy Smits would play Justino Cordero, Michael DeLorenzo would be Serafín García, Benicio del Toro would be Benigno Castillo, and the rest of the immigrant men we watch grow up include Esai Morales, Benjamin Bratt, Bobby Cannavale, Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and Michael Peña. Andy Garcia would play Alfredo de Avila, part of the group of immigrants above who becomes a union organizer. Justino Cordero eventually marries Polish-American Carolyn Kon, who would be played by Cameron Diaz. Sidney Levin, the non-Mexican pal of the boys/men listed above, would be played by David Arquette.

An important scene in the movie would be the courtroom confrontation between a young anti-Mexican municipal judge and the acting Mexican consul. These parts would be played by Matthew McConaughey and Martin Sheen respectively. The consul’s wife, Salma Hayek as Mila Dominguez, is a famous Mexican singer and active in aid organization. Other consuls during this period would be played by Gael García Bernal and Danny Pino. Alfred Molina would play Jose Vasconcelos, prominent Mexican politician and author of La Raza Cosmica.

Two Catholic priests who were instrumental in the Mexican Church in Chicago include Spaniards James Tort and Domingo Zaldivares. Javier Bardem could star as Tort and Lou Diamond Phillips as Zaldivares. Liam Neeson would be Lacy Simms, protestant missionary in the neighborhood.

Mark Harmon, Dennis Franz, and Ed O’Neill would play steel-mill managers and Edie Falco could be Mrs. Kemball, head of a social service agency.

The Svalina family, South Chicago shop owners and friends of the Mexican immigrant community, would be played by Lily Tomlin as the matriarch, Adam Arkin as her husband, and Zac Efron as their son Sam.
Learn more about the book and author at Michael Innis-Jiménez's website and the Steel Barrio Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: Steel Barrio.

--Marshal Zeringue